The botanical approach to bug spray

With this warm weather approaching (finally!!) we encourage you to soak up plenty of outdoor time. Go for a bike ride, explore the wonders of nature, sit outside and meditate, or just enjoy being…outside. Just remember to apply your non-toxic bug spray before the fun.

But WAAAAAAAIT A SECOND before you start applying any old bug spray, make sure you are aware of what you are lathering on your skin (your largest organ). Unfortunately, most conventional insect repellents on the market today are filled with toxic chemicals, notably DEET. Deet is so poisonous that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that we should wash it off our skin immediately when returning indoors. They also recommend avoiding all membrane entry points (nose and eyes) and certainly state to avoid swallowing (1).

The list of dangers associated with conventional insect repellent is long, so I will only discuss the most concerning. DEET can melt plastic and prolonged exposure to DEET may impair cell function in parts of your brain as discovered by a pharmacologist at Duke University (2). Further research on the toxicity of DEET found that it is a behavior-modifying chemical that inhibits the activity of a key enzyme of the central nervous system in both insects and mammals (3). Permethrin, another harmful chemical found in bug sprays, is a neurotoxin. Neurotoxins destroy brain cells! The EPA has categorized permethrin as carcinogenic, potentially capable of causing lung and liver tumors. They also warn that permethrin exposure may impair the immune system and impacts chromosomal activity. Permethrin is also extremely toxic to bees, cats, and all aquatic life. So not only is it hurting the body, it is damaging the environment (4).

So what’s the alternative? Botanicals that have strong scientific studies backing their effectiveness.

Plant-based repellents have been used for generations as a protectant against mosquitoes and other insects. Most plants contain compounds used in preventing attack from phytophagus (plant eating) insects. It is also likely that many plant volatiles are deterrents because they have high vapour toxicity to insects (you can thank evolution for that benefit). Mass screening of plants for repellent activity was how we discovered PMD (para-methane 3-8, diol), an effective and commercially available repellent (discovered in the 1960s). PMD, which is found in lemon eucalyptus, is the only plant-based repellent that has been advocated for use in disease endemic areas by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) due to its proven clinical efficacy against malaria It poses no risk to human health (1).

Not only does The Farm Life Bug Spray contain lemon eucalyptus, but it was formulated around statistical data of other botanicals too. In keeping with our transparent ways, we want to share with you the research behind the formula:

  • As we discussed above, corymbia citriodora (Myrtaceae), also known as lemon eucalyptus, is a potent natural repellent extracted from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees (5). Oil of lemon eucalyptus, specifically p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD), its component that contains pesticidal properties, is an alternative to toxic mosquito repellents and most likely acts by masking the environmental cues that mosquitoes use to locate their target. PMD has also shown remarkable ability to repel mosquitoes when compared to DEET –the most popular synthetic commercial insect repellent which has been linked to serious adverse effects, especially in children. In tests against a 10% DEET repellent, PMD products were shown to prevent bites for four to seven hours after application for an aggressive species of mosquito and for greater than 12 hours for less aggressive mosquitoes – a period of prevention greater than the studied DEET repellent (7). These studies were dependant on concentration and other ingredients used to improve contact time on the skin.
  • Essential oils distilled from members of the  Poaceae (aromatic grasses) and Pinaceae (pine and cedar family) are commonly used as insect repellents throughout the world. Gerniol (found in Geranium and other botanical) and Cedar oil have been notably deemed effective in repelling malaria, filaria and yellow fever vectors (5).
  • Research has been conducted on repellent activity of Thai essential oils derived from Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata) and Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus). Ylang Ylang diluted in coconut oil yielded excellent results with 98.9% protection from bites. Lemongrass oil diluted in olive oil also showed excellent activity with 98.8% protection from bites. The data exhibited from this study reveals these botanicals as suitable for use as “green mosquito control repellents,” and are safe for all humans, domestic animals, and are environmentally friendly (6).
  • Carrier oils are a key component to the success of plant-based insect repellents. They increase the longevity of the repellent because they contain unsaturated fatty acids and emulsifiers that improve repellent coverage and slow evaporation of volatile repellent molecules into the air (5).

 We love educating our tribe and hope you all find this information to be helpful when choosing how to protect yourself outside!

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