Essential Oils, Non-Toxic Bug Repellents and More
Throw Out the Chemicals
By Melissa Mink, The Homestead Moma
To most homesteaders going green, natural or organic means that you are trying to reduce toxins that have crept into your everyday products. It can be tricky and deceptive when reading labels without knowing what to look for. Many people are also looking into or are using natural essential oils for everyday use such as cleaning supplies, bug repellents and medicinal help. So here are some tips that I hope will help you along the way.
The skin is the largest organ of the body. It also absorbs about 70 percent of whatever it comes into contact with. Everybody who’s ever splashed chemicals on them now gasps! Yeah, okay, me too. Studies have shown that you can actually absorb vitamins and minerals that are in the ground as you work, and that people who lead an active agrarian lifestyle are happier, healthier and live longer. Ahaparenting.com quotes a study that says children who get outside to play and work (get dirty) are healthier, happier and more creative, and have better vision and higher test scores than children who are not as active outside.
I find it ironic that when parents who are usually more “germ-a-phobic” carry on about not letting children get dirty, they could be doing their children more harm than good. Children who get outside to play are exposed to more allergens and germs that will build a robust natural immune system. Another good example of getting some germs to build up resistance is seen between using bar and pump soap. Bar soap is just as “anti-bacterial” as pump soap, but much less harsh on the skin. Some studies are showing that it may be beneficial to use bar soap to “catch” some communal or familial germs to build up your resistance. If you are a germ freak, then I hope you will reconsider and start using bar soap in your home because it really is better for you. We use bar soap at every sink, even at the kitchen sink on dishes. It works just as well without severely irritating our skin. It’s also less expensive and you can make it or buy it without all the chemicals. Also, don’t buy the lye soap scare! All soap is lye soap; even most liquid pump soap is made with a form of lye (potassium hydroxide), but with many more detergents and chemicals added.
Natural skincare items can be found everywhere, but are they really natural? I first got into natural/organic skincare while dealing with eczema in my home. We had tried everything prescription and over-the-counter we could. Bathing got to mean only a water bath, and clothes washing (even with my homemade detergent) was not effective at ridding dirt or helping my son’s skin. So water was about all I could use. I quickly realized this would not work long term, so I became determined to find out how I could make our own products. I had several years’ experience in cosmetic sales and then became interested in making items from scratch for our own family. I was a little familiar with ingredients, but knew nothing other than I had to get the chemicals out of our home for my children’s best interests and my sanity. I began to investigate and read everything I could find. I have been making natural skin care products for more than 10 years, including a bug repellent that is in retail stores, seed catalogs and select Tractor Supply stores across the country. Necessity really is the mother of invention.
LOOK FOR ORGANIC AND RAW
Many natural skincare items contain detergents that are not listed. You really should look for “organic” or “raw.” Certification of ingredients also bumps the price higher than what most people can afford, so buying in bulk and direct from producers will help cut that cost. I try to buy from direct importers and not from middlemen, who may dilute the product. A little knowledge goes a long way. Remember, if a product is labeled natural, it does not have to list chemicals used in processing on the label, even though traces of those chemicals will be in the final product. The best way to avoid this is to look at the way an ingredient was processed—cold pressed, distilled, etc. Try to follow the product down to its roots, so to speak. Many of us undoubtedly grew up with this saying and I have found that it is true: “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”
When looking at essential oils, also note that as long as they have not been diluted they are all “therapeutic grade.” Look for the main active component. Compare its amount or percentage to other oils and then they will show for themselves which one is the best, and which one has been cut or is not as pure. Another sales tactic of essential oil dealers is to label an oil “food grade”—this is a label you will pay more for. All ingestible essential oils are “food grade.” For example, rosemary is toxic to ingest, therefore it will never carry a “food grade” label at any amount, while peppermint, lavender and oregano oils are ingestible in small amounts. However, you pay more for that “food grade” label on them. This is the sum of it: you could ingest that particular oil with or without the label because the oil itself is not toxic to the human body.
