Avoid Mosquitoes…Naturally!

Want to keep mosquitoes off this summer? Here’s the low down on mosquito repellents and bug bite remedies, from a natural perspective of course!

The most common repellant in conventional bug repellant is DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide). This ingredient repels mosquitoes by disrupting the mosquito’s nervous system. Well, guess what? A human’s nervous system, although more complex than an insect’s, is also affected by DEET. In fact, there have been several case reports of DEET being correlated with seizures in children and can be fatal if ingested. DEET is also able to melt plastic, which raises the question about whether or not we should be applying this harsh chemical to our skin.

Another concern with DEET is combined use with sunscreen. If DEET is applied first and followed by sunscreen, there is an increase in absorption of DEET by 47 times!!! Applying sunscreen first appears to be slightly safer – it increases the absorption of DEET to 10 times the regular rate. Since this became known, Health Canada banned all products containing both DEET and sunscreen and now makes the recommendation to apply sunscreen first and to wait 20 minutes before applying DEET.

For those of you interested in applying a gentler product, consider choosing a natural-based product that contains citronella or lavender. The only draw back is that you will need to reapply frequently. Citronella can typically repel mosquitoes for 20-90 minutes and lavender can repel mosquitoes for around 30 minutes. Depending on the concentration, DEET can repel mosquitoes for up to 5 hours.

Some additional tips include:

  • Consider taking garlic capsules to ward off mosquitoes (caution if you have a blood disorder, or are on blood thinning or blood pressure lowering medications).
  • Avoid being out at dawn/dusk when bugs more active.
  • Wear light coloured and loose-fitting clothing to prevent bites.
  • Eliminate standing water if possible as this serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
  • Do NOT use DEET-containing products in children under 6 months, pregnant women, and women who are breastfeeding.
  • Always wash hands before eating, especially if you are wearing bug repellents!
  • Consider the risk of contracting a mosquito-born disease in the area you are visiting. Diseases such as West Nile and malaria can be deadly and warrant additional mosquito precautions. Visit your local travel clinic before travelling to a new area.

If, despite your best efforts, you end up with the dreaded mosquito bite, here are some natural remedies:

  • Homeopathic remedies: remedies such as Apis, Ledum, and/or Histaminum can be effective for bug bites and itchiness. Dissolve 1 pellet, under the tongue, as needed for bites (purchase them in a 30 level potency). You can also purchase topical homeopathic gels/creams containing apis and ledum from your local health food and grocery store and apply topically to bites as needed.
  • Witch hazel: an effective herbal remedy that can be applied topically to bites as needed.
  • Ice: icing bites can reduce inflammation and numb itchiness.
  • Herbal teas: teas such as skullcap, chamomile, oat straw and/or passion flower can have a mild sedative effect and can help you get to sleep if itchy bites are preventing you from catching your zzz’s.

Additional information on DEET and natural insect repellents can be found at:

Canadian Medical Association Journal: http://www.cmaj.ca/content/169/3/209.full

Health Canada’s Safety Tips on Insect Repellents: http://www.osach.ca/misc_pdf/WNrepel.pdf

Public Health Agency of Canada: http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/04vol30/30s1/page2-eng.php

Mixing sunscreen with DEET: http://www.canada.com/topics/bodyandhealth/story.html?id=4cce8ef0-9b9b-47e5-8910-1ba02cbe007a&k=204