What are bug bites?
Bites can be caused by mosquitoes and other bugs. The bites tend to be become itchy and irritating.
Female mosquitoes bite us in order to develop their eggs. Mosquitoes can also sometimes carry potentially fatal diseases such as dengue fever or West Nile Virus. Chiggers are a type of mite and they inject digestive enzymes into our skin to destroy it and then feed upon this destroyed tissue. Ticks bite us because they need to eat blood. They can carry serious diseases like Lyme disease.
What are conventional ways to repel bugs?
The primary chemical in most repellants is between 10% and 30% of DEET (sometimes more). Some contain other chemicals like Picaridin. The long term effects of using these chemicals is yet to be determined, but preliminary studies on DEET have shown that it causes behavioral changes and the death of brain neurons in rats after frequent and prolonged use. It appears to mainly affect the neurons that control muscle movement, concentration, learning and memory which in turn reduces their ability to perform tasks.
There are similar reports of people exposed to large amounts of DEET during the Persian Gulf War experiencing symptoms like memory loss, headaches, weakness and muscle pain.
We do not know if there are any negative interactions from using DEET (and other chemicals) in addition to prescribed medications. Some people may be more susceptible to the negative effects of these sorts of chemicals than others.
What are alternative ways to repel bugs?
You can prevent mosquitoes and other larvae from breeding by ensuring your yard does not contain anything that can trap water such as bird baths, clogged gutters, open rain barrels and pot plants with dishes beneath them.
Research has shown that soybean oil-based mosquito repellents and essential oils like citronella, cedar, peppermint, lemongrass, and geranium do appear to provide some protection, however, they often need to re-applied more frequently than chemical repellents.
Research has also shown that lemon eucalyptus oil (Eucalyptus Citriodora) seems to provide longer lasting protection similar to low concentrations of DEET and it is safe for children older than 3 years. Eucalyptus citriodora is effective against mosquitoes carrying the West Nile Virus according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The chemical compounds called nepetalactones present in Catnip Essential Oil are said to be effective at repelling mosquitoes. Some research studies have shown that nepelactones are ten times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET.
Peppermint Essential Oil has also traditionally been used to repel ants and Vanilla Essential Oil has been used to repel gnats and Citronella has been used to repel some insects and to kill head lice when applied to the scalp.
See the Useful Essential Oils tab for more information on using essential oils to repel bugs.
Disclaimer: The statements made on this page have not been evaluated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are not intended to diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. If a condition persists, please contact your physician or healthcare provider. The information provided is not a substitute for a face-to-face consultation with a healthcare provider, and should not be construed as medical advice.