Natural Bug Repellents

July 8, 2018

Last month I gathered together more information than any usual citizen should sift through and read about mosquitoes, ticks and bug spray. I wanted to better understand how these insects find us, and how well different repellents work and what the safety usage guidelines were for each of them. This is a condensed version of my findings because the whole thing worked out to be 5 pages! If you're interested to know all of it, let me know as it is the basis of my Natural Bug Repellent workshop! To run the course I need a minimum of 6 participants, so if you want more than this teaser, gather your friends!

The Bugs

If it’s not the heat, it’s the bugs that can keep us inside. Mosquitoes, black flies, no-see-ums and ticks can, on their own, be enough to not bother with the walk in the park. What is it about us that makes us so attractive? Besides the itch or sting of some bug bites, why should we worry about protecting ourselves from their presence?


Various odours or other chemical markers we produce are what make us trackable by insects. Predominantly, CO2 and ammonia seem to be the most attractive scents on our bodies that mosquitoes and ticks are drawn to. CO2 comes out when we exhale, so the heavier we are breathing, the more volume of CO2 we are expelling. When we sweat, the microflora that live on our skin feed on the sweat and oils our skin secretes. As they feed they produce waste products, one of which is ammonia. Ammonia is part of what makes that glorious stench we know as body odour. And get this, it is particularly that incubated sweat that is the most attractive. It’s not entirely known how this scent tracking works but these problem insects possess structures that pick up these chemical scents in the air and enable the insect to orient itself towards its target. Mosquitoes and ticks have slightly different biting behaviours, but more or less find us the same way.

In Ontario, mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus, and Black Legged Ticks can carry Lyme disease. Both are capable of carrying other bacterial and viral infections though these two are probably of greatest significance. Thus, efficient protection is worth considering when playing outside.

Need to learn how to ID a tick? Not all ticks are disease vectors for humans, so before you panic should you find one, visit Guelph Tick Tracker and scroll to the bottom.

Protecting yourself

Now that we have that icky stuff out of the way, how do we address repelling these nasties? Considering how they find us, controlling our scent may be number one. Clean clothing that is light and breathable and allows sweat to quickly evaporate will reduce that special mix of ammonia we produce when we sweat. Keeping as cool as possible and considering outdoor exercise choices and locations can be a factor too. For topical chemical control we currently have 2 options available in various forms, DEET containing products and essential oil containing products.


DEET is probably the most familiar synthetic bug repellent we know, present in the most topical repellents on the market. It is considered safe for responsible human use in maximum concentrations of 30%. Most DEET containing repellents have it at about 23%. Extensive testing has been done on DEET comparing its effectiveness to other repellents as well as its safety for human use. It is considered very repellent for insect landing and biting, and has a long duration of 5-8 hours. Double applications (reapplying in less than an hour) do not increase repellency but rather increase duration. It is absorbed by the skin which is concerning to some people, though it is considered safe for human use. Because of this absorption, many are looking to plant based means of repelling insects. For safe usage guidelines, visit Insect Repellents - Gov't of Canada.


In the lab, essential oils of geranium, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, cloves, lavender, various eucalyptus, basil, rosemary, cedar, peppermint, thyme and likely many others I did not find, have been tested for repellency. And, perhaps with little surprise, they demonstrated very high efficacy with minimal risk to humans given safe use guidelines were followed. Most of the common essential oils are safe for use within reason though some do pose their own risks. EO's like lemongrass can be sensitizers meaning, after repeated exposure, one can develop something like an allergy to the oil, rendering them unsafe for use with that particular person. Of the above EO's, the ones most promising were citronella, catnip, geranium and lemon eucalyptus and various pine needle oils. In folk remedies, tinctures and oils infused with yarrow are common ingredients as well.

The biggest setback with relying on essential oil blends for insect repellency lies in their chemical properties. As volatile chemicals they evaporate very quickly, meaning their scent and repellency is gone in short order. At best, most products appeared to last no more than 30 minutes, requiring repeated application. As the scent disappears, so does the protection. This doesn't mean that using EO's to repel insects is useless; it means we need to use our best judgement when choosing our repellent.

The below recipe for an essential oil based repellent is highly repellent against mosquitoes and ticks, but will be short lived. Expect to reapply within the hour of the first application. It is safe for use on adults and children over the age of 3. If you will be outside for a long duration (i.e., going camping or spending a day hiking in the woods) you may be better off using a DEET product as you'd likely need apply it only twice. It does not include the use of catnip which is presently being touted as THE bug repellent essential oil. It is a rather expensive bottle of oil to buy, often around $60 for 15mL (possibly more depending on the source). It is Whole Family Friendly, however and may be a good investment for the more serious user.
  You could replace Geranium with Lavender or Peppermint.

