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Citronella

What Should I Know About It?

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Updated July 10, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Citronella oil is a type of essential oil long used in aromatherapy. Sourced from certain species of plants in the Cymbopogon genus, citronella oil is most commonly used as a natural insect repellent. There are a variety of insect repellent products made with citronella oil, such as lotions, sprays, candles, and diffusers.

Citronella contains a number of compounds thought to enhance health, including citronellol and geraniol.

Health Benefits of Citronella Essential Oil

Although research on the health effects of citronella essential oil is fairly limited, there's some evidence that citronella essential oil may offer insect-repelling benefits.

In a 2011 report published in Tropical Medicine & International Health, for instance, researchers analyzed 11 studies on the effectiveness of citronella essential oil in repelling mosquitoes. Results revealed that using citronella essential oil in combination with vanillin (a compound found in vanilla beans) may provide up to three hours of protection from mosquito bites.

In addition, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Vector Ecology found that use of diffusers containing citronella essential oil helped repel mosquitoes. However, candles containing citronella essential oil were found to be of little use as mosquito repellents.

Common Uses for Citronella Essential Oil

When used in aromatherapy, citronella essential oil is said to help treat or prevent the following health problems:

  • colds
  • fever
  • headaches

In addition, citronella essential oil is said to protect against insect bites, reduce pain, and boost energy. It is also said to have antifungal properties and is used to calm barking dogs.

How to Use Citronella Oil

Commercial citronella oil repellent formulas are available. Pure citronella oil should not be applied directly on the skin.

When combined with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado), citronella essential oil can be added to baths.

Citronella oil also can be inhaled after sprinkling a few drops of the oil onto a cloth or tissue, or by using an aromatherapy diffuser or vaporizer.

Is Citronella Oil Safe?

Citronella oil is generally considered safe. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there is little or no toxicity, however, some individuals may experience irritation or an allergic reaction when applying citronella oil to the skin.

Pure citronella oil applied directly to the skin has been reported to increase the heart rate of some people. It should only be used mixed.

In Canada, Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency is proposing phasing out citronella-based repellent because of uncertainty about its safety.

Citronella oil should not be taken internally without the supervision of a health professional. Internal use of citronella essential oil may have toxic effects.

Learn more about how to use essential oils safely.

Alternatives to Citronella Oil

Several other essential oils may help repel insects and protect against bug bites. For instance, some studies suggest that eucalyptus essential oil and clove essential oil may possess insect-repelling properties.

While there's currently a lack of scientific evidence to support the claim that citronella can help fight headaches, preliminary research indicates that lavender essential oil and peppermint essential oil may offer pain-reducing effects that could help to alleviate headaches.

Where to Find Citronella Oil

Here are some tips on purchasing essential oils.

Widely available for purchase online, citronella oil is sold in many natural-foods stores and in stores specializing in self-care products.

Sources

Kongkaew C, Sakunrag I, Chaiyakunapruk N, Tawatsin A. "Effectiveness of citronella preparations in preventing mosquito bites: systematic review of controlled laboratory experimental studies." Trop Med Int Health. 2011 Jul;16(7):802-10.

Müller GC, Junnila A, Butler J, Kravchenko VD, Revay EE, Weiss RW, Schlein Y. "Efficacy of the botanical repellents geraniol, linalool, and citronella against mosquitoes." J Vector Ecol. 2009 Jun;34(1):2-8.

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