I was visiting my family in the Caribbean when I contracted dengue virus from a blood-thirsty mosquito.

Dramatic? Maybe.

But so is having your plans derailed to mostly sleep for three days to wake up weak with bleeding gums, fever, and aching hands that won’t let up until they’re submerged in ice water.

Then, six weeks later, still unable to stand up for the duration of a shower.

I was lucky. That mosquito could have been carrying one of the hemorrhagic strains of dengue that often proves fatal.

The good news for me now is that I have immunity to that particular strain of dengue - since I’ve already had it. But there are four strains of dengue in total.

Mosquito bites aren’t just an itchy annoyance; they can lead to diseases without specific cures or vaccines.

There are several ways to ensure you and your family are safe from mosquitoes, so whether you favor skin-covering repellents, the kind that keeps its distance, or a combination of both, below are the best options—curated by someone who’s been there.

Repellents for Your Skin

woman in forest uses spray against mosquitoesAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best way to avoid mosquito-spread diseases such as Zika, chikungunya, and dengue is to use insect repellent.

Repellents come in all varieties, but if you’re concerned about the troublesome side effects of consistently using DEET-based repellents, or even the recent study about mosquitoes becoming immune to DEET, you might want to consider going the more natural route.

If you prefer the convenience of purchasing your products ready-made, try these DEET-free mosquito repellents:

  • Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent
  • Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent
  • All Terrain Herbal Armor DEET-Free Natural Insect Repellent

If you’d rather DIY, you can use the following recipe to create your own repellent using these four items:

  • Mosquito-repelling essential oil(s) of choice, such as lavender, citronella, tea tree, neem, lemon eucalyptus, or Greek catnip
  • Witch hazel
  • Distilled water
  • Empty spray bottle

Directions: Combine the witch hazel and water in a 50/50 mixture in the spray bottle, and then, based on the volume of liquid, add a total of 50 to 100 drops of the combination of essential oils you’ve chosen.

Be prepared for a little trial and error here—more liquid calls for more essential oil; the higher percentage of essential oil you use, the stronger and more effective the spray will be.

Essential oils can be irritating for some people when they’re applied directly to skin, so be sure to patch test on a small area of the body before spraying yourself or your children. Alternatively, you can use this spray on shoes, clothing, and backpacks.

A DIY mosquito spray will fade quicker than its synthetic counterpart, so be mindful about reapplying every two to three hours.

Repellents for Your Environment

close-up of lemon balm plantThere are other ways to reduce your exposure to mosquitoes that don’t involve putting anything on your skin.

1. Eliminate standing water.

Mosquitoes breed in still water. Around the time I contracted dengue, my family found out that there was a large pool of standing water at a nearby construction site that contributed to the rise of dengue cases in the area.

If you find yourself in a similar situation and the water can’t be drained for whatever reason, consider asking the builder to treat it with mosquito dunks.

The insecticide used in these products is made of bacteria that are deadly to mosquitoes but nontoxic to people, pets, fish, and other forms of wildlife. Keep in mind that mosquito dunks will only kill mosquito larvae; you will need another form of mosquito control to eliminate the flying adults.

2. Use plants and herbs to repel mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes are attracted to the smell of sweat, but many scents that we find pleasant actually repel them.

Consider planting lavender, basil, peppermint, lemon balm, marigolds, geraniums, or citronella around your patio or outdoor space to act as an all-natural mosquito repellent.

Catnip is another good choice, though you may attract a different (though certainly cuter) type of critter to your yard.

3. Call a mosquito control specialist.

If the mosquitoes in your yard are relentless and fragrant plants and DIY repellent sprays just aren’t cutting it, bring in the pros. Mosquito control specialists are experts in eliminating those nasty, biting insects.

Mosquito control companies typically offer a variety of options based on your particular needs. You’ll be able to choose between a passive misting system or having a technician come to your home to spray the yard, and you’ll also be able to determine the treatment schedule. Be sure to ask the technician about eco-friendly options.

No More Bites

Protecting yourself and your family from mosquito bites is serious business, and so is reducing the number of harmful chemicals you’re exposed to on a daily basis.

Luckily, there are all-natural mosquito repellents that work. You may need to double up on your defenses, but with my guide, you can do so in a natural way to keep your whole family mosquito bite-free in these warmer months.