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Does Natural Insect Repellent Work? My Journey as the Formulator of a Natural Insect Repellent

Written by: Kimberly DuBois

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Time to read 5 min

Although important as a food source for other organisms, mosquitoes and ticks can be a nuisance and carry various bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause diseases like Zika, West Nile, Encephalitis, and Lyme disease. That's why, 22 years ago, I started looking for a solution to protect my 3-year-old daughter from these critters. Two options were available: follow the conventional path or search for a natural insect repellent.


Conventional Repellents

While conventional insect repellents, such as those containing DEET and Permethrin, are effective at repelling insects, it's crucial to understand their potential risks and dangers. Especially with prolonged or excessive use, these chemical compounds can adversely affect our health, a fact that should not be taken lightly.


DEET, a common active ingredient in many insect repellents, has been linked to various adverse effects, including skin irritation, rashes, and even neurological symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and seizures in rare cases. Although considered safe when used as directed, DEET can pose risks, particularly for children and pregnant women.


Permethrin, another popular insect repellent, is a synthetic chemical that acts as a neurotoxin to insects. While it is effective at repelling and killing ticks, mosquitoes, and other pests, Permethrin can also harm humans and animals if ingested or absorbed through the skin. Prolonged exposure to Permethrin has caused skin irritation, respiratory issues, and, in severe cases, neurological damage.


Over the years, as concerns about the potential health risks of chemical-based repellents have grown, so has the interest in natural insect repellents. This trend, while relatively new, has significantly increased in popularity. It's worth noting that 22 years ago, when I was searching for a solution for my daughter, the availability of natural insect repellents was quite limited.

Natural Insect Repellent

Armed with the knowledge of the potential health risks associated with DEET or Permethrin-based products, I took it upon myself to protect my daughter. Drawing on my understanding of essential oils and research skills, I set out to develop a formula. At that time, my primary concern was mosquito protection since tick-transmitted Lyme disease had not yet become the major threat it is today.


Many natural mosquito repellents use a blend of essential oils and are mixed with a base of vinegar, witch hazel, coconut oil, or isopropyl alcohol. From online sources, you'll see a long list of ingredient oils: eucalyptus, lavender, cinnamon, thyme, tea tree, rosemary, chamomile, peppermint, cedarwood, lemongrass, and Citronella. I had some ideas of my own. 


From my knowledge of traditional herbal folklore, I knew Eucalyptus Citriodora (Lemon Eucalyptus) was an effective natural insect repellent. Indeed, in years to come, the active ingredient in Lemon Eucalyptus became recognized as an effective non-DEET insect repellant by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although Citronella is found in many natural insect repellents, it doesn't rank high on the list of effective essential oils, and I never favored the scent. Choosing the remaining oils to combine with Eucalyptus Citriodora became a matter of intuiting the synergy created by the mixture. Lavender was a no-brainer! The others, Geranium, African Sage, and Blue Cypress, were more unique choices. 


Next, I needed a base for the oils, also known as the carrier. I wanted something that would preserve the oils while having a clean, non-greasy feel on the skin. Although isopropyl alcohol would've worked, it wasn't a great idea to put it on a child's skin. Ethanol (Vodka) was a better choice and was readily available. That, with the appropriate amount of water, became my formula. 


Bringing It to the World

My husband, Ray, and I launched Turtle Moon Health in the early 2000s, and this formula became formally known as Herbal Insect Repellent. As we began to market it, we immediately began to get favorable feedback from users in backyards, rainforests, and jungles. It was so gratifying to get the testimonial from Roderick Romero, an internationally known tree-house builder and musician, “We were five hours deep in the Costa Rican rain forest, traversing mass underbrush, searching for the perfect tree-house site. Usually I’m the foodbank for bugs! I had the least amount of protective gear on of anyone and did not get a single bite all day. I really like the smell, too!” Similar feedback came in from people on safari in Africa, saying that our natural insect repellent was adequate protection from mosquitoes and tsetse flies. Others were reporting relief from mosquito bites during their sunset hikes and barbeques. Wow, we could only conclude that our natural insect repellent could be an effective and safer alternative to conventional repellents when properly and adequately applied!

Those Darn Ticks

Over time, it became apparent that outdoor activities were becoming synonymous with getting ticks. It became more common to hear of people having Lyme Disease. My response was to evolve the natural insect repellent to include protection from ticks. Part of this mission included making the bug spray safe not only for children but also for pets, namely dogs and cats. Anyone with a dog knows they are tick magnets! Ensuring the repellent would not stain clothes was another consideration because it would be necessary to cover your entire lower body with repellent to protect it from ticks adequately.


Creating a combo natural mosquito and tick repellent involved changing the formula to accommodate Cedarwood essential oil, known for repelling ticks. To achieve the proper synergy (there's that word again), the formula became Eucalyptus Citriodora, Lemon Tea Tree, Cedarwood, Lavender, and Geranium. An interesting legend about the Lemon Tea Tree comes out of Australia. It's said that the natives there learned to use Lemon Tea Tree oil as a natural insect repellent by observing that animals were rubbing against the tree's bark to protect themselves from insects. Indeed, it adds considerable potency to the formula.

It Gets Better

The mosquitoes were out one summer evening, and I was hanging out with friends on their deck. We were passing the Herbal Insect Repellent around, each of us applying it, when one friend said, "There's got to be a better name for this stuff." Several suggestions were made, and someone said, "How about Nature's Cloak?" That clicked with me, and the name was changed.


A challenge when creating an essential oil formula is keeping the oils dispersed adequately in the carrier. Therefore, I advised our customers to shake the contents before applying. To address this situation, I imported a high-quality vegetable dispersant from England and substituted it for the alcohol in the blend. This did a great job keeping the oils distributed evenly and had the added benefit of being a fixative for the scent when applied to the skin, extending the effectiveness of the repellent. Removing the alcohol made Nature's Cloak even more kid and pet-friendly.


Conclusion

So, does natural insect repellent really work? The answer is a resounding yes! Turtle Moon's natural insect repellent offers a compelling alternative to conventional products when applied as instructed on the container. Nature's Cloak, with its long track record of success and dedication to quality, exemplifies the efficacy of natural insect repellents in providing reliable protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and other bothersome bugs. As you venture into the great outdoors, trust in nature's power to keep you naturally protected with products like Nature's Cloak.


Love and Light,

Kimberly

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