In many cases a good crafter’s essential oil is as good (look at active component) or more potent as “brand” essential oils. Always remember that purity can and should be verifiable. Check out the main ingredient for potency. A good example of this is eucalyptus essential oil. The main active component is “cineole,” also called eucalyptol, and many do not list how potent or dull their oil is.
It should be listed to verify purity. You should look for this to be anywhere from 70 to 85 percent and still all pure. A good standard eucalyptus oil is 80/85. You should question this if the percentage of active component isn’t listed. It is more potent if the number is higher. You’ll need to do your homework.
I have been working with natural essential oils for about 15 years or more now in my home and business. We are still finding uses for them in our everyday lives. Their potential is amazing, but remember, just like the chemical-based products, essential oils and their uses will “work” for some and not for others in the same way. Everyone’s body chemistry and environmental variables are different. So when beginning, use with caution and enjoy. (Note: Whenever working/using essential oils, if eye contact occurs do not wash! Use common cooking oil that is wiped into eye to remove the essential oils.) The essential oils will gravitate to this oil and all will be removed in seconds.
Chemicals on the other hand, are man-made or synthetic, and in skincare it is often hard to tell the difference. Many skincare items such as a lotion need a small amount of chemicals to keep it from spoiling and separating, as lotion is an oil-and-water mixture. A good example of chemical vs. natural here is in the area of fragrance oil and essential oils. A fragrance oil is a chemical and an essential oil is a totally natural oil that is derived from plant material. It is estimated that it takes about 100 pounds of plant material to render 1 ounce of essential oil.
Someone who wants to avoid all chemicals on the skin could opt for a lotion bar that is made from organic or raw ingredients and essential oils, as opposed to a fragrance. Natural and organic materials are going to cost a bit more, but may be worth it to your health in the long run. A good way of comparing the natural and organic to a chemical is in things like bug repellents. Whether it’s for you or your animals, many natural essential oils will be just as effective as a chemical with less toxic exposure and usually fewer reactions on the skin or lungs. We know that inhaling chemicals can cause harmful effects that essential oils do not have a record of causing. Some of these are: lemongrass, citronella, lavender, rosemary, neem and peppermint. Most people thoroughly enjoy these scents as an alternative to strong-smelling chemicals and gladly go natural because of the more pleasant scents.
Use at your own risk. If using essential oils on skin or animal coats, read labels, trade recommendations, and use a carrier oil if necessary. A cooking oil like organic safflower or organic coconut oil with a few drops of essential oils will work when applying directly to skin on people.
WHAT IS “NATURAL,” “ORGANIC,” OR “RAW”?
For the most part, the difference in these are that they are naturally occurring in nature with little to no industrial processing to bring them about. Natural is not organic or raw. Organic or raw means there are no chemicals used in the processing of that material. Natural can mean a natural substance such as Shea butter, but processed by adding chemicals to it to get it to perform in a certain way, i.e., rub in smoothly.
NATURAL BUG SPRAY
As a mom I am always looking for natural ways to allow my children to help as well as care for them. Our garden is where many bonds are formed and hours are spent, so I want it as non-toxic, bug-free, and fun as possible. That is the idea behind our DEET-free bug repellents. I am also finding many homesteaders, parents, and grandparents feel the same way about avoiding toxins, but just aren’t sure where to get started. For plants, animals, barn and home try this:
2 ounces Neem oil
1 ounce Citronella
5 ounces Lavender
Add all to one-quart sprayer, with 24 ounces of liquid cooking oil, such as organic safflower oil. Shake before use.
For horse flies, ticks and fleas, try spraying or rubbing this all over animals including belly; while for garden, home and barn, just spray directly to the area you want to rid of pests.
Neem oil is best on plants and animals. It is very strongly scented, so it is not likely to appeal to people. It is as natural and non-toxic as you can get. It does not harm the bees and will not kill anything, bugs or you. It repels pests instantly.
Aphids, white flies and all infestations will be gone within a day or two. This spray recipe is even safe for those “little helpers” to use! Put into a quart-sized sprayer for them as it is easier to hold.
Learn more about Melisa Mink and her products at their online store, HomesteadMoma.com.