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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 DEET products unless you’re visiting places that have a high risk of mosquito-borne diseases like Zika. DEET is recommended for people at risk of 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 to prevent mosquito bites.

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 2014 study showed that a mixture of 32 percent lemon eucalyptus oil provided more than 95 percent protection against mosquitoes for 3 hours.

DIY

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 from 2002 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.

DIY

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 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.

DIY

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 from 2002, 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.

DIY

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.

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 2 to 3 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 Block Kids (2 percent soybean oil) could provide long lasting protection from mosquitoes.

DIY

In addition to soybean oil, you can also add a little lemongrass oil to your home mixture. The combination has been tested to guard against different species of 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 from 2011 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 2 hours. If the formula isn’t right, citronella can evaporate quickly and leave you unprotected.

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 studies also suggest that tea tree oil may be an effective insect repellent.

Field testing shows that repellents containing tea tree oil are effective against mosquitoes, bush flies, and biting midges.

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 2 to 4 hours, depending on the species.

Keep this oil away from your eyes, and try to avoid using it 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 2015 study about the effectiveness of neem oil in Ethiopia found that it offered more than 70 percent protection for 3 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.

DIY

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 mosquitoes are known to carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, or the Zika virus, doctors advise using a chemical mosquito repellent to reduce the odds of contracting a dangerous illness.

It’s also possible to have an allergic reaction to 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.

DEET stands for a chemical named N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide. It’s the active ingredient in various repellents, such as liquids, lotions, and sprays, that you’ll find on store shelves.

Products containing DEET are used to repel mosquitoes and other biting pests, like ticks, by preventing the bugs from being able to sense human scent.

DEET has been sold commercially since 1957 but was used by the United States Army as early as 1946. Currently, over 120 products that contain this ingredient are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA shares that DEET does not pose risks to health when used properly. In rare cases, though, there are some issues you may encounter when using it, including:

  • irritation, pain, or watery eyes if applied to eyes
  • irritation, swelling, or redness/rash if left on the skin for long periods of time
  • vomiting, nausea, or other stomach issues if consumed
  • seizures, in very rare cases

Safely using DEET means:

  • not applying it to skin under clothing or on irritated skin
  • not applying it to the hands or other places where it might be ingested
  • not using too much product
  • washing it from the skin or clothing when you return indoors

Young children should not apply DEET products on their own or have it applied in or around the eyes or mouth.

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. Over-the-counter anti-itch or antihistamine creams, like calamine lotion or 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. Signs of a problem may include:

  • an elevated temperature
  • pus or bleeding where the bite is
  • scabs that won’t go away

So, how exactly do you use various repellents to keep yourself bite-free? It’s important to familiarize yourself with the proper ways to apply products to your skin and clothing for maximum results.

How often should you reapply a repellent?

It depends. The EPA recommends that you carefully read the labels on any repellents you use and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations on both how much to use and how often to apply products. Also, take into account things like:

  • exposure to water (swimming, for example)
  • exercise (if you’re sweating)
  • the outdoor temperature

Applying and reapplying by the package directions will help make sure you get the most effective protection.

What clothing helps protect against bites?

Mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting clothing, like tights or yoga pants. To protect yourself, the CDC suggests choosing loose-fitting clothes that cover both the arms and legs for the most protection.

You can also treat the clothes you wear with permethrin or buy clothing that has already been treated with permethrin.

Unlike DEET, permethrin is not intended for use on the skin, so be sure to follow all package instructions and treat only clothing, boots, socks, hats, and other wearable items.

What can reduce the risk of mosquito bites?

Beyond wearing repellent, reapplying it when necessary, and choosing the right clothing, there are other things you can do to lower your risk of getting bitten by mosquitoes:

  • Hang out in screened areas versus open air. If screens have any holes or tears, repair them to eliminate leaks.
  • Switch on the air conditioning instead of opening windows to stay cool, if it’s an option.
  • Clean up any standing water in and around your home. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, so empty, scrub, or toss things like buckets, baby pools, pots, garbage cans, and bird baths.

Avoid being outdoors during peak mosquito times, between dusk and dawn.

There is significant research suggesting that natural ingredients are an effective way to repel mosquitoes. This is good news for people looking to avoid exposure to toxic chemicals, especially young children and pregnant people.

Experimenting with different ingredients to create a blended, all-natural mosquito repellent that’s unique to you can be a fun way to stay safe from mosquito bites.