I spend every chance I get outside during the summer. I particularly enjoy camping near heavily forested areas with adventurous hiking trails.
I’ll spend three to four hours deep in the woods. And I have a great experience each and every time! That being said, when the mosquitos are biting, all I want to do is retreat to my tent.
The mosquitos tend to love my skin. And if you’re like me, you want a natural mosquito repellent, not some mix of potentially harmful chemicals.
That is why I always plan ahead against these blood-sucking insects. My buddy often recommends DEET—or N,N-diethyl-metatoluamide. He argues that nothing works better than DEET for mosquitos and other pests. It’s even estimated that 30% of Americans use one or more products containing DEET each year.
Government health authorities also recommend DEET to protect against mosquito-borne illnesses like the Zika virus, West Nile virus, and malaria, or tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease.
Health Risks of DEET
Although DEET does work in repelling mosquitos, the potentially toxic chemical isn’t without its risks.
For instance, a 2009 study noted that DEET produces effects similar to pesticides and deadly nerve gasses. Other possible effects of DEET include difficulty concentrating, nausea, headaches, dizziness, rashes or skin irritation, and even numb or burning lips.
Animal studies have also shown that prolonged use of DEET may cause brain cell death and behavioral changes. Some researchers have even concluded that people should stay away from any product containing DEET.
The Natural Mosquito Repellent That Works
The question is, does natural mosquito repellent work? Research suggests that there is a side effect-free, natural approach to preventing pesky mosquito bites as effective as DEET: essential oil.
Essential oil is my go-to natural mosquito repellent. And let me tell you why…
Many chemical compounds in essential oils have properties that effectively repel insects. Essential oils contain up to thousands of active ingredients, including esters, terpenes, ketones, phenols, and aldehydes.
There’s also an interesting 2016 study. Scientists tested 23 essential oils for their mosquito-repellent properties against Aedes aegypti—the most notable Zika virus transmitter. Three oils—litsea, rosewood, and geranium—outperformed the others.
The top oil from the study, litsea, comes from the fruit of the Litsea cubeba tree. This oil in particular compared favorably to DEET and another chemical repellent called DEPA (N,N-diethyl phenylacetamide). Another study from 2015 also found that the most successful essential oil blends used against Aedes aegypti contained litsea.
It was especially useful against mosquitos when combined with lemon eucalyptus or lemongrass essential oils. Mosquitos also seem to dislike other essential oils like ylang ylang, peppermint, tea tree, geranium, greater galanga, and eucalyptus oils.
Tips to Make Your Own Natural Mosquito Repellent
It is most beneficial to combine oils in mosquito repellents. There are DEET-free, biodegradable, and natural insect repellents available at stores that contain some of the oils mentioned. I also suggest making your own essential oil insect-repellent blend.
However, it is important to note that many essential oils are effective initially against mosquitos before later losing their potency. This means you have to apply your natural repellent more often than chemical-based repellents. The natural repellent effects will last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours.
Commercial manufacturers of essential oil repellents deal with this problem by adding various fixative agents to prolong the benefits of the oils, including vanillin—shown to extend the protection of essential oils against mosquitos for six to eight hours. Since essential oils can also be irritating to the skin, it is always a good idea to dilute them with carrier oils like coconut or neem.
To make your own insect repellent, combine 40 drops of your choice of the aforementioned essential oils, along with eight ounces of carrier oil, into a large glass spray bottle. Now you’re all set. Just shake it every time, then spray the repellent on your skin and clothing. Avoid spraying into your mouth and eyes.
Burke, V., “Essential Oils Proven to Send Mosquitoes Packing,” GreenMedinfo, Aug. 22, 2016; http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/essential-oils-proven-send-mosquitoes-packing, last accessed July 18, 2017.
“DEET,” National Pesticide Information Center; http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/DEETgen.html, last accessed July 18, 2017.
“Use Caution When Using DEET,” Quantum Health; https://www.quantumhealth.com/pages/use-caution-when-using-deet, last accessed July 18, 2017.
“Is it true that the DEET used in most mosquito repellents is toxic?” Scientific American; https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-it-true-that-the-deet/, last accessed July 18, 2017.