Here in Alaska, we joke about mosquitoes the size of birds. With some 35 species swarming locals and tourists alike, the mosquito reigns as the unofficial Alaska State Bird and, while relatively nonlethal, mosquitoes are definitely the reigning champions in the “Most Annoying Bug” category.

Repelling bugs is a priority. Their annoying sound alone just wrecks a beautiful day.

Also a priority is avoiding chemicals like DEET, used in most commercial bug repellents.

Avoid repellents containing DEET

One of the most widely used bug repellent ingredients in store-bought bug sprays for personal use, N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide, or DEET, as it’s commonly known, has become controversial. DEET is used by an estimated one-third of the US population each year hoping to escape mosquitoes, ticks, flies and other annoying creatures.

Although DEET is approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with cautions, DEET is a known eye irritant, can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering when applied to the skin, and should never be used on irritated skin. DEET is quickly absorbed through the skin where the EPA and FDA both recognize that DEET has been linked to neurological problems. According to the EPA, at least 18 different cases of children with adverse neurological effects, as well as the deaths of two adults, have been associated with DEET.

Despite concerns raised by scientists regarding DEET-caused seizures among children, the EPA claims that there is not enough information to implicate DEET with these incidents. Laboratory studies have found that DEET can cause neurological damage, including brain damage in children.

Duke Medical University pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia, Ph.D. conducted numerous studies in rats, which clearly demonstrate that frequent and prolonged applications of DEET cause neurons to die in regions of the brain that control muscle movement, learning, memory and concentration. Rats treated with an average human dose of DEET (40 mg/kg body weight) performed far worse than control rats when challenged with physical tasks requiring muscle control, strength and coordination. With heavy exposure to DEET and other insecticides, humans may experience memory loss, headache, weakness, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, tremors and shortness of breath.

Better safe than sorry is a good operating basis.

DEET causes environmental problems as well. Although DEET chemically breaks down when exposed to air, it is stable in water—including water treatment facilities where DEET has been measured coming out at the same concentration it went in. In the water, DEET negatively impacts wildlife, is toxic to birds and aquatic life. DEET has been found in approximately 75 percent of U.S. water sources, including the Mississippi River. While DEET bug spray labels recommend washing all clothes after spraying with DEET, this is a demonstrated source of elevated DEET in our water supply.

So much for “the solution to pollution is dilution.” Please think about this when you spray DEET on yourself or your children and then go swimming.

Homemade Non-Toxic Bug Spray

I love this because it is simple and easily applied. Because the scent repels rather than kills bugs, you can spray it on your clothing instead of your delicate skin—great for our sensitive children and even dogs (note, cats react to many essential oils, research these carefully before using on cats).

In a 4 ounce, clean spray bottle mix:

2 ounces distilled or boiled water

1 ounce witch hazel (or vodka)

1 teaspoon of jojoba oil* (optional) or use additional vodka or witch hazel

Add about 50 to 75 total drops of your choice of essential oils. Keep the dilution under 15% (2⅓ teaspoons total per 4 ounce recipe). Shake well. Spray onto exposed skin and/or clothing, avoiding eyes and mucous membranes. Reapply every 2 hours, or as needed. Store in a dark bottle, away from heat or sunlight.

Moisturizing Non-Toxic Bug Lotion

I love this butter because it serves double duty and moisturizes the skin. But please use caution before applying essential oils on the skin of pregnant or nursing women or very young children—that’s why the spray option is offered which can be used on clothing or nearby objects and still repel bugs.

Ingredients for 8 ounces (1 cup) of butter:

⅛ cup (2 tablespoons) beeswax

⅛ cup (2 tablespoons) mango butter

¼ cup (4 tablespoons) jojoba wax

¹⁄3 cup (6 tablespoons) coconut oil


  1. Measure the beeswax and jojoba oil into a glass jar—have a jar around dedicated for this purpose. Place into a pan of boiling water to melt—this double boiler method evenly melts the butters and oils without burning.
  2. Once melted, add the cocoa butter and melt.
  3. Add the coconut oil and stir until fully melted.
  4. Remove from the heat but don’t let it cool enough to harden (if it starts to, just remelt).
  5. Add your choice of essential oils to each jar, pour in the hot butter and stir the jar mix in the essential oils. Cover right away.

Bug Repellent Essential Oil Combinations

Note: Some citrus oils, like lemon, have strong bug repellent properties but can be “phototoxic”, meaning applying these oils to your skin can cause skin to damage or burn more easily if exposed to any source of ultraviolet (UV) light. It depends on the type of oil and how the essential oil has been processed as to whether the oil could cause a phototoxic reaction. Please use caution when adding citrus oils to your bug balms and sprays or use them when you aren’t in strong sunlight.

Bugs Hate This Spray

55 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil (reported by the CDC to be a good natural substitution for DEET in repelling insects, but not recommended for use on children under 3 yrs.)

15 drops cedarwood essential oil

15 drops lavender essential oil (Lavandula angustifolia–other lavenders do not have the same insecticidal qualities)

15 drops rosemary essential oil

Bugs Hate This Lotion

12 drops rosemary essential oil

12 drops cedarwood essential oil

12 drops lemongrass essential oil

12 drops eucalyptus or tea tree essential oil

Notes: as lotion is applied more thickly, the concentration of oils is half that used in the spray

Tea Tree work best against ticks, chiggers, and deer flies

About Young Living Essential Oils: After personal inspection of many companies—and there are a number of reputable companies—I elected to become a distributor for Young Living as a provider of consistently high quality and even food quality oils. I’d love to have you join my team and explore the world of essential oils together.

For 24% off the cost of Young Living Oils, sign up here: and say member #2838107 sent you.

Disclaimer: None of the recipes on these pages are intended to be taken as any medical advice whatsoever. These are fun and aimed at giving safer options than their chemical counterparts.

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