Insect Repellent: Bad for Bugs, But What About Bodies?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Herbal insect repellents are one substitute to bug repellents that can be toxic.

Summertime means more time outdoors, but we're not alone out there. Mosquitoes and other six-legged pests can be a constant nuisance outside and many people turn to insect repellents for relief. How safe and effective are different varieties of repellents?

Unfortunately, according to Kris Somol, ND, clinical faculty member at Bastyr Center for Natural Health, Bastyr University's teaching clinic, no bug repellent is 100 percent human-safe. Dr. Somol recommends you choose repellent based on the level of protection you need for the specific situation. If insect-borne disease is a significant concern (when traveling abroad, for example), high protection is recommended and these repellents are most effective:

  • DEET: Now produced in an advanced form that increases the period of effectiveness and decreases skin absorption. No need to use higher than 30 percent concentration. DEET remains effective for up to six hours. May cause allergic skin reactions and there is rare incidence of neurotoxicity. 
  • Picardin: Plant-based repellent used in Europe and Australia. At 20 percent strength, it is as effective as DEET but doesn’t last as long. 
  • PMD (lemon eucalyptus oil): Half as effective as DEET, may cause skin irritation, not for use on small children.

Common herbal insect repellents include citronella, peppermint oil, cedar oil, lemongrass oil and geranium oil. Herbal repellents are weaker and do no last as long as their synthetic counterparts. Frequent reapplication of essential oil-based repellents may cause skin irritation and is not recommended, but herbal repellents may be useful for infrequent, short use, such as grilling on the porch for 20 minutes.

Precautions when using any sort of insect repellent

  • Avoid using aerosol sprays due to danger of chemical inhalation. 
  • Avoid combined sunscreen/insect repellent products. If you need to use both, apply sunscreen first, then insect repellent. 
  • Wash off repellent with soap and water when no longer needed.
FALL 2017
Have questions about a program?
Request information »

More Health Tips

  • There are ways to help treat IBS using safe, natural products, and life-style intervention. 

  • There are many ways to monitor and change your individual risk of heart disease.

  • Purchasing food grown closer to your home will provide great health, economic and environmental benefits.

  • With the number of Type 2 Diabetes patients quickly rising, it's time to start preventing this disease by changing dietary and exercise habits. Dr. Jennifer Pilon sheds some light on how to prevent this disease naturally.
  • Get help decreasing your pesticide exposure without going over budget with the Environmental Working Group's lists of the "Dirty Dozen" and the "Clean Fifteen."
  • Adding delicious and healthful anti-inflammatory foods to your diet can help give your body a fighting chance if you suffer from seasonal allergies.