Bad news: given the mild winter we just had we're set for one of the buggiest summers on record. Anya even has anecdotal evidence: she just returned from a Cape Cod vacation with 108--yes, 108--mosquito bites.
Not that we're panicking. We won't be grabbing the most heavy-duty, DEET-laden bug guard we can find. Quite the opposite actually. The more we hear about DEET (Diethyl Toluamide) and its potentially toxic longterm effects, the more freaked out we get. Instead we've decided to employ a few natural sprays -- and oils, lotions and balms -- to keep bugs at bay this summer. Heed these four tips before buying your next repellent, then check out seven of our favorite bug-avoiding methods. (And please tell us your mosquito bite horror stories in comments below.)
Understand DEET and its potential side effects: Yes, DEET is the most widely-known bug-repelling ingredient, but also the most extreme. It was developed by the Army during World War II, and intended for use in jungle warfare. Initially DEET was tested as a pesticide. While percentages under 30% are deemed safe by the EPA, there have been studies that suggest if you spray on too much or too often it can be absorbed into your blood stream, where it may possibly be a factor in causing everything from neurological damage to seizures. Uh, yikes.
Essentials oils are super-effective bug repellents: A citronella (i.e. lemongrass oil) candle has sat at the table of many an outdoor BBQ over the years. It's another ingredient known to ward off bugs, but there are a few others that also get the job done. Essential oils like lavender, geranium, basil and neem are other options that will keep the bugs away. The trick here is that you're changing the way your skin tastes to bugs, and the good news is that they're not interested in these oils. Thus, you smell good and bugs get lost. It's a win-win.
Try a balm or lotion: We love our bug spray in non-spray-form too. They make it easier to cover hard-to-spritz areas as well as oft-bitten spots, like behind the ears, around the ankles, etc.
Your plan of attack post-bug bite: Though we've certainly given you something to work with, a bite here or there is inevitable. Look for ingredients like lavender and calendula which will calm and soothe red, irritated skin.
And for makeup tips that will quickly disguise your mosquito bites, click here.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post suggested a directly causal link between DEET and health risks. The EPA believes data is currently insufficient to establish DEET as the cause of the reported effects.