Bugs be gone! To DEET or not to DEET, that is the question.

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iStock_000041855648SmallYou’d be surprised what effective natural repellent you can make it your kitchen.

Most of us know that it’s common sense to try to put as few harsh chemicals onto our skin as possible. Yet the second the bugs come out in summer full force, it’s too easy to reach for the bottle of bug spray and douse ourselves to protect us from West Nile Virus and Lymes disease. Plus, those mosquitos and flies are just so darn annoying!

One of the most commonly used ingredients in conventional bug sprays for personal use is N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET), a known eye irritant that can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering when applied to the skin. It’s also been linked to neurological problems; and researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that DEET causes diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats, and is completely toxic to birds and aquatic life. Not exactly the kind of stuff you want to be rubbing onto your skin…

The good news is that you can make safe, natural, effective, wonderfully-smelling insect repellent at home, quickly and inexpensively. CBS news reports on scientific studies that show oil of lemon eucalyptus and soy based repellents to be just as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes.

The Center for Disease control also offers a few words of advice: When it comes to bug spray, one size certainly doesn’t fit all. The repellent you choose should depend on the type of insect you’re trying to ward off. The CDC suggests using repellents with picaridin, IR3535 or oil of lemon eucalyptus — like Cutter Advanced, Repel, Off! and SkinSmart — to prevent mosquito bites. But if you’re out to fight both ticks and mosquitos, reach for a spray with 20 percent or more DEET — think Off!, Cutter and Ultrathon.

The CDC also recommends putting on sunscreen before bug spray. And this is true whether you’re using a spray or a cream. Sunscreen usually needs to be reapplied more often than bug spray. Stay protected by keeping the two separate.

If you’re ready to try a natural alternative, here’s an easy recipe to make your own:

Fill an 8 oz. spray bottle half full of distilled water. Add witch hazel until the bottle is almost full. Add in any essential oils that you like that are known bug-deterrents. These include Citronella, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Lavender, Lemongrass, Cinnamon and Mint. Play around, using at least 30 drops of oils in total, or as many as 60-70 if you can handle the strong scent. Shake well, and off you go!

It’s really that easy!

Some other ideas to keep the insects away if you don’t happen to have bug spray on you:

  • Find some fresh lavender or mint, and rub the leaves directly on your body. Basil also works well (a garden full of basil leaves can help keep the bugs at bay).
  • Make your own candles scented with the same essential oils that you used in the spray. Keep them lit on outdoor patio tables.
  • In a pinch, vanilla can work, although not as great as some of the other oils. Rub it directly on your skin, or mix with some witch hazel for a lighter mist to spray onto skin.
  • Make bug netting work in your favor. Do you have a favorite lounge chair outside? Put it under a tree, hang bug netting all around it. If you drape it well, it can look beautiful while providing a full refuge from the bugs while you lounge. Potted lavender or mint plants around the area will help to keep the insects away.

So I hope that you can see that you don’t need to choose between spraying yourself with chemicals or being eaten alive by bothersome bugs. It is easy to keep the bugs away, protect your health, and smell great all at the same time.