It’s that time of year folks, when every flying, creeping, crawling thing seems like it wants to dine on our blood. If you’re a lucky O-Positive blood type like myself, those mosquitoes find you extra tasty- it’s like they’re upgrading from Steak & Shake to Outback for the same price.
I’ve seen a lot of discussion on social media lately about what to use to keep the creepy-crawlies at bay without coating yourself in DEET or mummifying yourself in bug netting.
I can’t help you AS much if you’re walking game trails in the woods… you’re GOING to get something on you if you’re wandering the path of tick’s favorite food. They’ll even dive bomb your head from the trees in the woods. I can offer a couple of tips that work well for me:
1) I don’t wear long pants. I know this goes against the common suggestion of “wear pants tucked into boots” but in late July/August, it’s just too damned hot for that!
I do wear knee-high boots if I’m walking through the woods, since I don’t want to go to the hospital for a snake bite, but I wear shorts with them. Yeah, it’s not very fashion forward, but in the shorts I can FEEL what’s crawling up my legs before it reaches my waistband or other objectionable areas.
2) Carry one of those sticky-paper lint rollers if you’re in the woods. If you’ve ever had the lovely experience of touching a plant or spot on the ground, only to have your hand come away crawling with hundreds of little black seed ticks, then you know how horrifying it can be. If you haven’t, count yourself lucky and hope you never need this trick. It’s impossible to brush, wash or pick all of them off before half of them make all the way up your limb. A sticky lint roller can be a LIFE SAVER. Carry it in a baggie, so you can put the wadded up, tick covered paper in something to take back to the house and burn. (Deer get angry if you litter in the woods and will come to your yard and eat your Hosta for revenge.) Roll the lint roller over your clothes or your dog a few times before you put it in the baggie, so it won’t stick to the baggie. Tear off a fresh sheet to capture ticks.
Finally, I don’t use OFF or any other DEET preparation anymore. The CDC published an article in 2015 that said, “Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a plant-based mosquito repellent that provided protection time similar to low concentration DEET products in two recent studies…”
I’ll be adding the lemon oil of eucalyptus to my current concoction when I get it in the mail. If you don’t want all the details, skip down to where it says RECIPE. If you want to know why I use this spray and what’s in it, keep reading.
The CDC recommends use of one of these for protection against ticks and mosquitoes:
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
DEET (chemical name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide). Products containing DEET include, but are not limited to, Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon. There are rumors that DEET can cause cancer, although there is not sufficient evidence yet to classify it as a carcinogen. It does come with warnings that used improperly, it can cause seizures or have toxic side effects. It has been banned in some European countries. Can cause damage to plastics.
Picaridin (KBR 3023 [Bayrepel] and icaridin outside the US; chemical name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester). Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the US). EPA considers to be slightly toxic used directly on skin and warns you should keep it away from eyes.
PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE. Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off ! Botanicals. This recommendation refers to EPA-registered products containing the active ingredient OLE (or PMD). “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended; it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy and is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent.
IR3535 (chemical name: 3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester). Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart. May dissolve or damage plastics like DEET, eye irritant.
2-undecanone (chemical name: methyl nonyl ketone). The product BioUD contains 2-undecanone.
My current spray uses plain Eucalyptus oil, I’ll be switching to the Lemon Eucalyptus oil. I’ve been using this spray for years now, adding this, removing that. The current formulation keeps off ticks, fleas, chiggers, biting flies, gnats, mosquitoes, kills and repels spiders and ants. (It does not work great on Japanese beetles, unfortunately) I still get the occasional tick on me, but this was also true when I used Deep Woods OFF regularly.
Also, the OFF smells horrid to me and it didn’t seem to bother biting flies one bit.
