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Essential Oils as Natural Insect Repellents

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Updated March 08, 2014

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

If you're seeking a natural insect repellent, several types of essential oils may be useful in keeping bugs away and preventing bites and stings. These natural insect repellents can serve as an alternative to synthetic-chemical-based repellents, which may have toxic effects on human health and on the environment.

Essential Oils as Natural Insect Repellents

Often used in aromatherapy, an essential oil is a concentrated oil containing aromatic compounds from a plant. Here's a look at several essential oils shown to act as natural insect repellents:

1) Eucalyptus

Several studies suggest that essential oil of eucalyptus may help fend off insects, especially mosquitoes. In fact, one species of eucalyptus—known as lemon eucalyptus or Eucalyptus citriodora—may provide protection comparable to low concentrations of DEET (a pesticide widely used as a mosquito repellent).

Find out more about eucalyptus essential oil.

2) Citronella

Essential oil of citronella contains compounds with high repellent activity, according to a research review published in 2010. What's more, a 2008 study shows that burning citronella-based candles can help ward off mosquitoes and sand flies.

See more about citronella oil.

3) Clove

In a 2005 study that compared the repellent activity of 38 different essential oils, researchers discovered that clove oil offered the longest duration of protection against all mosquito species involved in the lab experiments. The same study found that citronella and patchouli oils also provided two hours of complete repellency.

Read my article on clove.

How to Use Natural Insect Repellents

Since essential oils are extremely potent, it's critical to take caution when using any kind of essential oil as a natural insect repellent. For instance, it's important to blend your essential oil of choice with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado) rather than applying the essential oil directly to your skin.

Learn more about using essential oils safely.

More Ways to Repel Insects

In addition to using natural insect repellents, you can take these steps to keep bugs away when spending time outdoors:

  • eliminate standing water around your home
  • wear protective clothing and accessories (such as long pants and a full-brimmed hat)
  • take caution when eating outside, since food attracts insects

It's possible that attracting birds and mammals that feed on mosquitoes (such as purple martins and bats) may also be helpful. However, science has yet to confirm this approach's effectiveness as a natural insect repellent.

Also see my article on Natural Mosquito Repellents.

Sources

MayoClinic.com. "Mosquito bites: Prevention". May 2008.

Müller GC, Junnila A, Kravchenko VD, Revay EE, Butler J, Orlova OB, Weiss RW, Schlein Y. "Ability of essential oil candles to repel biting insects in high and low biting pressure environments." J Am Mosq Control Assoc. 2008 24(1):154-60.

Nerio LS, Olivero-Verbel J, Stashenko E. "Repellent activity of essential oils: a review." Bioresour Technol. 2010 101(1):372-8.

Tawatsin A, Wratten SD, Scott RR, Thavara U, Techadamrongsin Y. "Repellency of volatile oils from plants against three mosquito vectors." J Vector Ecol. 2001 26(1):76-82.

Trongtokit Y, Rongsriyam Y, Komalamisra N, Apiwathnasorn C. "Comparative repellency of 38 essential oils against mosquito bites." Phytother Res. 2005 19(4):303-9.

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