Summer is here and with it comes barbecues and other outdoor activities that we can enjoy in the warm weather. Unfortunately, the warming weather also brings mosquitoes and the diseases that they carry. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mosquitoes are the most prevalent carrier of insect borne diseases, carrying things like dengue fever, malaria, yellow fever and the Zika virus. These diseases are responsible for several million deaths every year, when counted together, and hundreds of millions of cases across the globe. For most, protecting yourself from mosquito bites means covering yourself in harsh chemicals like DEET (diethyltoluamide), the major active ingredient in most commercially available bug repellant. If coating yourself in skin-irritating chemicals doesn’t appeal to you or you have young children who cannot use chemical-based pest repellant, here are a few natural alternatives that are as effective as their harsher counterparts.

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1. Citronella

You’ve probably seen citronella candles or tiki torch oil that advertises its mosquito repelling qualities — you can also use citronella essential oil, or essential oil made from similar plants (lemon balm, lemon grass, etc) as a natural repellant. It does evaporate quickly from the skin, so you may need to either mix it with other materials in order to make it last long enough to be truly effective as a mosquito repellant. Citronella has been known to cause allergic reactions, so make sure to do a small spot test to check for any allergies before using.

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2. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

This oil is a natural mosquito repellant that has been used since the 1940s and has been approved by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as an effective alternative to chemical-based repellants. It can provide up to 95 percent protection for two to three hours, which is nearly as long as many of the harsher products available on the market today.

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3. Catnip

Yes, the little member of the mint family that drives your cat wild is also an effective mosquito repellant. Believe it or not, in 2001 Iowa State University actually found catnip oil to be up to ten times more effective than DEET and other similar chemicals. Specifically, the essential oil put out by the plant called nepetalactone is what repels the mosquitoes.

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4. Lavender

Lavender is a great-smelling plant that produces small purple or white flowers, and is a great way to ward off mosquitoes from yourself and from your yard. You can turn lavender into an effective mosquito repellant in a variety of ways, but just having it in your yard can discourage mosquitoes from hanging around.

Related: DIY: Homemade Insect Repellent Sprays and Lotions

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5. Other Tricks

If you’re still concerned about mosquitoes, you can take these actions to help protect your family:
• Remove mosquito breeding grounds — mosquitoes breed in stagnant or standing water, so don’t leave anything for them to breed in like empty buckets, old tires or anything that might hold water. Change the water in bird baths and other standing water fixtures once or twice a week.
• Cover up — wearing pants and long-sleeved clothing can be a way to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Additionally, if you’re sensitive to bug sprays on your skin, you can wear longer sleeves or pants, and spray the essential oils or other repellants directly onto your clothing instead.
• Buy a Mosquito Magnet Trap: Traps use carbon dioxide to attract mosquitoes and lure them into the trap to die.
• Avoid dawn and dusk — these are prime mosquito feeding times. Sometimes going out is unavoidable, but if you can stay inside during dawn and dusk, it’s a good way to avoid mosquitoes.

It’s important to remember that natural repellants don’t last as long as their chemical-based counterparts so, like sunscreen, they should be reapplied every two to three hours or as soon as you notice their effectiveness waning.

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