It is that time of year when kids are playing outside for longer hours, enjoying the beautiful warmer weather. Unfortunately, it is also the time when mosquitoes and other insects are out enjoying our children.
So how do we avoid all the toxic concoctions of DEET, but still supply adequate protection for our families? I have summarized information I’ve gathered from various sources over the last two summers. I won’t say that we went insect-bite-free, but we did significantly reduce the number of bites. Here are a few tidbits of information about our backyard enemy:
1. Mosquitoes are attracted to
Dark clothing dark clothes and foliage are initial attractants
Carbon dioxide and lactic acid avoid exercising during peak mosquito hours – dawn and dusk -since more carbon dioxide and lactic acid is released when you have been exercising
Floral and sweet fragrances avoid perfumes, lotions, scented soaps, hair products, scented sunscreens, and fragrance from fabric softeners
Moisture keep your eye out for these sources of standing water: discarded tires, roof gutters clogged with leaves or other debris, rain barrels, wading pools, drainage ditches, paint buckets, tin cans, paper cups or other trash, trash containers, infrequently used yard equipment, plant containers, bird baths, broken toys, pet water bowls, and holes in tree stumps. Mosquitoes are also attracted by perspiration because of the chemicals it contains and also because it increases the humidity around your body.
2. Natural repellents for the body
Natural oils can effectively repel mosquitoes, but they require more frequent reapplication (at least every 2 hours) and higher concentrations than DEET. Because of the differences between types of mosquitoes, products that contain multiple repellents tend to be more effective than those containing a single ingredient.
The following are plant oils that are often found in combination in natural repellents. They can be found at Whole Foods or other health foods stores: citronella, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, clove, geranium, garlic, pine, basil, thyme.
You can try different combinations of the plant oils to see what is best for you. One of my favorites is peppermint oil because of its fresh smell and tingly sensation, and I mix it with lemongrass oil for added effectiveness. Most of these oils will sting when applied to sensitive areas of the body, so avoid the eye, mucous membranes, cuts and scrapes, and genital areas.
Natural oils in this concentrated form are very strong and should not be applied directly (that could become very expensive). I add a few drops of the plant oils to pure coconut oil – it’s also a great skin moisturizer – and then apply the mixture to the skin. You need to make sure the coconut oil is the deodorized kind, used for cooking, or the sweet smell of coconut may attract the mosquitoes.
3. Natural repellents for the yard Garlic is a great weapon for all sorts of lawn pests. Roast several cloves of garlic and blend with a little oil (a few teaspoons), or mince several fresh cloves and let stand in oil for 24 hours. Add this to 2 cups of water mixed with one-half teaspoon of natural liquid detergent. Spray this mixture over your yard. The smell will dissipate quickly. Repeat every two weeks.
Another good idea is a plant “barrier” around play areas. Choose your mix from the following insect-unfriendly flowers and herbs: marigolds, geraniums, rosemary, catnip, peppermint, spearmint, daisies, verbena, basil, thyme, garlic, allspice, cedar, and lemongrass.
The mixture of coconut oil and natural oils provides no sunscreen protection, but I use it at dusk, which seems to be the only time we need it around our house. If you are going to be spending a lot of time in direct sunlight and need an insect repellent as well, use an unscented natural sunscreen (no OMC – octyl methoxycinnamate, TEA ñ triethanolamine, or Benzophenone) and add the natural oils to protect you, or you can purchase a sunscreen and bug repellent like Kidís Herbal Armour with SPF 15 and Oils of Citronella, Peppermint, Cedar, Lemongrass, and Geranium ñ great product but quite pricey.
Remember though, that moderate sunshine is beneficial to your health as it provides vitamin D. Some children can only take about 10 to 15 minutes at a time before burning or acquiring sun damage. Others can go longer. If you are going to be in the sun for an extended period of time, it is crucial to find a very natural sunscreen (check Whole Foods or other health food stores), because most drugstore products have ingredients like those listed above that actually act as chemical absorbers and can be more damaging to the skin than overexposure to the sun itself.