For many of us, good weather means more time outside — camping, hiking, going to the beach and just generally enjoying the great outdoors. But, being outdoors also exposes us to more bugs. Unfortunately, with such maladies as Zika virus and Lyme disease on the rise, a tick or mosquito bite can result in much more than a minor nuisance.
Lyme disease is a tick-transmitted bacterial infection that is prevalent throughout the United States as well as in more than 60 other countries. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300,000 new cases of Lyme disease are diagnosed in the U.S. each year. Since most people get Lyme disease from the bite of a nymphal, or immature, form of the tick — which is smaller than a poppy seed — many don’t even realize they’ve been bitten until it’s too late.
Zika virus is a disease spread to people primarily through the bite of infected Aedes species mosquitoes, which are found throughout the world and often bite during the day. The illness is usually mild, with symptoms clearing within a week, and many people don’t even realize they’ve been infected. The greatest danger is to pregnant women as an infection during pregnancy can cause serious birth defects. Zika is most prevalent in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific Islands and South America.
These bug-borne diseases sound scary, but before you reach for the DEET, you may not realize that most insect repellents contain pesticides which are known carcinogens and neurotoxins. Even so-called “natural” bug repellents, such as Avon Skin So Soft, are formulated with synthetic ingredients that are toxic in high doses. It’s almost hard to decide which is worse — pesky insects or the chemicals in most repellents.
Thankfully, there are nontoxic options to help you stay bite-free. Naturopathic doctor Dr. Gabrielle Francis recommends the following natural repellent ideas:
1. Cover Up
Wear long cotton clothes that are loose-fitting and in white or light colors to keep you cool. Although mosquitoes can bite through fabric, they are more attracted to dark colors. When hiking in areas where ticks are prevalent, wear long socks and closed shoes and always check your body for ticks when you’re finished. Examples of clothing lines specifically designed to keep ticks, mosquitoes and chiggers away are ExOfficio BugsAway and Elimitick.
2. Take Vitamin B
Although there is no conclusive scientific research, B vitamins have been known to give off an odor that mosquitoes don’t like. Dr. Francis recommends to take vitamin B complex daily for one month prior to the summer holidays and continue to do so throughout the summer to exude the aroma that might keep mosquitoes away.
3. Use a Natural Bug Repellent (or Make Your Own)
One lotion that does not contain DEET yet is still an effective bug repellent is Chigg-Away. The active ingredients are sulfur and benzocaine. This lotion repels chiggers and relieves itching from the bites of chiggers, mosquitoes, ticks, sand fleas, fire ants, bees and wasps.
You can also make your own natural bug spray. Just start with a nontoxic base like aloe vera, an organic oil or even your favorite natural lotion, and then add essential oils known to act as insect repellents. To repel ticks, include lemon, geranium and/or eucalyptus essential oils. To keep mosquitoes away, include one or more of these essential oils: citronella, eucalyptus, rosemary, peppermint, lavender, thyme, clove and sage.
4. Dr. Francis's Natural Insect Repellent Recipe
20 drops of eucalyptus oil
20 drops of cedar wood oil
10 drops of tea tree oil
10 drops of geranium oil
2 ounces of a carrier oil such as jojoba or almond oil
Mix together in a 4-ounce spray bottle and apply as needed. Be sure to test for sensitivity on a small patch of skin first. Avoid getting any in your eyes.
How can you feel confident that a natural repellent will work as well as a synthetic one? According to Dr. Francis, "Essential oils are the immune system of the plants they come from. What makes the plants have their distinctive aromatic smell is also protecting them from being eaten by bugs, bacteria and viruses. They can do the same for us."