Our Insect Repellent Backstory
People ask me this question rather often? HOW and WHY did you develop this unusual neem based insect repellent formula? How do you decide what to include?
It started way back in 2010. My little half-Thai daughter (solo mama here) was just a few weeks shy of her 6th birthday. And then one morning she woke up with a fever. She was listless, nauseous and HOT. Being the natural mama who believes fever is a good thing and knows that it's the body's way of killing unwanted viruses and bacteria, I kept her home, watched her closely, kept her super well hydrated and cooled her down with cold cloths during fever spikes. I was worried but calm. But Day 2 was worse with endless vomiting.
I spoke to a friend with significant of experience in Asia and tropical disease, and he was blunt: "Dengue. Get her to a hospital. Now."
And so I did.....
She was one of about 50 children waiting for blood tests and a bed at Lanna Hospital. Within 2 hours she was diagnosed with Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever. In about 5% of all Dengue cases, the capillaries start to leak and can cause major organ damage, and even death. They admitted her (one night in the hall on a gurney) started her on blood clotting medication and she had 3 IVs in - one in each arm and one into her leg. Little Miss 6 was suddenly very, very ill - and all from mosquito bites.
She spent her 6th birthday in hospital, thankfully recovering. And I started looking hard at mosquito protection. And beyond citronella spray (clinically effective for about 13 minutes and not for all species of mosquito) and DEET, there really wasn't anything natural.
Back in 2010 facebook was brand spanking new. Research online wasn't as easy as it is now, but all those years in journalism school taking that core subject, "The Writer and Research" suddenly paid off. I used a lot of published research from India, about what herbs and plants were naturally insect repellent. And then I looked at what fragrant plants were readily available here in Thailand and used their Latin botanical names to access clinical research from both The Philippines and India. The downside of Thailand never having been colonized is that Thai culture uses many herbs in only the traditional Thai way. Reading across cultures at the different ways herbs are used and extracted, I made a list of what would be possible to access in Thailand.
I KNEW that neem was the most logical and effective mosquito repellent base possible, but there was no one making or selling neem extract beyond the vile water based stuff on sale at the nurseries, which isn't stable when kept over time. Thai people eat neem leaves (sadao) and use it on their gardens, but really don't know it as a healing herb beyond that. And so I was pushed to do it myself, and started to play around with neem extraction until I was happy with the result.
Neem extract by itself has a strong, not hugely pleasant odor, and so step 2 was blending the other effective mosquito repellent essential oils to balance the neem smell and create something both effective AND pleasant smelling. It took MONTHS and a LOT of fiddling, testing, nose wrinkling and frustration, before we settled on our current blend, which is herbaceous, has overtones of lemongrass (not to be confused with citronella) but also has the longest lasting of all insect repellent oils: clove.
The first few batches were FAR TOO STRONG. We've always had a commitment to cruelty free so it was me and a few friends who walked around with uncomfortable patches of red, slightly burned skin for weeks.
And then finally, it all came together. And we had a formula that worked. I still have customers today who came straight to our then Soi 6 Old City store on their day 1 in Thailand, specially to get our insect repellent.
A lot of water has gone under our insect repellent bridge. We got our product approved by the FDA. We upgraded from the white plastic bottles to our current recyclable aluminium bottles. We upgraded to vegan, food grade alcohol (from nasty isopropynol) as soon as it became commercially possible. We produced the refill size. We started selling it to some really upmarket resorts in southern Thailand who custom label it to help keep their guests safe during their stay. Recently, we created an alcohol free, longer-lasting beeswax balm version.
Each year in July-August, I hear the Dengue Fever drums start beating around the town (and around all of Asia) and I'm immediately, emotionally I'm BACK THERE - to my daughter's bedside as I sit anxiously, alone, praying she will make it through without organ damage. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.
Her recovery was LONG. It took nearly 8 more years for her body temperature to self correct. From the ages of 6 through till about 14, she never again burned up from fever. Instead, she went icy cold and pale when she was sick and her body temperature DROPPED to somewhere around 35C. I learned, again through careful research, that this is a normal reaction to sustained, high fever and it can take a decade and more for the body's thermostat to reset itself.
I'm passionate about being careful around mosquitoes. They're insidious and the small aedes mosquito which carries Dengue often doesn't leave an itchy bite - in fact, you rarely feel it.
So next time you hear me or see me online, advocating for safe & effective mosquito control, you can appreciate that my passion comes from having LIVED the Dengue journey. And Yes, I've had it myself. 3 times in 20 years. It's AWFUL and the last time I was slain with it I had a high fever for 17 days. Nothing, and I mean, NOTHING to mess with.
So take care of yourself. Shower 3-4 times a day in sweaty weather - mosquitoes are attracted to stale sweat the most. Wear light coloured clothes - mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours. Stay in moving air with a fan, which mosquitoes HATE. And be sure to reduce your intake of simple sugars (including sugary fruits and alcohol) - the excess sugars change the way you smell on a subtle level and the mosquitoes will think it's very yummy.
If you need a good, natural repellent that WORKS, you know where to find us.