New Year’s Revolution ~ Bug Repellent Challenge (July)

With another summer season well underway, you may be on the search for something to keep the bugs at bay. Many conventional bug repellent options are often teeming with concerning chemicals, but that doesn’t mean that you have to choose between being eaten alive and making better choices for your health.

At MADE SAFE we believe it is important to find solutions that are not only safe for human health, but also for the health of the environment. We encourage you to use products that protect you from bugs like mosquitos and ticks, but don’t have collateral toxic effects on other creatures such as honeybees and aquatic life. Join us for this month’s challenge to swap your conventional bug repellents for safer repellents to keep both you and the environment healthy this summer.

To get started, read on for ingredients of concern to avoid.

(Just want safer solutions? Skip to Safer Ingredients in Bug Repellent.)

Ingredients of Concern in Bug Repellent

DEETDEET is a widely used and effective bug and tick repellent. DEET exposure, in large doses, has been linked to skin blisters, seizures, memory loss, headaches, stiffness in joints, shortness of breath, and skin irritation. Finally, DEET raises contamination concerns as it breaks down slowly in soil, and has been detected in groundwater, surface water, and drinking water.

Cyfluthrin – Cyfluthrin has been linked to neurotoxicity, muscle trembling, and behavior changes. One study found that normal liver function in rats was disrupted by cyfluthrin. Cyfluthrin is also harmful to fish, aquatic invertebrates, and honeybees.

Permethrin – Permethrin is a synthetic pesticide often used to treat bug-repelling clothing and outdoor equipment such as mosquito netting, as insect control for crops worldwide and is also found in some bug repellents. Permethrin is a neurotoxin and in high levels, can affect the function of chloride channels, potentially resulting in seizures. Permethrin is also toxic to aquatic life, bees, and fish.

Pyrethroids – Pyrethroids is a class of chemicals containing over 1,000 insecticides and is the most common type of chemical used in bug repellents. Pyrethroids can readily cross the blood-brain barrier, where they can become toxic to the central nervous system. Exposure to this class of chemicals has been linked to dermatitis and asthma-like reactions, nausea, burning sensations, loss of coordination, and endocrine disruption. The majority of the chemicals within this class are toxic to aquatic life and fish as well.

Safer Ingredients in Bug Repellent

Clove Oil – One study found that clove oil, when compared against five other oils, was one of the two most effective mosquito repellents. Clove oil is most effective when mixed with other oils such as geranium oil or thyme oil.

Lemongrass – Also listed on labels as cymbopogon citratus or schoenanthus oil, lemongrass oil is another great natural alternative. In one study, this oil was found to be 74 percent and 95 percent effective against two species of mosquitoes for up to 2.5 hours.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus – This oil can be naturally derived through hydro-distillation, but is most commonly synthetically produced, in which case it can be listed as p-menthan-3,8-diol (or PMD). One study found that, over the course of 4 hours, PMD was 96.89 percent effective whereas DEET was only 84.81 percent effective. The CDC endorses the use of PMD as an effective bug repellent.

Thyme – Thyme oil has been found to be a highly effective bug-repelling ingredient and, when diluted properly, boasts a very low toxicity profile.

Want to learn more creative ways to keep bugs at bay?

Check out our fact sheet, What’s Inside Bug Repellent. Want even more detail? Read our full report on Bug Repellent Alternatives & Tips.

*Remember, just because something is naturally-occurring doesn’t meant that it is infinitely safe or non-irritating. Look for bug-repelling oils in pre-made products to ensure they have been diluted properly, or if using essential oils in DIY repellents, always be sure to dilute properly using a carrier oil. Some botanicals can be irritating, so try a small patch test before use, and avoid any known botanical allergens. As with any new product, pay attention to your body and discontinue use if it is causing irritation.

MADE SAFE® Certified Solutions + Staff Favorites

Bug Repellent


Nantucket Spider 

YAYA Organics

Essential Oils for DIY Repellents

Buhbli Organics

Bug Bite Care


Clary Collection


+ MADE SAFE certified product
* Staff favorite – NOT MADE SAFE certified

Zika and Other Mosquito-Borne Illnesses: Knowing your area and if you are at risk for mosquito-borne or tick-borne illness can help you make the right bug repellent choice for you and your family. If you think you might be at risk, heed the advice from the CDC, WHO, and your doctor.

Looking for other nontoxic swaps? Check out our other posts and join the Revolution!
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