As promised in my previous post on the Zika virus scare, I have done a little research into DEET-free mosquito repellents.
And, the consensus in the anti-DEET community seems to be that essential oils are the way to go. There are a number of essential oils that are effective against mosquitoes and other nasty bitey things, and most suggest you use a combination of several oils for the best protection.
Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and is an expert at absorption. This means that whatever you put on, at least some of it will seep in, into your bloodstream that is. That’s why liberal, frequent application of a known neurotoxin might not be the best idea. Even the CDC is getting on board. While it is still says that DEET is one of the most effective mosquito repellents, the CDC has approved the use Lemon Eucalyptus oil, finding it to be as effective.
What exactly is an essential oil?
Essential oils are the naturally occurring oils that plants use in their own defense against bugs and other pests. There are perfume versions of these oils, but in essence (pun intended) they mimic the smell of the oils without actually providing the chemical content that repels the bugs. That’s why it’s important to use therapeutic grade oils when making a bug repellent.
Another important fact to understand about essential oils is that they are volatile and therefore evaporate quickly. For that reason, when making a bug repellent you need to combine the essential oils with carriers. A carrier is an oil or other liquid with a more stable structure that allows the essential oils to remain in contact with the skin to assure effective absorption, or in the case of repellents, lasting effectiveness. Carriers that are beneficial in themselves, and therefore add an extra benefit when combined with essential oils, are olive oil, coconut oil, neem oil, sweet almond oil and sunflower oil. Oils like castor, soy and palm oil should be avoided.
The following essential oils are said to be the most effective when it comes to mosquitoes and ticks, and work most effectively in combinations of at least two:
– Eucalyptus oil
– Lemongrass oil
– Peppermint oil
– Lavender oil
– Rose geranium oil
– Citronella oil
– Tea tree oil
– Clove oil
– Rosemary oil
– Sage oil
– Catnip oil
Growing these herbs in your garden can also help keep mosquitoes away, which is especially helpful for those of living in colonial homes.
Some people will be more sensitive than others, so it’s good to play around with the percentages and test the mixture on a small section of skin. Most recipes I’ve seen call for about 30-50 drops per 8 oz. of liquid. You can use water as a base and add the carrier oils in small amounts to avoid an overly greasy texture. If you are only using carrier oils, I would suggest 20 drops of an essential oil blend to every 2-3 tablespoons of carrier oil.
However, just because they are natural doesn’t mean they are 100% safe. Certain oils can cause problems with pregnant women and babies. There is nothing intrinsically dangerous about the oils, but their concentration can be problematic to small children and developing fetuses. So to be safe, use only diluted lavender oil on children under 2 years old and avoid essential oils altogether on babies under 3 months old. Diluted means 1-3 drops essential oil per 3 teaspoons carrier. Most oils are safe if diluted for children over two, but check this list to see which ones should be avoided. Pregnant women should avoid rosemary, sage, rose, thyme and citronella oils as they could cause contractions. Most importantly, always do your own research and/or ask a professional before trying anything new, natural or synthetic.
Where on earth, or more specifically Nicaragua, can I find all this stuff?
This is where things get tricky.
As I mentioned in the previous article, La Colonia carries Bug Band brand repellant which contains geranium oil, mint and rosemary. It also contains soy oil ( 🙁 ), cellulose and water as carriers. A 6-oz bottle costs around 220 cordobas.
The essential oils themselves are hard to come by and expensive, but I have seen them at El Gato Negro in San Juan del Sur and Pan y Paz in Leon. The selection, however, is limited. I have seen some in natural pharmacies, but they seem to be low quality and blended with God knows what. You can always look into ordering them online or asking visiting friends to bring some from home.
Luckily, though, I stumbled on a recipe for a natural bug spray that you can make at home using herbs readily available here in Nicaragua. Four Thieves Vinegar has been trending in the holistic wellness community for a while. This blend of sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme and mint was supposedly used by thieves during the Black Plague to keep from getting sick. It was taken internally to help avoid contamination and externally to repel the flies and other pests. I can’t vouch for its effectiveness against a resurgence of the Black Death, but I will say that I have heard great things about it as a bug repellent and wellness tonic.
I’ve read that the smell of the herbs helps cancel out the smell of the vinegar, and the vinegar smell disappears once it dries (I’ve used a homemade facial astringent that contains vinegar and the smell did disappear after a few minutes). This mixture can also be taken orally, for adults and children over 2, at the beginning of a cold/flu/infection by adding 1 tbsp. to water several times a day. The vinegar and herbs have strong anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties which help boost the immune system and attack any nasty germs you may have picked up.
Another spin on the Four Thieves Vinegar is the Thieves Oil which combines cinnamon oil, clove oil, rosemary oil, lemon oil and eucalyptus oil. If you can get your hands on these oils, they can be combined with a carrier for a very effective repellant. You can also buy premade Thieves Oil blends online.
I am waiting on a shipment of apple cider vinegar and will give the recipe a try myself when it comes. I’ll keep you posted!
One more reason to love coffee
I was recently informed that adding used coffee grounds to your garden not only acts as a fertilizer, but a mosquito repellent as well. While we humans love the smell of freshly brewed coffee, mosquitoes hate it. Studies have also shown that adding coffee grounds to standing water inhibits the development of the mosquito larvae thus controlling the population. According to the research, even the color is a deterrent as mosquitos like to lay their eggs in clear water. These studies specifically addressed coffee’s effectiveness against the Ae. aegypti mosquito that spreads Zika, Dengue and Chikungunya. So, adding a little coffee grounds to your garden and in places like tires or drains where mosquitos breed can help keep you Zika/Chikungunya-free better than that toxic smoke the municipality is pumping into your house.
These are just a few natural alternatives that I was able to find. I would love to hear any other home remedies you’ve tried, and if any of the ones I mentioned have worked for you…