How to Make Your Own DIY Natural Insect Repellent, Plus Why Essential Oils are Better Than DEET
Summer vacations, nights on the patio and movies in the park all have one thing in common: They can be easily ruined by swarms of bugs, buzzing their way into your ears and onto your skin. The easy remedy? A DIY bug repellent that utilizes the power of essential oils to deter insects. We chatted with Dr. Janis Covey, a compounding pharmacist and founder of the super-clean Kosmatology skincare brand, about why essential oils are the perfect natural remedy, and why we all should avoid DEET, stat.
Why Essential Oils?
Janis says that certain essential oils such as rosemary and lemon create a scent that “bugs do not like and therefore wearing them will repel those pesky biters.”
Lavender has been used for centuries as a bug repellent, Janis continues. “It is mostly used to protect clothes and linens from moths with the use of lavender satchels. More recently, it has been shown to be effective as a mosquito repellent. Plant it around your porch or patio or use it topically, the lavender gives off a scent that bugs do not like.”
Thyme repels mosquitoes at a similar efficacy to DEET. Says Janis, “A study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association researched the efficacy of thyme to repel mosquitoes as effectively as DEET and concluded that a solution containing 2 percent alpha-terpinene (a component of thyme essential oil) could serve as an alternative mosquito repellent.”
Catnip also repels mosquitoes more effectively than DEET. “In a 2001 Iowa State University study,” says Janis, “the researchers found catnip to be up to ten times more effective than DEET and other similar chemicals. Specifically, a component of the plant called nepetalactone is what repels the mosquitoes.”
Sometimes, with essential oil blends, you do need to reapply more often than with a conventional repellent. Says Janis, “It depends on the formulation. Many natural bug repellents are a combination of essential oils in a carrier oil such as soybean oil. When natural bug repellents are formulated this way, the scent will wear off quickly and need to be reapplied. Some studies suggest reapplication as often as every 20 minutes. Kosmatology’s bug repellent is in a balm form which has a longer lasting effect. Reapplication would be required approximately every two hours. If swimming or involved in sweat-inducing activities, you may need to reapply more often.”
Why We Need to Avoid DEET
DEET has come under fire for its links to neurotoxicity that Janis says, may lead to delays in motor skill, learning and memory dysfunction. It’s also been linked to skin blisters, seizures memory loss, headaches and shortness of breath, she continues.
“DEET is absorbed rapidly through the skin and detectable levels can still be found in the body 12 hours after application,” Janis says. “DEET is metabolized by the liver and effects on the liver are unknown. It does cross the placenta and detectable levels have been found in newborns at birth.”
With all that info, why risk it? Skip the DEET and try our homemade bug repellent instead.
5-Minute Essential Oil Bug Spray Recipe
- 30 drops geranium essential oil
- 30 drops thyme essential oil
- 20 drops catnip essential oil
- 20 drops lavender essential oil
- 10 drops rosemary essential oil
- 1 Tbsp. vodka or rubbing alcohol
- ½ cup natural witch hazel
- ½ cup water (or vinegar)
- 1 tsp. vegetable glycerin (optional)
- Drop your essential oils into a glass spray bottle.
- Add vodka or alcohol and shake well to combine.
- Pour in witch hazel and shake to combine.
- Add ½ tsp. vegetable glycerin if using. (It’s not necessary, but will help the oils and other liquids combine.)
- Add water and shake again.
- Shake before each use as the oils and water will naturally separate some over time.
Note: Because of the concentration of essential oils in this blend, we don’t recommend using it directly on children’s skin. Instead, spray this onto clothing and into the air. If you want an effective, kid-skin-safe option, check out Kosmatology’s Bug Balm.
Learn more about the power of essential oils from Saje Wellness, a Canadian company making health more accessible.