The Health Benefits of Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

This oil can be used as an insect repellent

Lemon eucalyptus oil is extracted from the leaves of a tree native to Australia (Eucalyptus citriodora). It is used as a natural insect repellant because it contains para-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD), a compound that makes it harder for mosquitoes and other bugs to pick up on your skin odor.

Most commercially available insect repellents contain a processed lemon eucalyptus oil that intensifies its concentration of PMD and, in turn, increase its power and duration as a repellent. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies synthetic PMD as a biochemical pesticide, which is a type of naturally occurring substance that controls pests by non-toxic mechanisms.

Dad and son use mosquito spray
galitskaya / Getty Images

Health Benefits

Mosquitoes can carry diseases like Zika, dengue, and chikungunya, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Used as an insect repellent, lemon eucalyptus oil can protect against bites that can lead to disease.

Lemon eucalyptus oil is sometimes used as an alternative to DEET, which is the active ingredient in many popular insect repellent products. While DEET is highly effective when it comes to warding off disease-carrying insects, some individuals are concerned about its possible side effects, such as irritation of the eyes and skin.

According to the CDC, EPA-registered products made from synthesized lemon eucalyptus oil appear to provide reasonably long-lasting repellent activity. Furthermore, the agency includes such products in its list of repellents that can help reduce the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes. (Products containing DEET, picaridin, and IR3535 are also included on the CDC’s list.)

Other Uses 

Although lemon eucalyptus oil is most commonly used as a mosquito repellent, it’s also said to stave off Lyme disease by preventing deer tick bites.

In addition, lemon eucalyptus oil has long been used to soothe muscle spasms and alleviate osteoarthritis pain. However, there is a lack of scientific support for these uses of lemon eucalyptus oil.

Possible Side Effects

Due to a lack of studies testing lemon eucalyptus oil’s effects on children, the CDC warns against using the oil on those under the age of 3 years. Pregnant or nursing women and children should consult their primary care provider before using lemon eucalyptus oil.

Pure lemon eucalyptus oil shouldn't be applied directly to the skin or used in larger amounts than recommended (the oils are absorbed through the skin and using too much can be toxic).

What’s more, certain ingredients in lemon eucalyptus oil products may trigger allergic reactions. For that reason, it’s crucial to perform a patch test prior to using any type of product containing lemon eucalyptus oil. 

Lemon eucalyptus oil should never be ingested, as it may cause seizures and death. Contact poison control if you or someone you are with have swallowed products containing lemon eucalyptus oil.

Dosage and Preparation

There is no standard dosage recommended for lemon eucalyptus oil.

Products containing this oil dilute it with other ingredients, such as a carrier oil. The suggested dilution ranges from a 30% to 75% lemon eucalyptus oil solution applied twice a day. Commercially available natural bug repellants tend to contain 10% to 30% lemon eucalyptus oil.

Apply your repellent whenever you’re outside in areas with known mosquito populations (especially during the hours between dusk and dawn). Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after applying the oil and avoid getting oil in the eyes, on the lips or mouth, or near other mucous membranes as it may burn.

Make sure to re-apply your lemon eucalyptus oil product as directed, and especially if you start getting bitten.

What to Look For

Lemon eucalyptus oil found in many commercially available mosquito repellents is not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oil. It’s important to note the difference between the two and to read labels carefully so you know exactly what you are buying.

A class of oils used in aromatherapy, essential oils are said to offer a broad range of health benefits—such as reduced stress and anxiety, improvements in sleep, and pain relief—when used appropriately.

Unlike the specially formulated and PMD-rich lemon eucalyptus oil found in many insect repellents, essential oil of lemon eucalyptus rapidly evaporates from your skin. In fact, essential oil of lemon eucalyptus only provides protection from bug bites for about an hour, according to a report published in Malaria Journal in 2011.

The CDC doesn't recommend pure essential oil of lemon eucalyptus due to the lack of testing for safety and efficacy.

Other Questions

Are there other natural insect repellants?
A number of other plant-based products—including geranium oil and citronella—show promise as natural mosquito repellents. However, given that none of these is known to deliver long-lasting and effective protection, people in high-risk areas for mosquito-borne diseases should opt for CDC-recommended repellents.

I'm going on vacation. How do I know if lemon eucalyptus oil will be sufficient as an insect repellant while I'm away?
While there are parts of the world that tend to always be considered mosquito-borne illness hot spots, you can confirm the general level of risk in your destination by visiting the CDC's Travelers' Health page.

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