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 are preparing to make a feast out of you. Fortunately, you can repel them using the right essential oils.
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 these potentially fatal diseases with a single bite.
Why Not Just Use Deet?
It’s quite common for the average person to just 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 efficacy on spray mosquito repellents, as well as wearable devices, at warding off mosquitos.
Ultimately, the study concluded that though the bracelets were largely ineffective in protecting against mosquito bites, sprays containing DEET and PMB were both effective insect repellents when used in sufficient concentrations.1 Despite its efficacy in repelling mosquitoes, however, other studies have found that DEET could potentially have negative effects on the human body.
A 2016 study in the journal Scientific Reports tested two reported claims: that DEET inhibits acetylcholinesterase (AchE) production and that it has potential carcinogenic properties.
The study found that their research demonstrated significant evidence that testified to DEET stimulating endothelial cells, which promotes angiogenesis—formation of new blood vessels—a process that can increase tumor growth. Additionally, DEET inhibited AchE which increased acetylcholine bioavailability, further strengthening blood vessel formation and the resulting potential tumor growth.2
Additionally, a study conducted in the 1980s at Everglade National Park employees to determine the effects of DEET found that one-quarter of the test subjects experienced negative health effects that they attributed to chemical exposure to DEET, 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 found that frequent and prolonged DEET exposure could result in brain cell death, and behavior changes, eventually concluding 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, and most individuals are largely unaffected by its negative side effects when they use these insect repellants on a sporadic basis.
However, given the risk for these potential side effects and the abundance of natural options that can be used to repel mosquitos and treat insect bites, it’s worth considering 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 bug repellents. It has several beneficial properties that make it an ideal essential oil to stave off mosquitoes and similar insects.5
Citronellol, citronellal, and geraniol are the most studied terpenes found in the oil, which contribute to its 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 this gum tree, lemon eucalyptus oil also contains large amounts of citronellal, in addition to the terpenes eucalyptol and limonene.7
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) claims that oil of lemon eucalyptus (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, natural 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 when you want to keep mosquitos away, or placing it into a diffuser. Alternatively, 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 their 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 have little ones and are worried about protecting them from bug bites, keep lavender handy.9
The mint family is well-known for keeping mosquitoes at bay. 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. Hailing from the 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 water with distilled or boiled water. Fill the other half with witch hazel, then add 20 drops of peppermint and 20 drops of oregano essential oils and shake to mix.10
This fragrant herb is well-known in the kitchen, though its benefits extend well beyond flavoring your favorite dishes. Extracted from the plant leaves, stems, and flowers, the sweet basil essential 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
A member of the mint family, Nepeta cataria is considered to be a highly effective means of staving off mosquitoes, roaches, and other pests. It can also rejuvenate the skin, regulate menstruation, and detoxify the body.
According to a 2005 study comparing the efficacy of catnip essential oil versus DEET, catnip proved to be a better spatial repellent as well as attraction inhibitor for mosquitoes.12
You can easily use this oil to repel mosquitos by mixing it with a carrier oil such as aloe vera and applying it topically to the skin. Alternatively, add a few drops of this oil to a room diffuser.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil comes from an Australian plant and is one of the most well-known essential oils today. 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 relief from the itch.
Additionally, a 2014 study found that tea tree essential oil had insecticidal and repellent effects against the insect species used in the study.13
This essential oil has a floral scent and is often used for improving mood. Clary sage oil can also be easily blended with a carrier oil and applied to the skin to protect against mosquitoes. It can also be used to discourage mosquitoes from entering a room or space by simply placing it into a diffuser.
Homemade Insect Repellants
You will need a dark blue or amber glass container to store your homemade bug repellents. Avoid plastic bottles because they are subject to degradation from the essential oils. Always make sure that you mix the ingredients well before use.
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 essential oils. You can use one oil alone or mix a few together for maximum efficacy.
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 it 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 the mosquitos away from the area.
Given recent studies about and discussion of DEET, using essential oils to repel mosquitos can make for greater peace of mind, free of the fear of negative health consequences, 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.