Bug Repellent with Oil base, 2.5% essential oil blend
120mL             Natural oil (soybean oil is a suggested bug repellent according to Canada Health) such                            as sunflower seed oil, fractionated coconut oil, or jojoba oil.

22d                  Patchouli essential oil

11d                  Geranium essential oil

27d                  Citronella essential oil


Trongtokit Y et al.(2005) Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites. Phytotherapy Research 19(4), 303-9.

Misni N, et al. (2017) Repellent effect of microencapsulated essential oil in lotion formulation against mosquito bites. Journal of Vector Borne Disease 54(1):44-53 Accessed June 3, 2018 Accessed June 7, 2018


Patellar Tendonopathy

June 4, 2018

What it is

Patellar Tendinopathy, also known as patellar tendinosis, jumpers knee, or Landers knee is an overuse injury at the knee. There is no specific injury or trauma to cause it, but the repetitive motions over time result in the tendinopathy.

Suprapatellar vs Infrapatellar tendinopathy

Supra- or superior refers to   tendinopathy above the patella (knee bone). This area is also call the quadriceps tendon. This portion of the tendon connects the quadriceps muscle and the knee. Infra...

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Movement screening to prevent injury

June 4, 2018

Some of you may have experienced some new testing that I have done to assess how your body moves.  In the fall of 2017, I began studying a method to assess movement throughout the whole body.  The Selective Functional Movement Assessment, or SFMA, is a tool that takes a patient through a series of 10 movements.  These 10 movements are then classified as being normal functioning or dysfunctional.  This assessment tool is part of the Functional Movement System, which includes other screening te...

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Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD) vs Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD)

June 4, 2018

Have you been given one of these diagnoses DDD or DJD?  Depending on how specific your healthcare practitioner is, you may have heard these terms before as the source of your spine pain.  Degenerative disc disease or DDD can be the cause of many different symptoms resulting in localized pain or pain that radiates down the leg.   Degenerative joint disease or DJD is very different, but can have overlapping symptoms with DDD.  We will discuss both of these conditions a little more thoroughly so...

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Stretching: A guide to becoming the most flexible you

April 15, 2018

Static Stretching

Static stretching is the most common type of stretching we think of when we hear the word stretch.

This type of stretching increases muscle extensibility, in turn, increasing that joints' range of motion (ROM).

Following a short jog, a few jumping jacks or even a heating pack to increase muscle temperature, complete the recommended stretches holding the stretch for 10-30 seconds feeling a light tingle or slight discomfort. Consider a scale from one to ten, one being barely a...

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Travelling with Acute Pain

March 7, 2018
Pain alone, is enough to have to worry about and deal with.  Now add in the travel component and this could make for some very aggravated pain episodes, not to mention the irritated travel companions.  The following is a list of things to consider and some tips for dealing with your pain while on the go.
  1. Explain your injuries to your travel companions.  Nothing is more awkward then letting your frustration make the best of you while with your travel companions that know nothing of your current...

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Travel Tummy Tammer: An Aromatic Remedy

March 7, 2018

I've done enough trips away from home to have learned my belly just doesn't like it. Whether it's the stress and worry about sleeping away from home, eating unfamiliar foods or drinking unfamiliar water, I have learned the value of having a travel kit for my gut.

Without getting into all the ugly details, colic and bowel upset are awful, especially when you are supposed to be away having fun. Emergency trips to walmart to buy tea, metamucil, or jumping off the bus to gnaw on a raw lump of gi...

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February 8, 2018

For some people, orthotics are the only device that provides any relief from pain.  For others, congenital deformities in the foot or toes prevent them from having a normal gait.  Whether you are experiencing pain or just looking for cushioning, orthotics can be very helpful for many.  

At MMD Chiropractic Health Centre, Dr. D'Andrea uses a foam mold to cast a patient for orthotics.  Orthotics are made by a local Chiropodist, Robert Nekrasas, and come in a wide variety of choices.  If you requ...

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Laser Therapy

February 8, 2018

The laser we use at MMD Chiropractic Health Centre is the Theralase therapeutic laser.  Theralase therapeutic laser treatments provide patients with a safe, effective and painless therapy that uses the body's own natural healing systems to relieve pain, increase joint mobility, increase tissue integrity and promote cell regeneration.

Theralase lasers work by supplying energy to the body in the form of billions of photons of light. The body absorbs this laser light on a cellular level and trans...

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Recognizing Clinical Depression in Youth

January 31, 2018

The teenage years are often a busy and trying time for both kids and their parents.  Teens are learning to deal with more adult situations as their bodies continue to take on an adult size and their brains are developing to their full potential (anatomically and chemically).  Their parents are dealing with their babies now making different choices and often choices that they don’t necessarily agree with.  But no matter what the events are that occurring, as parents, we need to recognize whe...

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