Do natural bug repellants truly work in the great outdoors?

Bugs as an aspects of nature has nev­er appealed to my del­ic­ate sens­ib­il­it­ies, and not really because I dis­like bugs. The sounds of buzz­ing around my ears and being attacked as an appeal­ing blood bath is not my idea of a relax­ing time; the sound irrit­ates me.

My annoy­ance is not the only reas­on my skin crawls; mos­qui­toes, deer flies, ticks, and horse­flies are all cap­able of car­ry­ing nasty dis­eases includ­ing Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme’s Disease, West Nile vir­us, Tularemia, Plague, and Encephalitis (from vari­ous loc­a­tions, includ­ing California, St. Louis, Western). 

Natural Bug Repellant Scientific Evidence

The research out there for nat­ur­al bug repel­lants is pretty weak right now. It’s not that they don’t not work, but they just don’t stand up as strongly cur­rently against a pre­par­a­tion like DEET in sprays and lotions (DEET pre­par­a­tions typ­ic­ally last 60 minutes with 20 – 25% DEET). As it’s easy to use DEET, not a lot of time and research is going into the harder work of fid­dling with the right chem­ic­al com­bin­a­tions of nat­ur­al altern­at­ives. However, with your interest and demand, this is changing.

For mos­qui­toes, a sys­tem­at­ic review pub­lished in 2011 did men­tion that cit­ron­ella stood up bet­ter to pro­tect against bites with vanil­lin, which yes, is the odour and fla­vour we asso­ci­ate with vanilla but is also found in oth­er foods. Right now, the com­mer­cial pre­par­a­tions that use this know­ledge are few and as it is a com­plex chem­istry get­ting this exactly right in the right ratios as a recent paper real­ized, it will again be some time before we even know which pre­par­a­tions are work­ing properly.

Natural Interventions

So, what is a girl to do try­ing to avoid DEET and non-nat­ur­al altern­at­ives? I have put a few to the test, and I’ll give my n=1 find­ings here (n=1 refers to the sample size one used in a study for all of you ran­dom­ized-con­trolled tri­al obsessed out there :)

Natrapel: No points here for mos­qui­toes, and def­in­itely not for deer flies. A cit­ron­ella-based inter­ven­tion, I think it actu­ally attrac­ted mos­qui­toes. It also prom­ises rose­mary and lav­ender which I wondered if just added to this attraction.

Citronella-based candles: Points here for mos­qui­toes, and deer flies are not out at night. Better for sta­tion­ary activ­it­ies, like sit­ting on a porch or around a campfire.

Bracelets: Absolutely ter­rible. Again, they were a point of attraction.

Chemical-Based Interventions

OFF Fan: This was a good happy medi­um to my need to be buzz-free and chem­ic­al-free (some­what) as it is com­pletely off the body. You attach the fan to your pants or shirt with a clip and if you are sta­tion­ary, this does a rel­at­ively good job. Affordable as well.


Ongoing! I’ll be in the great out­doors shortly to give fur­ther products a try :)

Dr. Meghan Walker has a com­pli­ation of essen­tial oils that she had suc­cess — I will test this out and see if this is helpful!

What nat­ur­al bug repel­lants have worked for you? I’d love to hear it, so we can help one anoth­er out!

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