Natural protection from mosquitos and sun

Being outside in the summer is great, but getting bitten by mosquitoes or getting a sunburn can be serious problems.

There are many products out there to prevent these, and more people are seeking ways to reduce the number of chemicals they’re exposed to when using bug spray or sunscreen. The good news is there are naturally based or derived products that can keep people safe.


For a natural barrier from insects, start by covering up. Nancy Troyano, director of technical education and training for pest-control company Rentokil, said hikers exposed to ticks in wooded areas should wear long pants, tucking the pants legs into socks or boots to prevent ticks from climbing inside.

“Wear light-colored clothing to easily spot ticks crawling on you,” Troyano said.

To prevent mosquitoes from breeding, get rid of standing water. At home, fans can deter mosquitoes. “Mosquitoes are weak fliers and so are unable to cross the strong air currents created by fans. Placement of fans is key to ensure that the air currents are being directed at people,” she said.

She also recommends wearing insect repellent with an EPA-registered active ingredient.

Although the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Working Group all say that the best protection against insect bites is DEET at 20 to 30 percent protection, many people who want natural-based insect repellents shy away from it.

The CDC and EPA’s recommended alternatives to DEET are oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin and IR3535, which are derived from natural products or mimic compounds found in nature. They have varied effectiveness against mosquitoes, ticks and other bugs, and products with 20 to 30 percent concentration are most effective. The EPA’s website has a consumer tool that includes brand names of long-lasting insect repellents.

Among some of the longest-lasting naturally derived insect repellent brands on the EPA website are Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent ($4.99) and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 ($6.99).

A February study in the Journal of Insect Science tested various insect repellent methods and found that DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus sprays reduced mosquito attraction by 60 percent. However, citronella candles, bracelets and sound-wave devices had no effect on mosquitoes. Health experts also say to avoid pure essential oils as they don’t ward off insects.


Physicians said clothing and hats go a long way toward preventing sunburns and are a good first choice for natural sun protection from the skin.

Dr. Margarita Rohr, an internist at NYU Langone Medical Center, said to look for sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays, and to wear wide-brimmed hats.

Dr. Joel Schlessinger a dermatologic surgeon in Omaha, Neb., who writes about skin care at RealSelf, said to look for a hat made of a tightly knitted fabric with a brim of 2 to 3 inches.

More clothing now has sun protection, including swimwear, Rohr and Schlessinger said, and much of it lists an Ultraviolet Protection Factor, or UPF. Look for UPF 50, which blocks 98 percent of rays. By comparison, a regular white cotton T-shirt has a UPF of about 7, Schlessinger said. Snapper Rock and Hydrochic are two clothing lines that list UPFs, and hatmaker Wallaroo has a line of hats with UPFs.

Sunscreen is a must, and to avoid chemical-based sunscreens, look for mineral-based sunscreens that contain zinc and titanium dioxide. These work by sitting on top of the skin, providing a barrier from the sun. The downside is they tend to look chalky — think lifeguard nose — but many now are available tinted to avoid the Casper the Friendly Ghost look.

Schlessinger said that, in this category, he likes EltaMD UV Clear Broad-Spectrum SPF 46 Facial Sunscreen ($34.50), which he recommends for people with acne-prone skin.

A facial moisturizer with SPF is recommended even for office workers to protect them while commuting. Chuda Sheer Hydration Lotion Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($70) is made for sensitive skin.

Both physicians remind people to reply sunscreen every 90 minutes to two hours. That goes for women who wear moisturizers and foundations with SPF too. Schlessinger said he understands it’s hard to continue to add sunscreen over makeup, so he suggested using Jane Iredale Powder-Me SPF Dry Sunscreen SPF 30 ($47).

“It is a great option for touching up your sunscreen throughout the day. This mineral sunscreen protects skin with 17 percent titanium dioxide while clay minerals nourish, calm and soothe skin. Its no-mess formula won’t run or streak, and the sponge cap makes it easy to apply on the go,” he said.