A woman called me for advice the other day; I’m glad she did. She was told to make a natural insect repellent for her 2 year old son from the following items; 4 tbsp. witch hazel, 30 drops citronella essential oil, 20 drops rosemary essential oil. I was almost speechless but then managed to blurt out… You haven’t put this on your son have you!!???

Mosquito 1
I will now explain why this blend is dangerous, ineffective and why the person who suggested it has no idea how to safely use or mix essential oils. I will also suggest safe options in place of it.
First of all, essential oils should always be properly diluted with such carriers as cream, lotion, liquid soap, vegetable oils or ointment. In the case of mixing with water, you must pre-mix the essential oils with some form of pure alcohol or glycerine first. If you do not, the oil will sit on top and remain a hazard as it is still in undiluted form.
Understanding this principle is important since witch hazel is mostly water. You can add any essential oils to this but they will sit on top and never mix. Please ignore any recipes which tell you to blend essential oils with witch hazel. I see it written everywhere but it is truly a case of incorrect information reprinted over and over without authors checking for glaring errors in efficacy, safety and basic chemistry. I believe the root of this ridiculous recommendation stems from the fact that many commercial witch hazels contain up to 30% alcohol. This is still not nearly enough alcohol to dissolve essential oils. A minimum 60% is required. I wouldn’t use commercial types anyways. For more on this subject, follow these links:

Witch Hazel Profile

Essential Oils Will Not Mix With Water!

Secondly, the potency of this mix even if it did blend well, is beyond basic safety protocols. Safe levels of essential oils in a product which is to be applied to the skin range from 0.25 -3%,  the former being safe for children and the latter being the extreme end. This supposed blend tops out at just over 4%. If you are going to make a blend of essential oils even approaching 3% which is to be applied to the skin, make sure that you or the person who made it have extensive training in all aspects of essential oils. There are very few reasons to create blends this strong as more is not better with essential oils. There is now the potential hazard of irritation even on the most hearty of skin types; and certainly not for the delicate skin of a 2 year old child.

By the way, I have an extensive background in clinical treatment of several illnesses and skin conditions in my 25 years, and I can’t think of many scenarios where I would even think of doing this.

The choice of essential oils is also to be questioned. While the two previously mentioned oils are effective insect repellents, they are also quite aggressive and harsh. Once again, not a good choice where children are concerned.  I would be more inclined to substitute with lemongrass and or geranium.  Much safer options for children, and in my opinion more effective.

Oh and one more thing; ignore recipes that use measurements such as "tablespoon", or "½ cup". This reveals how an amateur blends oils. These terms should be reserved for cooking, not formulating a precise essential oil blend for therapeutic use. Chemists and other professionals use grams, mls, oz etc. scales and graduated cylinders as they are standard and precise.

So What Can You Do?
Since there are few essential oils which are safe and limited amounts which can be applied to children, a different strategy is required. My suggestion is this:
1. Wash your children’s clothes in neutral soaps that do not have fragrances and other chemicals which attract bugs. Get rid of the fabric softener as well. This stuff is the worst for attracting mosquitoes not to mention many other health hazards. For more on that click here Natural Alternatives to Fabric Softeners

2. If you have a suitable liquid soap to use, this is where you can add significant amounts of key essential oils to the soap, mix well and add to wash cycle. Some of the best are citronella, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass and cedarwood. Basil works well during black fly season. An example of a good dosage is to add 20- 30 drops of any of these essential oils or combination to 30 ml (1 oz) liquid soap. This makes the child’s clothes unappealing to bugs.

3. You can make a strong spray to apply around the child and on hats, blankets, camping equipment etc. Be sure to avoid direct contact with eyes and mouth. Mix 50 drops of any of the above mentioned essential oils to 30 ml glycerine. Put in a spray bottle and add 100 ml water. Always shake before use.

4. With regards to topical applications, one of the only essential oils I recommend  for children which is gentle yet has strong insect repellent properties is geranium. I suggest only 2-3 drops of geranium in 15 ml of vegetable oil such as fractionated coconut or a plant based cream or lotion. You can apply this liberally on exposed skin. Mix well and be careful to not apply too close to the eyes. Geranium has also proven to be popular as a tick repellent.

I know this may seem like a bit of work but if you want to reduce the early exposure of your children to chemicals such as deet, phthalates and other petrochemicals, it should be time well invested. When you feel that you have the right mix of product that is effective, you can start making larger batches and be ready for the season. Now get out there and enjoy the rest of the summer with your kids.

Sandy Powell

Nascent Naturals Inc

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