Although public health and mosquito control experts across the country remain uncertain about what to expect this summer, they fear that, mosquitoes will soon descend in huge numbers. In New Jersey, the Asian tiger mosquito has already made its presence felt. Named for its distinctive black-and-white striped legs and body markings, the Asian tiger mosquito was first discovered in Monmouth County in 1995 and since then, swarms of the vicious critter have spread to the north creating a major nuisance, according to local mosquito control agencies. Last year, this same mosquito made areas of New York and Illinois its unwelcome home. In other parts of the country, health officials, who believe the mild winter did not kill off as many mosquitoes as in years past, are anticipating the worst.
No matter the actual number of mosquitoes this season, only one question is at issue for most of us: how can we avoid getting bitten by these vampiric pests?
Commercial or Alternative Products
Repellents, which are formulated for use on bare skin, help people avoid mosquito bites and the resulting itch. Yet, an effective repellent can also protect against serious mosquito-borne diseases, such as St. Louis encephalitis and West Nile virus. Commonly sold as aerosols, creams, solids, pump sprays, and liquids, repellents do not kill mosquitoes and other insects, they simply help deter them from biting people. Common ingredients include diethyl phthalate, diethyl carbate, metofluthrin, oil of lemon-eucalyptus, picaridin, ethyl hexanediol, and N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide, commonly referred to as DEET and considered to be the gold standard in mosquito repellents for more than 50 years.
Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, DEET is effective against mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, fleas, and ticks. Protection times vary, though when used on the skin, DEET will be effective for anywhere from 90 minutes to 10 hours, depending on the amount of active ingredient in the product and skin condition. Registered for use by the general public in 1957, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that all family members over the age of two months can use DEET-based repellents with up to 30 percent concentration with confidence. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also concluded that commercial repellents containing DEET, when used according to the instructions on their labels, are safe for adults and children.
Despite this advocacy, some people don’t believe DEET is safe and prefer to use anatural alternative. Other people simply dislike the odor of commercial products or find them to be irritating to their skin. A recent review of repellents published in theInternational Journal of Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Biological Sciences found these homemade remedies to be effective.
- Catnip Nepetalactone, the essential oil found in herbal catnip, was cited as being 10 times more effective than DEET in repelling mosquitoes.
- Neem oil from the need tree (Azadiracta indica) in concentrations of one to two percent mixed with coconut oil was found to be effective against the mosquito that spreads malaria. Neem is a plant that grows in India.
- Garlic, whether consumer or purchased as a concentrated oil and rubbed on the skin, is an effective repellent.
- Oils with good repellent qualities include eucalyptus, cinnamon, castor, rosemary, cedar, and peppermint. Most people who use these oils either placed them directly on pulse points or mixed them with another oil (some mixed them with moisturizer) and rubbed the combination into their skin.
- Lavender flowers rubbed on the skin and lavender oil placed on pulse points are considered effective homemade remedies.
- Organic soybean oil, according to The New England Journal of Medicine, is an effective repellent. Soy oil is inexpensive, easy to find, and works as an excellent moisturizer.
- Thiamine or Vitamin B1 is also thought to be effective, though it is considered most effective when dispersed as a transdermal patch. When consumed, though, excess thiamine will primarily be flushed out as waste and will not effectively repel mosquitoes.
Homemade Repellent Recipe 1
- 10-25 drops of essential oil (lavender, coriander seeds, peppermint, cajeput and citronella)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon aloe vera gel (optional)
Combine the ingredients in a glass jar; stir to blend. Dab a few drops on your skin or clothing.
Homemade Repellent Recipe 2
- 25 drops essential oil (lavender, coriander seeds, peppermint, cajeput and citronella)
- 1/4 cup water or organic apple cider vinegar
Combine the ingredients in a glass jar. Shake to blend. Dab some on your skin or clothing.
Homemade Repellent Recipe 3
- 6 drops each of essential oils of catnip, citronella, lavender, neem, and black pepper
- 30 mL of an unscented and natural oil or moisturizer.
Mix ingredients and rub on skin.
Source: Patel EK, Gupta A, Oswal RJ. A review on: mosquito repellent methods.International Journal of Pharmaceutical, Chemical and Biological Sciences. 2012.
By Susan Scutti