Summer is Finally Here. Beaches, backyard barbecues and camping trips are a few of the things we can enjoy this time of year. But with the good comes the not-so-good — sunburns, ticks and mosquitoes are just a few common summer nuisances. Of course, we can always slather on repellents, but are the chemical sprays any better than the bugs they kill? Instead of hunkering down indoors or subjecting yourself and your family to DEET and other harmful chemicals, try these common-sense preventive measures and natural remedies this summer.
An Ounce of Prevention
Sunburns: The best way to fight a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Sunburns are the easiest issue to prevent. One bad sunburn can have health consequences years later, so be sure to take precautions any time you are in the sun, not just during the danger hours of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunscreen is a must, regardless of skin tone. When shopping for sunscreen, choose one that is labeled “broad spectrum,” as this type protects against UVA and UVB rays. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends an SPF of 30 or higher. To steer clear of harmful chemicals in your sunscreen, visit The Environmental Working Group for information on ingredients, as well as safe, recommended brands. Other preventive measures include wearing a wide-brimmed hat and doing your relaxing under a beach umbrella.
Ticks: Ticks are active year-round but are at their peak in the summer. Ticks are hunters, lying in wait for a warm body to pass by. Because ticks can spread disease to humans, it is important to avoid tick bites when you can. When you are out, especially in wooded areas, wear long pants and a long-sleeved shirt. Tuck the cuffs of your pants into your socks, and wear closed-toe shoes and a hat. As soon as you come indoors, do a thorough tick check. Lyme disease is a debilitating illness caused by ticks. Although it occurs nationwide, it is heavily concentrated in the northeast and upper Midwest. Removing ticks in the first 24 hours greatly reduces your risk of contracting Lyme disease.
Mosquitoes: Mosquitoes are another common summer irritant, and we’ve recently seen a rise in mosquito-borne diseases that can have long-lasting health effects. Research shows some people’s body chemistry is more attractive to mosquitoes. Much of this, unfortunately, is due to genetics, and the way certain people process cholesterol, uric acid and carbon dioxide, among other factors. Mosquitoes may also be attracted to pregnant women because of their extra body heat.
Mosquitoes are usually most active at dawn and dusk. If you are out during their heaviest feeding times, wear loose-fitting, light-colored, long-sleeved shirts and long pants, as mosquitoes are most attracted to areas of the body such as ears, wrists or ankles, where skin is thin and blood vessels are close to the surface. To discourage mosquitoes’ presence in your yard, as well as remove their breeding grounds, get rid of any sources of standing water. Several oils can act as mosquito repellent. Cinnamon, lemon eucalyptus and catnip oils are three of the most effective. Place 10 to 15 drops of your chosen oil in 1⁄4 cup of olive oil. Mix well and apply on pulse points.
A Pound of Cure
Despite our best intentions and preventions, we will occasionally have to deal with sunburns and bug bites.Before you head out for a day of fun in the sun, brew a strong pot of black tea. Let the undiluted tea sit in your refrigerator until you get home. If you got too much sun on your face, use a cotton ball to apply tea to rosy cheeks. If you find yourself with an all-over burn, add the entire pot of tea to a lukewarm bath. Many people find black tea helpful in removing the heat from a sunburn, and some research suggests applying tea to the skin may help block sun damage. Moisturize thoroughly after your soak and stay hydrated (drink water!) and lubricated until the burn subsides.
Bug bites of all kinds produce allergic responses in humans. This is because the body responds to any invaders by creating histamines, which make blood vessels in the affected area swell and itch. A few common herbs do a superb job at relieving the symptoms of this allergic reaction. The most soothing of the three is chamomile. Make chamomile tea and apply the tea bag to the bite. Drinking the tea can also help calm you if you are especially sensitive to being stung.
If you do not have chamomile, try the cooling properties of peppermint. Apply peppermint essential oil, diluted in carrier oil, or the crushed fresh leaves of peppermint to the affected area to block the itching. Use caution when using any essential oil in case of adverse reactions. Avoid using peppermint oil with children, because of potentially dangerous reactions. For a full list of information on essential oil safety around children and infants, and during pregnancy, visit the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy.
The camphor and thymol found in basil also relieves itching. Try the fresh herb or follow product directions for using the essential oil.
If you find yourself without any herbs, here’s another idea to try: Many people report that baking soda can help reduce itching. Add just enough water to make a thick paste. Apply to the bug bite and let dry. The alkalinity of the baking soda will neutralize the pH of the affected area, which will reduce the itching.
High-quality essential oils can be purchased from:
Try these Insect-Repellent Lotion Bars as a natural bug-repellent