The story behind the Hippie Bug Spray

Hoffman's Natural Bug Spray grew organically out of one of the most elementary concepts of product development: solve a problem.

We knew to expect sanculos or mosquitoes when we moved to the Caribbean. J had gone a round with dengue fever in his first year there, and we took precautions, packing mosquito netting and malaria meds.

What we did not expect was the brutal assault of what locals call jejenes, (pronounced he-HEH-nays), known in other parts of the world as midges, no-see-ums or sand flies. Small enough to slip through screens and gaps in doors, these horrific, biting bugs became the bane of our early island dwelling existence.

Piper, eating starfruit in her netting


Some of us were immune, or nonreactive to these bites. J developed long term

exposure tolerance so that the process of being bitten irritated him, but he rarely welted. Hayden never felt the bites, and didn't develop welts. In fact, he could go out looking for lizards at sunset, prime-sandfly time, and come in with his legs ashy and grey from a fine coating of them, and never show a mark.

Max, Piper and I were not so lucky.

If necessity is the mother of invention, sand fly bites were a burning fire of impetus to find SOMETHING THAT WORKED. Otherwise, I was afraid our adventure would end early.

I started reading everything I could find on these bugs to repel them and protect us.

The only thing initially on our side? WIND. They are tiny, and weak fliers. In the case of wind, or strong fans, we were fine. The kids and I collected driftwood, shells and glass from the beach, creating chimes for the sweet almond and sea grape trees along the beach. When we heard them playing their beautiful, tinkling music, we knew it was going to be a good day outside. Plus, it made us all feel a little like Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean.


I also started mixing up bottles of what the kids called "hippie bug spray", experimental solutions from the different essential oils I'd brought, a carrier oil, boiled rainwater, and to atomize and sterilize the solution, Flor de Caña rum, cheaper and more available than water on our side of the island. I tinkered until I found the perfect blend, and then... it was like magic.

Not only were sandflies a worry of the past, but it worked to repel mosquitoes, and the fleas and ticks our rescue kittens and never-ending parade of beach dogs brought around.

Hayden could take a job up at the Iguana Station, where the mosquitoes swarmed as thick as East Coast gnats. J could work in the mangroves without the irritation, and Max, Piper and I could lift the veils of our netting and journey outside again.

I continue to carry these bottles at home and when we travel--wherever pests are a problem. With new concern over the Zika virus, and what we now know to be true about the dangers of DEET* especially for children, this is the only bug spray we'll ever use. It's the only one we need.


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*DEET is a registered pesticide. DEET is short for N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (also known as N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). It is a member of the toluene chemical family. Toluene is an organic solvent used in rubber and plastic cements and paint removers. DEET is absorbed through the skin and passes into the blood. The Medical Sciences Bulletin, published by Pharmaceutical Information Associates Ltd. reports, "Up to 56% of DEET applied topically penetrates intact human skin and 17% is absorbed into the bloodstream." Blood concentrations of about 3 mg per litre have been reported several hours after DEET repellent was applied to skin in the prescribed fashion. DEET is also absorbed by the gut. The most serious concerns about DEET are its effects on the central nervous system. Dr. Mohammed Abou-Donia of Duke University studied lab animals' performance of neuro-behavioural tasks requiring muscle co-ordination. He found that lab animals exposed to the equivalent of average human doses of DEET performed far worse than untreated animals. Abou-Donia also found that combined exposure to DEET and permethrin, a mosquito spray ingredient, can lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction. An emergency medicine bulletin notes that DEET may have significantly greater toxicity when combined with ethyl and isopropyl alcohols and freon which are components of some DEET repellents. In 1998, the US EPA made it illegal for any product containing DEET to make any child safety claims. Products with DEET are required to carry instructions that they should not be used at all for children under 6 months. Additional required warnings state that for children 6 months to 2 years, only concentrations of less than 10% DEET should be used, and only once a day. For children from 2 -12 years old, only concentrations under 10% should be used, and repellents should not be applied more than 3 times a day. For adults, Health Canada has now banned products with DEET concentrations over 30%, citing health risks and evidence that increasing the percentage does not do much more to repel insects. Health Canada has also banned two in one products which combine sunscreen and DEET, saying they create the potential for people be exposed to too much DEET. The ban does not take effect until December 2004, so consumers may want to be careful not to pick up combination products still on store shelves. Products containing DEET are now required to carry labels which specify: -Do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin. -Do not apply to hands or near eyes and mouth of young children. -Do not allow young children to apply this product. -After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water. -Do not use under clothing. -Do not spray in enclosed areas. Experts recommend that if using DEET, its best to wear long sleeves and long pants, when possible, and apply repellent to clothing rather than skin to reduce exposure. They state DEET based products should only be applied sparingly; saturation does not increase efficiency. DEET repellents should not be inhaled. Repellent-treated clothes should be washed, or kept outside living areas to reduce exposure. Following all these precautions reduces risk, but does not eliminate it.