DIY Insect Repellent

By Catherine Winter

Here in Quebec, we really only have two seasons: winter, and mosquito. Black Fly may be considered a transitional period, usually from mid May to late June, but as I live in the forest, mosquito season lasts from …oh, as soon as the snow melts, to once it begins to fall once again.
Since we try to avoid harmful chemicals like DEET, we generally whip up batches of our own insect repellents in the hope of being slightly less of a smorgasbord for the blood-sucking jerks.

DIY repellents such as these listed below can be quite effective alternatives to their more toxic counterparts, but you have to be diligent when applying them, as they tend not to last as long as store-bought offerings.

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Essential oils (EO) are key to keeping biting insects away, and the EO that have proven most effective are:

  • Eucalyptus
  • Tea Tree
  • Lemon
  • Lemongrass
  • Citronella
  • Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Lavender
  • Rosemary
  • Clove
  • Geranium
  • Peppermint

So far, tea tree oil seems to work really well against ticks, chiggers, and deer flies, while citronella, lemon, and eucalyptus are ideal for fending off mosquitos and black flies. Some studies claim that geranium combined with peppermint is also a great combination to keep mosquitoes away.
It’s advised that you don’t use full-strength EO directly on your skin, but rather mix them with with a carrier of some sort before applying them.
The exception to undiluted application is if you daub a few drops of oil to outer clothing, like socks, jackets wrists, hat brims, etc. Basically, in places where the oil isn’t going to come into direct contact with your skin.

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Salve

This salve is great for slathering between your toes and around your ankles if you’re in tick territory. I also rub it around my wrists before putting on gardening gloves, as well as around my hairline and behind my ears when I wear a sun hat.
It’s proven to be remarkably effective at keeping black flies away, and although mosquitoes may still land on me, they don’t bite or stick around long.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons beeswax or carnauba wax pellets

Heat the olive oil in a double burner, heavy (small) saucepan, microwave container… whatever you can heat it up in without burning it. Don’t let it boil: just warm it thoroughly.
Remove from heat, and add in the wax pellets, stirring constantly with a whisk to make sure they’re all melty.
Add 20 drops each of peppermint and lemon eucalyptus essential oils, then pour the mixture into a small jar or tin and allow to cool.
Apply before going outside.

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Spray

I like this spray for larger skin areas (like my back, calves, and shoulders) when I go hiking, or if I’m walking into town. The 2km walk from my house to the main road is flanked by forest on either side, so it’s a bit like running a mosquito gauntlet unless I smell unappetizing to them.

  • Water
  • Witch hazel
  • Vegetable glycerin
  • Lemon, citronella, tea tree, rosemary, lemon eucalyptus, peppermint, or regular eucalyptus essential oil

Create a 20:80 mix of water:witch hazel in an 8oz or 10oz spray bottle. Then add a teaspoon of glycerin, and 30 drops of essential oil.
Spray yourself with this mixture before heading outside, and re-apply when the scent begins to fade.
Note: If you have a negative skin reaction, or if you really don’t like the smell, discontinue use.

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Lotion

You don’t want to get this stuff in your eyes, but it’s a heavy-duty option if you’re going to be working outside for a while and you really don’t want to get bitten. Not only does it smell quite strong, but you’ll taste disgusting to any insect that dares land on you.

  • 1/3 cup unscented liquid castile soap like Dr Bronner’s.
  • 30 drops essential oil of your choice. If you’ve chosen to use a scented Dr. Bronner’s soap (like mint or eucalyptus, etc.) choose the same or complementary EO scent.Before you go out into the woods, or do any gardening outside, apply this liberally to your any exposed skin. Once you’re finished outside, hop into the shower and wash it all off. Bonus point: you’ll be pre-soaped.This lotion is better for adults and teenagers, since we’re slightly less likely to get a mouthful of soap after licking drippy ice cream or whatnot off our skin.
    …slightly.

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A Final Note

The usual caveats stand: people (and animals) react different ways to different essential oils, so do a bit of research first to determine which are safe for you and your kids/pets/etc. Some children react badly to clove or lemon oil on their skin, tea tree can be harmful if licked off by cats and dogs, and if you’re allergic to conifers like pine or spruce trees, you might react to rosemary as well.

Do small skin patch tests before hosing yourself down with any of this stuff, and if you have any hesitations about using any of this, speak to an herbalist, aromatherapist, or naturopath first. Or, stick with commercial insect repellents that you already know and trust.

Be safe, be healthy, and enjoy your time outside!

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