Essential Oils That Are Used in Natural Bug Repellents

natural mosquito repellent
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If you're seeking a natural bug repellent, several types of essential oils may be useful in keeping insects away and preventing bites and stings. Often used in aromatherapy, essential oil is a concentrated oil containing aromatic compounds from a plant.

Using Essential Oils in Homemade Repellents

The challenge when making homemade bug repellents and sprays is that essential oils evaporate quickly when exposed to air, so even though certain oils have been found to repel insects, when used in the real world they evaporate quickly and lose their repellent effect.

Essential oils are extremely potent, so it's critical to take caution when using any kind of essential oil as a repellent on your skin. For instance, it's important to blend your essential oil of choice with a carrier oil (such as jojoba, sweet almond, or avocado) rather than applying the essential oil at full strength to your skin.

Homemade repellents may not be suitable for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women. Learn more about using essential oils safely.

Here's a look at several essential oils used in natural and homemade bug repellents:

Lemon Eucalyptus

Several studies suggest that one species of eucalyptus—known as lemon eucalyptus or Eucalyptus citriodora—may provide protection against insects, particularly mosquitos.

In a review of repellents registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), oil of lemon eucalyptus was found to a "reasonably effective" natural repellent. Note that oil of lemon eucalyptus is the trade name for a refined lemon eucalyptus oil that is rich in the active compound paramenthane-3,8-diol (or PMD).


Essential oil of citronella contains compounds with high repellent activity, according to a research review published in 2010, however, it has been found to be less effective than DEET.

Citronella in candles hasn't been found to be effective in repelling insects.


Galangal, a plant in the ginger family, may repel mosquitos and other insects. In a study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, galangal essential oil (Alpinia galanga) formulated in a lotion (using an encapsulation process designed to extend the repellent effect of the essential oil) was found to provide greater protection against mosquito bites compared to key lime and pomelo essential oils and commercial plant-based repellents, and comparable protection to DEET at a similar concentration.

Other studies have found that galangal essential oil may help to control termites and the cigarette bettle (Lasioderma serricorne).


In a 2005 study that compared the repellent activity of 38 different essential oils, researchers discovered that clove oil offered the longest duration of protection against all mosquito species involved in the laboratory experiments.


In a study published in Molecules in 2016, juniper (Juniperus formosana) essential oil was found to be toxic to two insects often found in stored food products, the red flour beetle (Tribolium castaneum) and the booklouse (Liposcelis bostrychophila).

More Ways to Repel Insects

In addition to using natural bug repellents, you can take these steps to keep insects away when spending time outdoors:

  • Eliminate standing water around your home
  • Wear protective clothing and accessories (such as long pants and a full-brimmed hat)
  • Check your skin and hair for ticks and other insects after being outdoors
  • Take caution when eating outside, since food attracts insects

It's possible that attracting birds and mammals that feed on mosquitoes (such as purple martins and bats) may also be helpful. However, science has yet to confirm this approach's effectiveness as a natural insect repellent.

The Takeaway

Whether it's for cost savings or desire to go natural, you may be looking for an alternative to synthetic-chemical-based repellents. While some essential oils have been found to repel insects in lab tests, outside the lab, essential oils in homemade formulas have been found to evaporate quickly and offer less protection than many commercial repellents.

Some people reapply homemade repellents often in order to get continuous protection. While there may be little cause for concern if you use these products for a limited time and stay within the safe dose, essential oils are absorbed through your skin and can result in adverse effects if they are used in excessive amounts.

The risk may be greater when using homemade repellents, which often contain a higher concentration of essential oils than what is found in commercial products. As the demand for natural products increases, new formulations are being studied that can extend the repellent effects of essential oils. (Oil of lemon eucalyptus and PMD being notable examples.)

When deciding to use natural repellents, it's important to weigh the risks of getting an insect-borne disease in your area. Using a repellent that has been proven to repel a particular insect that is a concern in your region may be needed, especially if bites from that insect can result in serious disease. It's a good idea to speak with your health care provider about the potential risks and to discuss the best type of repellent for you.

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