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People looking for alternatives to synthetic mosquito repellents may find that some natural repellents are effective in protecting them from bites. These products are also likely to be less toxic to humans and the environment.
Natural repellents and some essential oils may be effective in keeping mosquitoes away because they block their sense of smell, making it harder for these insects to land on a human to feed.
In this article, learn about the best natural mosquito repellents and how they work.
Citronella is a well-known mosquito repellent. In a dose by dose comparison, citronella is initially as effective as DEET. However, citronella oil evaporates quickly, meaning that it is only effective for a short time. Also, high concentrations of citronella can cause skin irritation.
Research has shown that the topical application of 100% citronella can provide complete protection against three types of mosquito for up to 120 minutes in a laboratory setting.
People traveling to areas where mosquitoes carry diseases may wish to use a more effective synthetic repellent than citronella.
Lemon eucalyptus essential oil contains 85% citronellal. It is a popular product in the cleaning and cosmetics industries due to its fresh scent.
A 2014 study found that a formula containing 32% lemon eucalyptus oil provided at least 95% protection from mosquitoes for 3 hours. However, it has a shorter protection time than DEET as it evaporates more quickly.
Lemon eucalyptus essential oil is available to buy in natural health stores and online.
Many people use cloves either alongside cinnamon in baking or as an aromatic addition to drinks with lemon and sugar. However, cloves may also help prevent bothersome mosquito bites.
In a 2013 study, researchers mixed clove essential oil with bases of olive and coconut oil, which volunteers then applied topically to their skin.
The clove oil mixtures protected against yellow fever mosquitoes for up to 96 minutes.
Other research suggests that a component of cloves called methyl eugenol could be a carcinogen, but these claims require further research.
People can purchase clove essential oil in some health food stores and online.
Using peppermint may be another natural way to repel mosquitoes. The authors of a 2011 review concluded that high concentrations of peppermint essential oil are effective, but they could not find any research on lower concentrations.
A study in 2011 found that peppermint essential oil was effective against mosquito larvae and provided 100% protection against bites from adult yellow fever mosquitoes for up to 150 minutes.
Peppermint essential oil is available to buy in some grocery stores, health food stores, and online.
Lemongrass is an herb with a subtle citrus flavor. It is a popular ingredient in tea and several Asian cuisines.
In a 2015 study, researchers found that a combination of lemongrass essential oil and olive oil provided 98.8% protection against the southern house mosquito.
Other research found that topical application of lemongrass essential oil provided 74–95% protection for 2.5 hours against two types of mosquito during a field study.
People can find lemongrass essential oil in natural health stores and online.
Basil is a common ingredient in many cuisines, but it may also be a moderately effective mosquito repellent.
The authors of a 2011 review looked at several studies testing basil as a repellent. Some field studies in Kenya found that just the potted plant provided nearly 40% protection against a type of mosquito that can carry malaria.
The authors also noted that in a laboratory study, basil essential oil provided up to 100% protection for more than 6 hours against yellow fever mosquitoes. The researchers applied the oil topically.
People can purchase basil plants from their local garden center or find basil essential oil online.
In a small 2015 study on six male volunteers, researchers tested neem oil to compare its mosquito-repellent properties with those of DEET mosquito repellent. A concentration of 20% neem oil provided 70% protection for 3 hours between dusk and dawn. DEET provided a similar level of protection, but it lasted for about 8 hours.
In a field study that took place in Guinea-Bissau, burning neem leaves provided 76% protection against mosquitoes for 2 hours.
The research is inconclusive on how effective neem oil is as a mosquito repellent, so people living in or traveling to areas where mosquitoes carry diseases should not rely on it alone.
Neem essential oil is available for purchase online.
The authors of a 2011 study tested the effectiveness of eucalyptus oil with a coconut oil base. It provided approximately 93% protection against the filarial mosquito in India for up to 4 hours.
Other research found that heated eucalyptus leaves provided roughly 72% protection against mosquitoes for 2 hours during a field study. In the study, the researchers placed the leaves on a hot plate over a stove to fumigate the area.
Eucalyptus essential oil is available for people to buy online or in health food stores.
Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is part of the mint family. People can use catnip essential oil as a natural mosquito repellent.
The results of a 2011 study suggest that catnip essential oil is effective in repelling yellow fever mosquitoes.
In a different study, extracts from the catnip plant effectively repelled two species of mosquito, including the common house mosquito, for at least 2 hours.
People can purchase catnip plants from their local garden center and look for the essential oil online.
Thyme can be an effective mosquito repellent for short durations.
Laboratory studies have shown that topical applications of compounds of thyme essential oil can provide 89.0–97.3% protection against the common house mosquito for up to 82 minutes.
Burning thyme leaves can also help repel mosquitoes, providing about 85% protection for up to 90 minutes.
Thyme is available at garden centers, and the essential oil is available online.
People can purchase natural mosquito repellents that include the essential oils above. Researchers have found that a commercial formula that contains glycerin, lecithin, vanillin, coconut oil, geranium, and soybean oil has similar effects to DEET and can repel mosquitoes for up to 7 hours.
People can also make repellents at home by combining essential oils with water or carrier oils, such as coconut or soybean oil, to either use as a room spray or apply topically.
Some people may find that their skin reacts to essential oils, so it is important to do a patch test on a small area of skin first.
Certain essential oils can also make the skin prone to sun damage. People should not use essential oils on irritated or broken skin.
As some essential oils are only effective for a short time, it is best to reapply these formulations more regularly, particularly after going in the water or sweating.
People may also wish to plant mosquito-repelling plants, such as thyme, catnip, basil, and peppermint, in their garden.
Natural mosquito repellents can be an effective way to repel mosquitoes and prevent bites.
Some essential oils may be as effective as a synthetic repellent, such as DEET, but they often have a shorter protection time because they evaporate from the skin more quickly.
If people are living in or traveling to a country where mosquitoes carry diseases, it may be best to use a synthetic mosquito repellent.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that people use an EPA-registered mosquito repellent that contains one of the following ingredients:
- oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD)
However, using natural mosquito repellents can be an effective and environmentally friendly way to avoid mosquito bites in areas where the risk of mosquitoes spreading disease is low.