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Written By EcoWomen Guest Blogger Brenna Mannion

You have met those people. The ones who exclaim, “Mosquitos just don’t bother me!” accompanied by a nonchalant shrug. Well I hate those people. Not that it’s their fault, obviously, but mosquitos and all their winged brethren love to bite me. I grew up in central New York, and once the snow melted, all you wanted to do was be outside. To survive, I spent my formative years basically bathing in traditional insect repellants. But as an adult I realize that just because they reduce the amount of bug bites and itchy discomfort, the chemicals contained in those products are harsh (at best) and dangerous (at worst). You know something? I’m wary of spraying myself with bug repellants containing DEET and all sorts of other chemicals that are so powerful, according to the “OFF!” website they can “harm plastics and acrylics”. Um, if it breaks down heavy plastics, imagine the havoc it wreaks on your epidermis. So, outside of wearing long pants and sleeves in the swampy DC summer heat, what’s a natural gal to do?

The answer lies in essential oils. Bugs do not like the smell of things like eucalyptus, rosemary, and lemongrass. There are two avenues to take advantage of various oils, buy one of the many commercially available “natural bug sprays” or make your own. To save yourself a ton of trial and error, there are basic recipes online that you can use as a starting point and customize them to your liking. Most involve a handful of essential oils, putting them into a small hand held sprayer and mixing them with a carrier liquid. But not water! Another reason to buy that large bottle of vodka this weekend. My favorite combination is eucalyptus and lavender. The trick is lots of reapplication – but that’s not hard when it smells so lovely, instead of the inside of a laboratory. This whole homemade bug spray thing may sound hokey, but it really works. I know from personal experience – as well as a raving testimonial from a male friend who used this method while fishing in the Boundary Waters in Minnesota and in Darwin, Australia during the wet season. He said his stuff was just as effective as any pesticide/chemical based spray.

Eucalyptus, cinnamon, and peppermint are all good insect repelling essential oils. If you’re not a DIY-er, there are natural repellants available online and at places like Whole Foods. A couple of good brands to try are California Baby, Herbal Armor, and Bite Blocker. Many of the commercial repellants rely heavily on citronella oil, so if that smell brings back unpleasant memories of backyard barbeques with angry Aunt Betty, then you may want to consider making your own.

Now, with all that being said, if you plan on doing real deep woods hiking, with lots of exposure to ticks that may carry Lyme disease, it might be preferable to wear long sleeves and pants, and carry a backup spray with the powerful, DEET-containing repellents on the edges of your clothes (avoiding direct skin contact). Sometimes Mother Nature just has the upper hand. But for the vast majority of your summer activities, natural repellants will work wonderfully!

If none of this sounds appealing, here are a few more avant-garde ideas. The internet is full of testimonials of people who eat garlic or take vitamin B1 supplements to ward off ‘skeeters. Be mindful though, that your boyfriend may not appreciate you swallowing raw cloves of garlic before going camping in a small tent. Try installing a bat house! If you can get bats to nest near your home or vacation spot, as my friend says “they can hang out and eat all the mosquitos.” Please let us know how that works out. If nothing else, it will be fun around Halloween.

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