All-Natural Bug Repellant Uses Essential Oils
Summer is here, and so are the bugs. The rise of insect-borne diseases such as West Nile virus, Lyme disease and now chikungunya, a dengue-fever-like virus recently tracked to Latin America and the Caribbean that is predicted to reach Texas soon, means we should all be using insect repellents more regularly, especially outdoors in the early morning or late afternoon/early evening hours. Unfortunately there is a lot of confusing and misleading information about the safety, use and effectiveness of botanical insect repellents.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes botanical-based insect repellents as “minimum risk pesticides,” because they use naturally occurring ingredients such as citronella, cedar, verbena, pennyroyal, geranium, lavender, eucalyptus, pine, catnip, cinnamon, neem, rosemary, basil, thyme, allspice, garlic and peppermint. These ingredients were exempted from federal registration after EPA tests concluded that they were demonstrably safe. This exemption eliminated the need to spend resources regulating products that were deemed to be of minimum risk to human health and the environment, and allowed the EPA to focus on evaluating chemical formulas where toxicity is a concern.
When it comes to public health issues like West Nile, most communities and medical professionals follow the guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). With respect to insect repellents, the CDC recommends the use of products containing active ingredients that have been registered by EPA. However, minimum risk pesticides do not require EPA registration.
The effectiveness of any insect repellent, chemical or botanical, is directly correlated to the concentration and quality of the active ingredients. Effectiveness is reduced by evaporation and absorption, abrasion from clothing, wash-off from sweat, rain or water, a windy and/or humid environment and high temperatures.
The primary complaint about botanical repellents is that they need to be reapplied more frequently. Most of those on the market contain less than 5 percent of active ingredients. In addition, many commercial products often use cheaper, synthetic oils like citronellol or geraniol, rather than natural, plant-based essential oils. It might smell the same to us, but the bugs know the difference.
Insects have been bugging humans as long as they have shared the planet, and every indigenous tribe and culture developed their own plant-based solutions to solve their particular bug problems. It’s good to know that there are effective, natural, DEET-free insect repellents available on the market today.
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