If you have every been to my office you will have heard this phrase: “Don’t put anything on your body that you are not willing to put in your mouth.” OK, and why is that? Well, anything that you put on your skin eventually ends up in your blood stream. Think about it, how do nicotine and other transdermal patches work? The drug or compound is absorbed through your skin and directly in to your bloodstream. So since we are talking about insect repellents that you put on your skin, lets talk about one of the most commonly used compounds in insect repellents, DEET. One article that I came across while researching some of the effects of DEET had this to say:
“So, is DEET bad for you? The answer isn’t totally clear. Overuse of DEET can have lethal consequences. Even so, data from 1961 to 2002 shows only eight DEET-related deaths. Three were from deliberate ingestion, two from dermal (skin) exposure and three were children receiving heavy and frequent applications of DEET [source: ATSDR]. The EPA stresses that DEET is perfectly safe when used in accordance with the directions on the label. Incorrect application can lead to health issues such as skin irritation, disorientation, dizziness and, in extreme cases, seizures or death [source: ATSDR].”
Not totally clear? Really?? People died! I guess they are figuring that over that time period, the eight deaths are not statistically significant. Well, if it was you or someone you know who died, I would say that was statistically significant! Some would argue that, in these cases, the DEET containing product was used improperly. Obviously, in the case of the deliberate ingestion, the product was misused and if you were trying to hurt yourself, improper ingestion of a variety of things that would not normally hurt you, can hurt you. Even heavy, frequent application may be a misuse of the product, but if heavy, frequent use can cause death, what can happen with even moderate use? As I said earlier, anything you put on your skin, eventually ends up in your bloodstream. Do you really want something that, with heavy, frequent use, can kill you, running around in you bloodstream, AT ANY LEVEL. Add to this the fact that many of these products are aerosols in nature. So when you are spraying them on yourself or your child, you and/or your child are breathing these compounds in to you lungs! I was a a fourth of July party a few years back an one of the mothers there picked up a bottle of what she thought was sunscreen and sprayed it on her child. Turns out it was insect repellent. The child was running around in the sun, sweating and he starts to get itchy and red, his skin irritated and broken out in a rash. He was miserable for the rest of the day and really no one knows what some of these things do long term. What is a safe amount? Everyone is different and who is to say what long term exposure can do. We are all exposed to so many toxins on a daily basis, and then we wonder where this or that disease came from. Here are some of the documented problems with excessive levels of exposure to DEET:
Do we really want or need this in our or our childrens lives? I advise all of my patients to limit their exposure to toxins wherever possible and there are alternative, here are just a few:
Gear Up: Use light colors and loose fitting long sleeve shirts and pant. Mosquitoes are attracted to darker colors and the loose fitting clothes will make it tougher for them to get to your skin.
Slow Down: Movement, carbon monoxide and bacteria that thrive in sweat all attract mosquitoes, so vigorous exercise late in the day when mosquitoes are most active is not advised.
Clean Up: Mosquitoes breed and thrive in standing water, so buckets, pots, tires and other places that water can cole
Natural products with essential oils from things like rosemary, lemongrass, citronella, and cedar are available at most health food stores and even camping stores, some are listed below.
- Herbal Armor
- California Baby
- Burts Bees
I have listed links to some pages for homemade bug sprays which are made up of many of the same essential oils listed above.
So, you forgot your natural bug spray and did not want to use the DEET containing product that was available at the BBQ. You get eaten up. What do you do? Here are some simple, natural ways of treating insect bites.
- Be as cool as a cucumber. Place cucumber skins on top of the bites to sooth the itching and irritation. You can also cut 2-inch round slices from a fresh eggplant and place on top of bite to draw out toxins and sooth the irritation.
- Apply honey to a bug bite to sooth the skin. Because honey is a natural antibiotic, it can also help prevent infections.
- Apply a blend of essential oils of eucalyptus, winter green and peppermint or tea tree oil to bites every 2 to 3 hours to relieve itching and aid healing.
- Use the inside of a banana peel
- Mix baking soda with water or witch hazel in to a paste and apply
- San Huang Xi Ji (Three Yellow Cleanser Fx): Da Haung (rhubarb), Ku Shen (sophora), Huang Bai (phellodendron), Huang Qin (skullcap). This is a mixture of herbs that are used in Chinese Herbal Medicine. Typically, they can be ordered (make sure it is a reputable and licensed herbalist or you may not be getting what you order!) in a powder and mixed with some vaseline and then applied to the bites.