As spring rolls into summer, it’s time to fire up the grill and spend time in the refreshing outdoor air. But at the same time that you’re preparing your barbecue feast, mosquitoes prepare to make a feast out of you. Fortunately, you can repel them using the right essential oils and bring more peace to your summer nights.
Although disease-ridden mosquitoes have plagued tropical regions throughout history, they are increasingly showing up in the United States. No longer just an annoyance, mosquitoes can transmit some potentially fatal diseases with a single bite.
Why Not Just Use DEET?
It’s quite common for the average person to run to the store and grab a can of insect repellent containing DEET to help protect them from mosquito bites.
A 2017 study published in the Journal of Insect Science looked at the effectiveness of spray mosquito repellents, as well as wearable devices, at warding off mosquitos. The study concluded that though the bracelets were ineffective in protecting against mosquito bites, sprays containing DEET and PMB were both effective insect repellents when used in sufficient concentrations.1
Despite its effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes, however, other studies have found that DEET could potentially have negative effects on the human body.
Research on DEET
A 2016 study in the journal Scientific Reports tested two reported claims: DEET inhibits acetylcholinesterase (AchE) production and has potential carcinogenic properties.
The study found significant evidence that DEET stimulated endothelial cells, which promotes angiogenesis—the formation of new blood vessels. This process may increase tumor growth. Additionally, DEET inhibited AchE, which increased acetylcholine bioavailability. This would further promote blood vessel formation and the subsequent potential tumor growth.2
Additionally, a 1980s study exploring the effects of DEET on employees at Everglade National Park found that one-quarter of the test subjects experienced negative health effects that they attributed to chemical exposure to DEET. These included including rashes, skin irritation, numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and difficulty concentrating.3
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A pharmacologist at Duke University, Mohamed Abou-Donia, Ph.D., found that frequent and prolonged DEET exposure could result in brain cell death and behavioral changes. He eventually concluded that humans should try to avoid using DEET.4
From all of this information, it is clear that insect repellents containing DEET are the most effective store-bought options. Additionally, most individuals are largely unaffected by the negative side effects of these products if they use only use insect repellants occasionally.
However, given the risk for these potential side effects and the abundance of natural options that can be used to repel mosquitos and remedy insect bites, it’s might be worth trying out a natural alternative.
Using Essential Oils as Insect Repellants
Citronella Essential Oil
Extracted from several Cymbopogon species, citronella essential oil is commonly used in commercial insect repellents. It has several properties that make it an ideal oil to stave off mosquitoes and similar insects.5
Citronellol, citronellal, and geraniol are the most studied terpenes found in the oil. They contribute to the oil’s insect-repelling properties.6 You can also use diluted citronella oil to help heal existing mosquito bites.
Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
The refreshing scent of lemon eucalyptus essential oil makes it a popular insect repellant choice for many. Extracted from the leaves of the gum tree, lemon eucalyptus oil also contains large concentrations of citronellal, in addition to the terpenes eucalyptol and limonene.7
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims that lemon eucalyptus oil (OLE or PMB) can be used as an effective repellent for mosquitoes. Though they mention that the difference between OLE and lemon eucalyptus essential oil is that the former has been formulated for insect-repelling purposes, many have also used the essential oil in its pure form as an insect repellent.8
Use lemon eucalyptus essential oil to keep mosquitos at bay by adding it to a spray bottle with water and spraying it when you want to keep mosquitos away. Alternatively, add a few drops to a diffuser or dilute with a carrier oil and apply to the skin.
Lavender Essential Oil
A staple for many essential oil enthusiasts, lavender is beneficial for repelling mosquitoes and healing bites. Extracted from the Lavandula angustifolia, the oil provides relaxing effects while keeping you protected from mosquitos.
Unlike some essential oils, lavender is considered safe to use on kids. If you’re trying to protect your little ones from bug bites, keep lavender handy.9
Peppermint Essential Oil
The mint family is well-known for repelling mosquitoes. However, you don’t have to fill your garden with mint plants in order to benefit from their powerful effects. Instead, grab some peppermint essential oil.
Derived from Mentha piperita, the oil has a refreshing scent and a range of health benefits, in addition to repelling mosquitos.
For a natural bug spray, fill a 16 oz spray bottle with 8 oz of distilled or boiled water. Fill the other half with witch hazel, then add 20 drops of peppermint and 20 drops of oregano essential oils. Shake to mix.10
Sweet Basil Essential Oil
This fragrant herb is well-known in the kitchen. However, its benefits extend well beyond flavoring your favorite dishes. Extracted from the leaves, stems, and flowers of the basil plant, this oil has a sweet and spicy aroma.
The specific chemical composition can vary depending on where the plant was grown and when it was harvested.11
Catnip Essential Oil
A member of the mint family, Nepeta cataria is considered to be highly effective for staving off mosquitoes, cockroaches, and other pests.
According to a 2005 study comparing the effectiveness of catnip essential oil versus DEET, catnip spatially repelled and inhibited mosquito attraction more effectively than DEET.12
Use this oil to repel mosquitos by mixing it with a carrier oil and applying it topically to the skin. Alternatively, add a few drops of this oil to a room diffuser.
Tea Tree Essential Oil
Tea tree oil comes from an Australian plant and is one of the most well-known essential oils. It is an excellent antiseptic with anti-inflammatory properties, making it a great choice for treating bug bites. For relief from mosquito bites, mix a few drops of tea tree oil with a carrier oil like a coconut, almond, or jojoba oil and apply to the affected area for itching relief.
Additionally, a 2014 study found that tea tree essential oil had insecticidal and repellent effects against some insects.13
Clary Sage Essential Oil
This essential oil has a floral scent, and many individuals use it to boost mood. However, clary sage oil can also be blended with a carrier oil and applied to the skin to protect against mosquitoes.
Alternatively, use this oil to keep mosquitos out of your space by placing a few drops into a diffuser.
Homemade Insect Repellants
Before preparing homemade insect repellants, ensure you have a dark blue or amber glass container to them in. Avoid plastic bottles because they are subject to degradation from essential oils. Additionally, always make sure that you mix the ingredients well before use.
Below are some ideas for homemade insect repellants to keep you mosquito-bite free this summer.
Begin by adding one cup of liquid to a glass spray container. Use one part vodka, one part witch hazel, and two parts water. Then add up to 100 drops of your essential oils of choice. You can use one oil or mix a few together for maximum effectiveness.
Make sure that you can regulate the temperature of your cooking pot when making a lotion or ointment. Melt one part beeswax and one part coconut oil, stirring well until combined. Remove from heat and let stand. Once the mixture has begun to cool, stir in 10 to 30 drops of essential oil per one-quarter cup of the mix. Blend well and allow the mixture to cool. Store in refrigerator.
Add a few drops of one or a few different essential oils to a room diffuser and allow the vapors to keep mosquitos away from an area.
Given recent studies about DEET, using essential oils to repel mosquitos can allow for greater peace of mind, while providing a range of other health benefits. Whether applied topically, sprayed, or diffused through a room diffuser, the essential oils highlighted above can make your summer nights worry-free and bug-free.