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Katy Farber's picture

non-toxic bug repellentThe bug season is here!  For us up in Vermont, it is an unpleasant trifecta of mosquitoes, black flies, and deer flies. Across the East coast, wet and hot weather is creating the perfect conditions for many insects to thrive. Climate change is also causing and increase in mosquitoes and the infectious diseases they carry.


What to do if you are heading into the woods, or camping with your kids?


1. Consider how buggy your location is. Do some research to figure out which insects are in season and how bothersome they are. You might find that they are only problematic at dusk and dawn. In that case you can dress your kids protectively with long sleeve shirts, pants, socks and sneakers.


2. Preventing Lyme disease, Malaria, West Nile Virus and other infectious diseases are the most important considerations in protecting from bugs. If you are traveling when the prevalence of these diseases are high, follow medical advice.  You might have to consider using conventional sprays with chemicals you might not otherwise use. In fact, the Environmental Working Group's recent guide on bug repellant states that DEET is a safe choice if used as directed. They also recommend Picaridin, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or its synthetic derivative PMD.


3. Consider if you even need a repellent with DEET (or the other ingredients listed above). Even though DEET is recommended for safe use by dozens of companies and organizations, it has been worrying researchers for a long time.  In 2009, this study was published in BMC Biology: 


According to Vincent Corbel from the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in Montpellier, and Bruno Lapied from the University of Angers, France, who led a team of researchers that investigated the mode of action and toxicity of deet (N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). Corbel said, "We've found that deet is not simply a behavior-modifying chemical but also inhibits the activity of a key central nervous system enzyme, acetycholinesterase, in both insects and mammals." They go on to say that more research is urgently needed.


And according to the National Institutes for Health:

"DEET is especially dangerous for small children. Seizures may occur in small children who are consistently exposed to DEET on their skin for long periods of time. Care should be taken to only apply lower concentrations of DEET to children for short periods of time. Products containing DEET probably should not be used on infants.

Interestingly, the same article goes on to say that DEET is a sensible choice, even for pregnant women. However, if you can avoid using it during pregnancy and beyond, it is protective and precautionary.


4. Don't  inhale bug sprays or other repellents. It is important to reduce the risk of inhaling potentially harmful chemicals in many bug repellents such as candles, aerosol sprays, and outdoor foggers. Avoid these because they release fine particles of bug repellant that can lead to respiratory problems.


5. Test different non-toxic bug repellents to see what works in your area. There are many good choices, and depending where you live, they could be all you need. I like citronella based repellents like California Baby, BabyGanics, or Burt's Bees.


6. Consider making your own out of safe, non-toxic ingredients. Check out the recipes here! 


What works for you to protect your little ones from bug bites?


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