Mosquitos are a common inconvenience, especially in the summer, when most of us spend more time outdoors.
Mosquito bites are usually harmless and heal on their own, although it’s also becoming more common to see a rise in mosquito-borne diseases like Malaria, Dengue, and Zika Virus.
In the United States, cases of mosquito-caused diseases like West Nile Virus are widespread.
If you’re traveling to an area known for these kinds of health risks, take increased precautions.
There are several chemical-based mosquito repellent products such as sprays and lotions, though many contain potentially harsh or harmful substances such as DEET and para-menthane-diol (PMD).
Natural options like essential oil-based products may prove as useful without the added risk of potential side effects.
Why You Should Be Wary About Overusing Commercial Repellents
Chemicals like DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) are common ingredients in commercial repellent sprays.
Some studies suggest they can have adverse effects on the human body, mainly if you use them regularly or in large quantities.
According to a 2016 study published in Scientific Reports, DEET may potentially increase your chances of developing cancer.
Researchers found that DEET stimulates cellular processes that promote new blood cells, which can increase tumor growth. (1)
A study published by Duke University pharmacologist Dr. Mohamed Abou-Donia found that frequent and continued use of DEET and other chemicals led to brain cell death and behavioral changes related to movement, learning, memory, and concentration. (2)
“If used sparingly, infrequently, and by itself, DEET may not have negative effects – the literature here isn’t clear. But frequent and heavy use of DEET, especially in combination with other chemicals or medications, could cause brain deficits in vulnerable populations,” says Dr. Abou-Donia. (3)
Abdou-Donia says that children are particularly at risk for these adverse brain changes.
Their smaller bodies absorb the chemicals faster, and this can negatively impact their nervous systems.
He says some signs to look out for are: (3)
- Muscle weakness
- Memory lapses
Overexposure to DEET and other chemicals can also lead to:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Shortness of breath
- Slurred speech
- Upset stomach
Despite this increasing data, government agencies like the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) do not consider DEET to be a health concern for the general population (children included) when used “normally.” (4) (5)
The EPA offers a long list of precautions and safety notices for the use of DEET, and this is why many choose to go the natural route first.
Note: If you are traveling to a high-risk place for a mosquito-borne disease, you may decide to use DEET at your discretion.
Essential Oils As A Natural Solution
Essential oils (EOs) are distilled plant extracts sourced from tree bark and resin, leaves, stems, roots, flowers, and even fruits.
When used correctly and safely, they offer various medicinal properties that can help heal bug bites, soothing eczema, and other skin conditions, treating warts, and even helping sunburns and skin burns.
Aromatherapy is a form of alternative medicine that uses essential oils for healing purposes.
Certain EOs like citronella oil and lemongrass oil can be especially useful for DIY bug spray solutions.
The Best Essential Oils for Repelling Mosquitos
According to a 2011 article published in Malaria Journal citronella essential oil is as effective as DEET on a dose by dose basis. (6)
According to the study, pure citronella oil can provide 100% protection against three different kinds of mosquitos for up to 2 hours. (6)
The downside is that this oil quickly evaporates, so frequent reapplication is needed.
Citronella may also cause skin irritation, so diluting the oil with a carrier oil or agent like witch hazel is highly recommended.
Avoid citronella if you’re pregnant and if you have heart disease because it can increase heart rate.
Lemongrass Oil & Ylang Ylang Oil
Lemongrass essential oil is a commonly used Thai herb believed to protect against insects.
A 2015 study found that mixing lemongrass with olive oil provides 98.8% protection against the southern house mosquito (Culex quinquefasciatus). (7)
The same study found that ylang-ylang essential oil mixed with coconut oil provided 98.9% protection against yellow fever mosquitos (Aedes aegypti).
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
According to the CDC, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and its synthetic version, PMB, are effective mosquito repellents though they do distinguish between OLE and lemon eucalyptus essential oil. (5)
OLE is formulated explicitly for insect repelling purposes while the essential oil version is not.
Try the essential oil version if you’re just lounging in your yard to test its repellent effects.
This oil shouldn’t be used with young children or pregnant women.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca)
Tea tree essential oil is well-known for its potent anti-inflammatory properties.
It’s also an antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, and antimicrobial, which is excellent for preventing infections from bites.
An article published in The Australian Journal of Entomology found that repellents containing tea tree oil protected against mosquitos, bush flies, and biting midges. (8)
A study evaluating the repellent effects of eucalyptus oil and A. indica seed oil found that a mixture of these oils and coconut oil provided 93% protection against filarial mosquitos in West Bengal, India for up to 240 minutes. (9)
Other options that might help repel mosquitos:
- Catnip oil (part of the mint family)
- Clove oil
- Peppermint oil
- Lavender oil
- Cedarwood oil
- Geranium oil
- Rosemary essential oil
When used safely and mindfully, essential oils usually pose little to no side effects though you should always keep in mind that EOs are very concentrated and, therefore, very potent!
A little goes a long way.
Avoid using them with young children under ten years of age and pregnant women.
Don’t apply the oils directly onto children’s skin.
You can spray a modest amount onto their clothing.
When using them, topically always dilute them with a carrier oil like coconut oil or add water, vinegar, or witch hazel for a quick DIY bug repellent solution.
Many of these oils can be irritating to sensitive skin types, so it’s good to perform a patch test before using them.
Do not ingest the oils or apply them to your eyes, mouth, ears, or any other cavity.
Keep in mind that the FDA (Food & Drug Administration) does not regulate EOs.
Hence, it’s essential to buy high-quality, therapeutic grade, certified organic products from trusted companies.
Unfortunately, many products on the market are diluted or contaminated with solvents and other potentially harmful substances.
Do your research and make sure you know what the contraindications are for each oil you’re going to use.
Pro tip: You can create essential oil blends by mixing various oils together. This will enhance their efficacy.
Essential Oil Based & Natural Repellent Options:
If DIY blending isn’t your thing then you may want to give these natural non-toxic options a try.
How To Use EOs For Natural Insect Repellent: A DIY Blend
As mentioned, you should always dilute EOs with a carrier oil like jojoba or coconut oil if you’re applying them directly on the skin.
This will also help the active compounds in EOs to be better absorbed into the skin.
This will ensure better healing and repelling effects.
A general rule of thumb is to use 1 teaspoon of carrier oil per 2-3 drops of essential oil.
You can also use EOs in a diffuser or in spray form as an insect repellant.
DIY Insect Repellent Spray
- 5 drops lemongrass
- 5 drops citronella
- 5 drops lavender
- 5 drops lemon eucalyptus oil
- 1 tablespoon witch hazel
- 2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
- Fill a small dark glass spray bottle with water
Mix everything together in the bottle and shake, shake, shake, baby.
Use as needed.
Be careful not to spray your eyes or face.