When it comes to protecting yourself and your family from the potentially harmful effects of a mosquito bite, you don’t want to take any chances. In most developed countries, a mosquito bite is an irritating bump that itches for a few days and then disappears, but in less developed countries, a bite can mean disease and even death.
With this in mind, it’s tempting to douse yourself in the most heavy-duty mosquito repellent you can find. But do you know what potentially harmful chemicals are in the mosquito spray you’re using? And do you know if these supposedly insect-repelling chemicals are even effective?
Throughout history, cultures around the world have found ways of protecting themselves against insect bites using active ingredients found in the natural world. Here are the 10 best natural insect repellents good enough to repel mosquitos and other bugs.
Best Natural Insect Repellents
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
Lemon Eucalyptus oil is just one of the natural oils that can be extracted from the lemon-scented gum eucalyptus plant. In its purest form, the oil has a sweet, earthy scent and is often found in natural perfumes. Yet, for lemon eucalyptus oil to be an effective pesticide it has to be refined and synthesized into a product known as PMD (chemical compound p-menthane-3,8-diol).
EPA recognise PMD as a “biopesticide repellent”, meaning that PMD is both proven to repel insects and is naturally derived.
The Chinese have used lemon eucalyptus oil, or PMD, to protect against mosquitos for centuries and it is widely considered a safe alternative to DEET.
Lemon eucalyptus oil is particularly good as an insect repellent for children as it is causes none of the potential side effects that DEET can.
Have you ever noticed how mosquitos and some other flying insects seem to avoid the beautiful purple lavender growing in your garden?
When crushed, the flowers of the lavender plant release a heavy, fragrant oil that is often added to natural mosquito repellent sprays and roll-ons, but does it work?
Lavender has certainly been used in the past to deter winged insects like moths from infesting stored clothes and linens and lavender oil has proven natural analgesic, antifungal and antiseptic qualities. While Lavender oil will not protect you in the same way that a chemical insect repellent like DEET will, this fragrant deterrent might be irritate the mosquitos just enough to keep you bite-free.
Neem oil is derived from the fruit and seeds of the Neem tree, native to South Asia. Traditionally, Neem oil has been used to treat skin complaints due to its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties – properties it shares with peppermint oil.
However, neem has recently emerged as an active ingredient in natural insect repellents with uncredited studies claiming that neem can deter mosquitos for up to 12 hours. Neem oil is not yet recognised by EPA as a “biopesticide repellent” so the jury is still out on its effectiveness.
A number of clinical studies over the last few years have proven thyme oil to be one of the best natural insect repellents available. Common thyme, known to keen gardeners as thymus vulgaris, secretes an essential oil that has an irritating, repellent effect on mosquitos.
One study revealed that combining equal amounts of thyme oil and clove oil had an even stronger effect on mosquitos and provided protection for up to 2.5 hours.
Lemon thyme, a close relative of common thyme, shares the same repellent properties as its close cousin but be careful with these oils as if they are not diluted properly they can irritate the skin.
Greek Catnip Oil
A study by American researchers has proven that the essential oil derived from the Greek catnip plant is more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. This bold claim was backed up by researchers at Iowa State University who also discovered that Greek catnip oil repels cockroaches.
The Greek catnip plant, also known as nepeta parnassica, is a member of the mint family. The essential oil extracted from the plant’s leaves can act as a tremendous natural insect repellent for up to three hours. Conveniently, Greek catnip is a perennial herb that grows wild all over the USA so shouldn’t be hard for most Americans to find.
Geraniol is extracted from geranium oil and is often used in natural mosquito repellents that contain a mixture of different essential oils. Like citronella, the geranium plant has insect repelling properties and has been used by gardeners for centuries to keep nuisance insects away from their blooms.
It seems geraniol’s effectiveness lies in its ability to mask scents that attract mosquitos, rather than actively repelling them. Geraniol can also use skin irritation if it is not properly diluted in a carrier oil, such as coconut oil or olive oil.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil, also known as melaleuca oil, is derived from the tea tree plant, natural to Australia. Tea tree oil has incredibly effective antibacterial, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that make it perfect for use in acne medication and medicated beauty products.
Researchers have put tea tree oil’s skin-friendly properties to the test and found that what keeps human skin clean and clear also irritates repels insects.
What’s more, if mosquitoes and other biting insects get through your line of defence, tea tree oil is great for soothing and healing bites.
Like cinnamon oil, peppermint oil is a potent natural ingredient that can kill mosquito larvae. Researchers in Delhi, India proved that the oil derived from local peppermint was effective in killing three different species of mosquito, a positive outcome for those fighting to stop the spread of malaria.
Used by many as a digestive aid, muscle rub or inhalant for improving mental alertness, peppermint oil is readily available and is definitely one of the better-smelling natural insect repellents on this list.
Citronella oil is probably the most recognisable natural mosquito repellent on the market. Citronella oil is used to make tiki-torch candles, designed to be burned in backyards in summertime, and gardeners recommend planting the citronella herb in gardens to keep flying insects at bay.
The oil of the citronella plant is classified as a “biopesticide” by EPA, meaning it is non-toxic and yet it does have insect repelling properties. Researchers have collected conflicting evidence on how well citronella oil deters mosquitos from biting but it does effectively mask scents that attract insects, deterring them from approaching at least.
Cinnamon oil has been scientifically proven to be effective in killing mosquito larvae but the jury is still out on whether cinnamon oil will repel adult mosquitos.
In 2004, a Taiwanese university proved that the sweet-smelling oil derived from cinnamon trees in Taiwan could kill mosquito eggs.
This discovery was significant as it opened the door to a more environmentally friendly way to control the mosquito population, particularly in countries where mosquitos carry deadly diseases like dengue fever.
Researchers proved that oils found in cinnamon leaves not only killed mosquito larvae but inhibited the growth of bacteria, fungi and mildew, and fought back against termite infestations. Not bad for something you usually sprinkle on oatmeal.