Repel Mosquitoes The Safe Way: DEET-Free

DEET is dangerous. But how do we get mosquitoes to bugger off without this proven repellent?

My family, neighbors and friends tested a number of repellents last summer… I’ll get to the ones that worked in a minute.

But first, I wanted to share with you what I heard from Dr. Kimberly Beauchamp, a Naturopathic Doctor from RI: “DEET has the potential to cause numerous adverse effects on the environment and in humans.” In her article, Natural Bug Sprays: How Effective Are They, she referenced a study that concluded the essential oils of clove, patchouli, makaen, and citronella may be safer alternatives to chemical repellents for warding off mosquitoes.  “DEET has the potential to cause skin blisters, rashes, and eye irritation. Long-term exposure to DEET may cause fatigue, disorientation, mood swings, and brain cell death. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of this and other chemicals; therefore, DEET-based products should not be used on children, especially those less than two years old.”

In researching DEET-free repellents, I found a prevalence of brands containing Picaridin. Registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, implying its safety, Picaridin is noted by the CDC as an effective mosquito repellent. The fact that they also touted DEET made me a bit leery. So I asked Dr. Beauchamp. Her family uses Natrapel, which contains Picaridin. She said, “… given its comparative safety over DEET and its proven effectiveness against deer ticks, it’s the lesser of two evils. There is nothing in the safety profile of Picaridin itself that is particularly concerning (and I’m very cautious about what I’ll put on my children’s skin or in their bodies). In places where Lyme disease is endemic, Picaridin-based repellents are the most effective and least toxic option.”

DEET-Free Repellents Revealed.
So what about the DEET-free, Picaridin-free mosquito repellents we tried? While I can’t say how well they repel ticks, I can tell you a number of them seemed as–if not more–effective than brands containing DEET where mosquitoes were concerned. What’s interesting is that the mosquitoes will hover–even land on you and walk around–but then they fly away. Many of the brands we tried come in a lotion or oil, so I suggest putting these on under your clothing.

Keep in mind: Our test was statistically insignificant (sample size totaled only 12, which included adults and children) and non-scientific. Yet, even in our small test, we found what worked for one person didn’t necessarily work for another.

Sleepy Hollow Farm Mosquito Repellent
This is my personal favorite. It has a nice lemony scent and comes in the form of a solid lotion bar in a deoderant-like container. Ingredients include Lemongrass, Citronella, Neem, Tea Tree, and Eucalyptus Pure Plant Essential Oils. Combined in a base of Beeswax, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Vitamin E, Sweet Almond and Jojoba Oils, and Elder Blossom Infused Olive Oil, this repellent not only keeps insects at bay–it moisturizes and nourishes your skin! It worked great for me the other day while sitting outside next to some evergreens, where mosquitoes were swarming about as if strategizing about how they would find that one little spot I might have missed. My son (8 at the time of the test) used it, too, with similar results. What I loved is that I could go to bed with it on. No shower needed.

Backyard Bliss
Worked wonders for my husband, who is typically a mosquito all-you-can-eat buffet. Backyard Bliss is a sprayable lotion containing ablend of Catnip, Lemongrass, Eucalyptus Citrodora, Balsam Peru, Vanilla, Ylang Ylang, and Cedarwood. I used it at the park one day and, except for the brisk walk to and from and my time on the swings, I was eaten alive. My son used it and it’s effectiveness fell somewhere in the middle.

Skeeter Beeter
Touted as a natural repellent, this oil has 96% organic aloe vera gel as the base. My mom raved about it. The possible downside: it contains Tetrasodium EDTA, a chemical that may be a skin irritant to some.

I considered test driving another “natural” repellent, but it contained phenoxyethanol, which the FDA says is a central nervous systemdepressant and may cause nausea and diarrhea. So watch out for that ingredient in any product. Any product labeled “natural” could contain ZERO natural ingredients, as I wrote about in my I Count for myEARTH blog.

If I happen to get a mosquito bite, I find tea tree oil, shea butter or Hello Mello body butter to be quite soothing.

Do you have a mosquito repellent that works for you–even your own concoction? Please share it in the comment section below. 

Author Bio.The founder of (a proud sponsor of the The Antarctica Challenge screenings at the International Polar Year Conference) plus the I Count for myEARTH blog and campaign, Lynn is also a contributing editor to a number of online environment focused publications, including You can find her on twitter and facebook. Guaranteed. Most days between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. She practices breathing when she thinks of it, runs, intends to do more yoga and loves to eat ice cream and dark chocolate. She lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband, son and two feisty cats; and considers herself an environmental and human rights activist. She dreams of living in California.

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