People are usually prone to mosquito bites due to a combination of scent, light, heat, and humidity. If you’re a mosquito magnet, you’re probably tired of having itchy, bumpy skin.
Different species of mosquitoes — like the ones that carry malaria — prefer bacteria and sweat. Others are attracted to carbon dioxide and certain hand odors.
Whichever species you encounter, you can protect yourself without having to use a DEET-based chemical repellent. DEET products have the potential to cause health and environmental problems. You might choose to avoid using these products unless you’re visiting places that have a high risk for mosquito-borne diseases like Zika. DEET is recommended for people at risk for mosquito bites carrying any disease.
If you’re doing things like taking a hike, hanging out in your backyard, or taking a camping trip, natural repellents might be a better option. This can be especially true for children, who are more sensitive.
Read on to see which natural repellents work best.
Lemon eucalyptus oil
Used since the 1940s, lemon eucalyptus oil is one of the more well-known natural repellents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have approved eucalyptus oil as an effective ingredient in mosquito repellent.
A recent study showed that a mixture of 32 percent lemon eucalyptus oil provided more than 95 percent protection against mosquitoes for three hours.
You can create your own mixture with 1 part lemon eucalyptus oil to 10 parts sunflower oil or witch hazel. Researchers from the University of Florida caution against using the mixture on children under 3 years of age.
Crushed lavender flowers produce a fragrance and oil that can repel mosquitoes. An animal study on hairless mice found lavender oil to be effective at repelling adult mosquitoes. Lavender has analgesic, antifungal, and antiseptic qualities. This means that in addition to preventing mosquito bites, it can calm and soothe the skin.
You can grow lavender in an outdoor garden or in indoor planters. Crush the flowers and apply the oil to bite-sensitive areas of the body, such as your ankles and arms. Also drop some lavender oil on a clean cloth and rub it onto the skin.
Cinnamon is more than just a great topper to applesauce or oatmeal. According to a study conducted in Taiwan, cinnamon oil can kill off mosquito eggs. It can also act as a repellent against adult mosquitoes, most notably the Asian tiger mosquito.
To make a diluted 1 percent solution, mix 1/4 teaspoon (or 24 drops) of oil for every 4 ounces of water. You can spray the fluid onto your skin or clothing, around your home, and onto upholstery or plants. Be careful when applying cinnamon oil, as a concentrated dose can irritate your skin.
When it comes to repelling malarial mosquitoes, thyme oil is one of the best at providing protection. In one animal study, 5 percent thyme oil applied to the skin of hairless mice provided a 91 percent protection rate.
You may also want to throw thyme leaves into a campfire. Research shows that burning thyme leaves offers 85 percent protection for 60 to 90 minutes.
For a homemade brew, combine 4 drops of thyme oil to every teaspoon of base oil, such as olive or jojoba oil. For a spray, mix 5 drops of thyme oil with 2 ounces of water.
Greek catnip oil
Nepeta parnassica, a member of the mint family related to catnip, can ward off mosquitoes. The white and pink flowers grow up to 18 inches, but it’s the extract and oil from the bruised leaves that’s the most valuable.
One study found that oil from the plant could repel mosquitoes effectively for two to three hours. Researchers at Iowa State University also found catnip to be 10 times more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes.
According to the University of Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory, soybean-based products like Bite Blocker for Kids (2 percent soybean oil) could provide long-lasting protection from mosquitoes.
Citronella is a common natural and effective essential oil that works against mosquitoes. Made from a mix of herbs, it’s an ingredient in many mosquito repellents. When outdoors, citronella candles can provide up to 50 percent extra protection.
Research says that the formulation of citronella is important to how effective it is. When the product is formulated correctly it’s as effective as DEET, and can protect you for up to two hours. If the formula isn’t right, citronella can evaporate quickly and leave you unprotected.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil, or melaleuca oil, is a popular essential oil from Australia. This oil is known for its antiseptic, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. But recent studies also suggest that tea tree oil may be an effective insect repellent.
Geraniol is a type of alcohol used as a fragrance or flavor. It’s from plant oils like citronella, lemongrass, and rose. As an ingredient in mosquito repellent, it’s known to be effective for two to four hours, depending on the species.
Keep away from your eyes and try to avoid use if you have sensitive skin. Geraniol may cause eye and skin irritation.
Although neem oil is advertised as a natural alternative, there are mixed results about its effectiveness. A recent study about the effectiveness of neem oil in Ethiopia found that it offered more than 70 percent protection for three hours.
Neem oil is not approved as a topical repellent because it can cause skin irritation. It’s still best to use DEET when traveling to a country that’s high-risk for mosquito-borne diseases.
To repel mosquitoes with neem oil, dilute 50 to 100 milliliters of neem oil in water, oil, or lotion. It’s also important to choose extra virgin, cold-pressed neem oil.
Essential oils should never be put on the skin directly. They are always diluted in a carrier oil such as almond oil. The recipe is usually 3 to 5 drops of essential oil in 1 ounce of carrier oil.
Essential oils aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It’s possible to buy a faulty product, so always buy from a reputable source. If you are going to be traveling in an area where mosquitos are known to carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, or the Zika virus, doctors advise a chemical mosquito repellant to reduce the odds of contracting a dangerous illness.
It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction from the active ingredients in essential oils. Before you use any new product, spot-test the product on a small section of your skin and wait an hour or two to make sure that hives or burning sensations do not occur.
Even with mosquito repellent, you may get itchy, painful mosquito bites. To treat mosquito bites at home, you can try rubbing apple cider vinegar at the site of the bite. Putting a slice of raw onion or freshly cut garlic on the bite can also provide relief and guard against infection. Calamine lotion or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream can help as well.
If you do develop an infection or allergic reaction due to a significant amount of mosquito bites, take note of your symptoms and contact your doctor. An elevated temperature, pus or bleeding where the bite is, or scabs that won’t go away could be a sign of a problem.
There is significant research suggesting that natural ingredients are an effective way to repel mosquitos. This is good news for people looking to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, especially young children and pregnant women. Experimenting with different ingredients to create a blended, all-natural mosquito repellant that’s unique to you is a fun way to stay safe from mosquito bites.