When I was a child, my mother would pull us into the house and close all the windows when the “fog truck” drove through the streets spraying the pesticide DDT to fight mosquitoes. The truck earned its name because it left a thick fog in its wake.
Fortunately, DDT was banned in 1972 due to its adverse environmental effects and potential human health risks. But many people are still using chemicals, chiefly DEET, a popular insect repellent, to ward off mosquitoes, flies, gnats and other insects.
While the United States Environmental Protection Agency categorizes DEET as “not classifiable as a human carcinogen” – which means there isn’t enough evidence to say that DEET does or doesn’t cause cancer – I’m not taking any chances.
Neither should you.
Over the years, researchers have tied DEET to health concerns. A 2009 study, for example, concluded that DEET may prevent the normal breakdown of acetylcholine, a nervous system chemical that triggers movement and muscle activity.
Of course, bug bites carry their own health concerns, such as Lyme Disease and the West Nile virus. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites tripled in the U.S. from 2004 through 2016. Climate change, the World Health Organization reports, is likely to blame as warmer global temperatures increase the habitats of disease-spreading insects.
So what can you do to combat these pests in safe—and effective—ways? When it comes to preventing mosquito bites specifically, here are 5 tips you can implement right away:
- Dump standing water. Female mosquitoes lay their eggs on the walls of water-filled containers. Once a week, empty containers, such as birdbaths and trash cans, to help reduce this favorite mosquito breeding ground. (Don’t forget vases and pet water bowls indoors, too).
- Keep mosquitos outside. One way to do so: Avoid holding doors open.
- Use natural mosquito repellents. Ditch the DEET. Instead, make and use your own natural repellent (see recipe below) or purchase natural products at your local health food store. If you choose the latter option, make sure to read the ingredients carefully.
- Wear light-colored clothing. When you wear dark and brightly colored clothing, you’re more visible to mosquitoes. A better option to keep mosquitoes away is to wear light-colored clothing, such as white or khaki. Choose long-sleeved shirts and pants that cover your ankles. Loose fit is a better option than tight clothing, which mosquitoes can more easily penetrate. Cover your head, too.
- Avoid the outdoors from dusk to dawn. Dusk is the peak activity time for most mosquito species in the U.S. Why? Because the sun can dehydrate and kill them. They are more active at night—and more likely to bite—early in the evening when they’re stirring from their hiding places in cool, shaded and wet areas. Just before dawn, worn out from a night of activity, they’ll return to their hiding spots to rest. That’s why it’s best to stay indoors from dusk to dawn.
Safe and Effective Natural Repellents
The CDC has approved oil of lemon eucalyptus as a safe and effective insect repellent. Apply it to your skin and clothing to repel mosquitoes, biting flies, and gnats.
Here’s a recipe I’ve found to be very effective.
Mix the following and pour it into a spray bottle:
2 ounces of distilled water
12 drops of lemon essential oil
12 drops of eucalyptus oil
I recommend using high-quality products from professional manufacturers, such as doTERRA, Young Living, or Mountain Rose Herbs. If you have concerns about allergies, squirt a small amount on the side of your arm and monitor your skin for a reaction.
Especially concerned about ticks? Here’s my #1 tip for avoiding Lyme Disease.
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