Love the great outdoors, but hate the idea of getting stung—or worse, picking up a bug-borne disease? This summer, put down the toxic repellents containing chemical DEET, which has been linked to nervous system damage—and can melt plastic! Instead, check out these safe, effective ways to ward off pests and treat insect bites.
Natural Insect Repellents
Research shows that natural insect repellents made with essential oils do work, but for shorter periods of time than chemical substances. And not all of them are equally effective against all types of insects. Plant oils that have repellent qualities include citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, pine, cajeput, cinnamon, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic, and peppermint.
Neem, although not legally considered an insect repellent in the United States, has a long history of warding off bugs, both as a tree in its natural surroundings and as an oil applied to the skin. And a patented soybean oil combined with other plant oils (found in Buzz Away Extreme) has been shown in studies to be as effective against several types of mosquitoes as a chemical formula with approximately 7 percent DEET.
Did you know...
Neem has a long history of warding off bugs, both as a tree in its natural surroundings and as an oil applied to the skin.
Citronella Candles Repel Insects
Citronella candles, widely promoted to keep bugs at bay, have had mixed results in studies. However, one study found that being near a burning citronella candle reduced bites by 42 percent. Perhaps surprisingly, being near a regular burning candle also reduced bites (by 23 percent).
Insect Repellent Clothing
If you’re into hiking or camping, or just live in an area that’s rife with mosquitoes and ticks, the right clothing can protect you in more ways than one. Loose clothing, with long sleeves and pants tucked into socks, creates a physical barrier against insects, but color also makes a difference. If you wear light-colored clothing, mosquitoes that bite during the day won't see you as well from a distance. Once they’re closer, they rely on smell, especially sweat and bacteria on skin. In fact, people who sweat very little are less likely to get bitten.
Light-colored clothing has another advantage: It makes ticks easier to find, so that you can remove them before they transmit infectious bacteria. After a tick attaches to skin, it takes 36-48 hours for it to transmit Lyme disease bacterium, so it’s essential to find and detach them as quickly as possible (see sidebar, below).
How to Remove a Tick
If a tick attaches to your skin, don’t squish it or try to pull it off with your fingers. Use tweezers with a fine tip to grasp it close to the skin and pull away gently, without twisting. Flush it down the toilet, and thoroughly clean the affected area and your hands with alcohol or soap and water.