Here’s what’s in my home-made spray : Cedar oil, Lemon Eucalyptus oil, peppermint oil, water. That’s it. Simple, natural insect repellent. (The cedar oil I use contains Ethyl lactate as a carrier, a chemical compound found in alcohol, cabbages, peas, vinegar, bread… ) This stuff also smells awesome! It’s earthy because of the cedar oil and fresh/clean because of the mint and eucalyptus. I’ve sprayed it on myself, the dogs when they’ve been in the chigger and tick ridden hay fields, around the yard before we have friends over, around the patio and on plants that are being chowed on by insects. I even use it in my daughter’s hair when there is a lice breakout at school.
I buy a big bottle of this stuff from Amazon.com: It’s called Wondercide and has two ingredients; cedar oil and Ethyl lactate as a carrier. The bottle I have has lasted over 3 years now. (I linked the picture to Amazon). I have an old Windex bottle that I add about 3 capfuls
of this, 6-7 drops of Eucalyptus oil and 6-7 drops of Peppermint oil. I used to use Lemon Balm, but couldn’t tell that it did much. I added the Eucalyptus oil when I found that spiders hate it- I was bitten by a brown recluse last year and did not want a repeat experience. Fill the rest of the bottle with water and shake it up to mix everything well. Then just spray on all the things!
I would avoid getting this in your eyes, since the peppermint oil will burn if you get it in eyes. The spray doesn’t taste all the fantastic either. Best to just avoid mucus membranes period. Otherwise, spray away.
FYI, I do use this in the house to kill insects too, as cedar oil is toxic to many of them. I don’t spray it on the cats, since they lick themselves A LOT more than the dogs do. When I spray the dogs, I usually just put it on their back where they don’t do a lot of licking. I’ve read on Wondercide’s site that it won’t hurt dogs because it’s properly diluted and we always had cedar bedding in our dog’s houses that never hurt them… still, I wouldn’t want them drinking the stuff, regardless of how safe they say it is. They do have formulations on their website for animals and other specific uses. If you’re allergic to any of the ingredients, obviously don’t use it… or play around with the formula and find a substitute. Many people itch or get a rash from touching cedar leaves, this isn’t formulated from the leaves, it’s made from the woody part of the tree, but some people and animals are also sensitive to the oils from the wood. Use your best judgement.
If you can’t use cedar oil, I’ve seen a couple commercial organic formulations from OFF and Avon Skin So Soft that may work for you, using just lemon eucalyptus. They’re starting to embrace the plant-based, chemical free movement, at least as a side-line.
*I would avoid the use of ANY of the chemicals listed on this page around aquatic life. Several of the commercial chemicals above warn that they will kill aquatic animals and/or amphibians. I couldn’t find anything about cedar oil being toxic to marine life, (One study I read stated little or no effect) but I still wouldn’t spray it on you hands and stick them in your fish tank.
PS. If you DO wind up in a nest of chiggers in spite of using sprays you STILL itch all over, we use Dr Bronner’s soap and take a shower in it from head to toe. It smells a bit strong, but it will get rid of the itch and any residual critters that are lurking on your skin. It’s also the best stuff in the world for acne- particularly the cystic kind. The bottle is covered in religious writing (which is why we’ve nicknamed it “God Soap”), once I got one covered in political writing instead… anyway, it’s wonderful stuff, weird writing on the label and all.
PPS. My site and myself are in no way affiliated with Amazon, the CDC or any of these products linked on here. I’m not selling anything, just sharing what has worked well for myself and my family. I don’t earn anything from your clicking on these links. Also, I’m not a medical doctor. If you use this stuff, you do it at your own risk and your own discretion. If you come to my house, be warned, I might spray it on you. (I usually ask first.)
CDC Adopts New Repellent Guidance For Upcoming Mosquito Season: https://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/r050428.htm
Juniper’s Toxicity on Marine Life https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20033284
Repellents for Use on Skin and Clothing https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/yellowbook/2018/the-pre-travel-consultation/protection-against-mosquitoes-ticks-other-arthropods
Peppermint essential oil
Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
DEET free OFF Formulation
Dr Bronner’s Soap