The Dos and Don'ts of Bug Spray

07/14/2015 05:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

by guest blogger Ava Anderson, natural-beauty expert and safe-cosmetics advocate

Did you know that what we put on our skin can be absorbed directly into our bodies? Our skin is often a gateway to the bloodstream, which is why products like nicotine and estrogen patches work. Unfortunately, our skin lacks the benefit of the body's digestive detoxification systems, which include saliva and the liver.

This is why we have to be especially careful with what we put on our skin!

It's particularly important to think about skin absorption in the summer months, when we use products like sunscreen and bug spray more frequently, applying them to our skin to keep us safe from the sun. They often include harmful chemicals. One surefire way to stay safe from both bugs and toxins? Know your ingredients!

Here's what you do and don't want in your next spritz of bug spray:

DON'T: N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, aka DEET. Invented in the 1950s, DEET is effective at keeping bugs at bay and is the most common ingredient used in insect repellents today. However, DEET has been linked to a number of health issues, including death (from ingestion), asthma, seizures, insomnia, impaired cognitive function, and nervous system damage.

DO: Organic catnip essential oil. Catnip is a common garden plant that's an effective mosquito repellent. In tests, Chris Peterson, PhD, and Joel Coats, PhD, chairs of Iowa State's entomology department, even found it to be more effective than DEET!

DON'T: Fragrance/parfum. In the U.S., manufacturers can legally hide dozens of synthetic chemicals in the one word--"fragrance"--without revealing what those ingredients are. It's referred to as a "trade secret" in the industry, but it is actually a loophole big enough to drive a truck though. Environmental Working Group researchers found more than 75 percent of products listing the ingredient "fragrance" contained phthalates (THAL-ates) which have been linked to disrupted hormonal activity, fertility problems, and reproductive malformation, along with liver and breast cancer, diabetes, and obesity.

DO: Organic lemon eucalyptus essential oil. Oil from Australia's lemon eucalyptus tree is an effective mosquito repellent, as well as a deterrent of horseflies, gnats, and ticks. There's evidence that components in the oil are as effective as DEET, and in some cases, even more effective. It has a strong scent that's believed to confuse mosquitoes' delicate sense of direction and taste, making it difficult for them to find a host. In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency registered oil of lemon eucalyptus as an effective "biopesticide repellent"--meaning that it's derived from natural plant materials.

DON'T: Propellants. Propane, butane, isobutane, hydrofluorocarbons, and dimethyl ether are the most common propellants used in bug sprays. Headaches, breathing difficulties, mood swings, and nausea are just some of the acute symptoms of these harmful chemicals.

DO: Organic peppermint essential oil. Flies and ants don't like the scent of peppermint, making this essential oil an effective natural insect repellent. You can also grow peppermint plants in your garden to keep mosquitos away without toxic chemicals!

Have a happy, safe, and bug bite-free summer!

At the age of 15, Ava Anderson launched her safe line of personal care and home-cleaning products, Ava Anderson Non Toxic. Now in college, Ava is educating hundreds of thousands of American families annually on the issue of toxic chemicals in products through her line, which now includes baby, skin, hair, body, cosmetics, men's, candles, bug, home, sun, and pet products. An undergrad at Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, Ava actively helps run her large company with over 90 employees and thousands of Ava Consultants in every state in the nation. Her goal is to force a paradigm shift on the issue of toxic chemicals in products--with your help.

For more from Maria Rodale, visit www.mariasfarmcountrykitchen.com