Late spring and early fall are often considered the two best times of the year to do anything outside because it’s warm enough to enjoy the summer weather without the bugs. Come June, July, and August, however, it’s a totally different story, These are usually the worst months to try and do anything outdoors without being bitten by mosquitos, black flies, deer flies and other unfriendly insects.

You could certainly spray a thick layer of a DEET-based insect repellent across any exposed skin or even thin pieces of clothing before you head outside, but the potential health risks may not be worth it. The Environmental Protection Agency says that DEET is safe when products containing it are used as instructed, but it never hurts to look into using a safer, all-natural inspect repellent alternative that doesn’t contain any pesticides or toxins at all.

Natural Options

Research testing on plant-based alternatives has shown there are at least a few natural ways to repel insects without the use of chemical products like DEET — at least to a certain extent. Soy-based products like the commercially sold product Bite Blocker have been able to provide hours of protection against nuisance mosquitos, which may be just as good or even better than using DEET products.

Essential oils are another great natural option, as long as you choose the right kind. Those that have been distilled from the mint family, pine family, cedar family, and aromatic grasses have been used around the world for centuries to help keep the bugs away. Thyme oil, geraniol, peppermint oil, cedar oil, patchouli and clove have been found to be among the most effective in repelling mosquito vectors like malaria, filarial, and yellow fever.

The downside to using essential oils is that their repellent effects aren’t very long-lasting, which depend on the formulation and concentration. They can also irritate some people’s skin.

Making Your Own

If you’d like to go ahead and try making your own simple insect repellent using essential oils, make sure you follow the safety guidelines provided by the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA) by conducting a skin patch test on yourself first. If you’re pregnant or a nursing mother, talk to your doctor before using essential oils.

According to Dr. Anne Marie Helmenstine, chemistry expert, you can make your own insect repellent by mixing several drops of essential oil with your preferred choice of carrier oil. She recommends cinnamon oil, lemon eucalyptus oil, regular eucalyptus oil, citronella oil or castor oil to repel mosquitos. For carrier oil, use olive oil, sunflower oil, coconut oil, or any other cooking oil you like.

The trick is to get the ratio of essential oil to carrier oil just right, without going overboard on the essential oil. You should have 1 part essential oil to 10 to 20 parts carrier oil, so to start, combine 10 to 25 drops of essential oil with 2 tablespoons of carrier oil and mix well. Rub a small amount of the mixture into your skin while avoiding the areas of skin surrounding your eyes, and reapply after about 30 minutes for the best effects.

These natural options may work alright in any common outdoor setting where the bugs are slightly annoying, but if you’re heading out into thick bush or anywhere with standing water, you may need to take extra precautions by covering up as much skin as possible with thick clothing that the bugs can’t penetrate. The bugs may be a pain, but they’re an integral part of nature, so we might as well be as prepared as we can to face them!