I first learned of my impressive mosquito-attracting capabilities when I was 14. I had the occasional run-in with the annoying little pests throughout my earlier childhood but it wasn’t until I turned 14 that I took a trip with family friends to the western Canadian province of British Columbia. We stopped in a small town in the middle of the Rocky Mountains and decided to enjoy the motel’s indoor hot tub. Afterward I made a mad dash back to the room, which took no longer than 30 seconds in which I was outdoors in my bathing suit and cloaked in a towel. Upon entering the room, I counted 14 highly-inflamed mosquito bites, while my counterparts had been left unscathed. I averaged one bite for every 2 seconds outdoors!
Needless to say, since then, I have been on a personal mission to find the best mosquito repellents on the planet. Since DEET-based mosquito repellents have been linked to brain and neurological damage, my focus has been on natural options, which frankly often show up in research as superior to the toxic chemical sprays anyway. So how do you avoid the mosquitoes and the dangerous effects of DEET? While Mother Nature offers dozens of different options, here are some of the best natural mosquito repellents, from a self-proclaimed expert who has used her body as their proving grounds:
YLANG YLANG ESSENTIAL OIL
Forget repellents that smell disgusting, this heavenly-smelling essential oil really works! A study published in the journal Parasitology Research found that ylang ylang essential oil repelled a whopping 97.1 to 99.4 percent of various species of mosquitoes. Compare that to a study published in the Journal of Insect Science that showed the DEET-based Off Deep Woods Insect Repellent repelled 94 percent of mosquitoes, Repel 100 that is made up of 98.11 percent DEET and only had a 90 percent repellency rate, or Avon Skin-so-Soft Bug Guard which only repelled 52 percent of mosquitoes.
LEMON EUCALYPTUS ESSENTIAL OIL
The same Journal of Insect Science study found that a product made up of lemon eucalyptus outperformed almost all DEET-based insect repellents with its 91 percent repellency rate. Another study published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association found that lemon eucalyptus was highly effective at repelling the mosquitoes responsible for dengue fever.
FLEABANE ESSENTIAL OIL
The name itself may give away some of the insect repelling qualities of this traditionally-used herb. Research published in the Journal of The Chemical Society found that vapors from the herb fleabane had 100 percent effectiveness against mosquitoes. Fleabane essential oil contains most of the active ingredients found in the vapor tested and would likely have significant effectiveness against mosquitoes, although the oil was not tested in this study.
LEMONGRASS ESSENTIAL OIL
Lemongrass is not just great in cooking, it shows potent mosquito repellent properties as well. According to a study published in the Journal of Vector Ecology, researchers found that lemongrass essential oil was highly effective against the species of mosquitoes it was tested against.
MARJORAM ESSENTIAL OIL
According to a study published in Natural Products Research, marjoram, also known as Turkish oregano, was as effective as DEET-based insecticides at repelling mosquitoes. Incidentally, marjoram was also highly effective at repelling ticks, making it an excellent choice when you’re heading to wooded areas.
EUCALYPTUS ESSENTIAL OIL
Used primarily to clear the sinuses during sinus infections or cold and flu season, eucalyptus essential oil (Eucalyptus globulus, specifically) demonstrated mosquito repellent activity for up to one and a half hours after application.
VETIVER ESSENTIAL OIL
According to a study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology earlier this year, researchers found that vetiver essential oil exhibited potent mosquito-repelling properties. Earlier research published in the Journal of Vector Ecology found that vetiver was far more effective than any of the DEET-based or other chemical insecticides used to repel mosquitoes. It repelled more than 95 percent of a particular species of mosquito, which was significantly more than the other products tested.
CATNIP ESSENTIAL OIL
The same Journal of Vector Ecology study found that catnip, while universally loved by cats, is hated by mosquitoes. While catnip showed results equivalent to DEET and other chemical insecticides against some species of mosquitoes, it demonstrated superior effectiveness to the chemical-based products against other species.
NEEM ESSENTIAL OIL
Earlier research published in the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Associationfound that two percent of neem oil mixed in coconut oil as a carrier oil is effective against mosquitoes for twelve hours before it needs to be reapplied. Compare that to new research which shows that within three hours of exposure to DEET repellents, mosquitoes have become desensitized and are no longer repelled by DEET. In other words, even reapplication of DEET after three hours is unlikely to be effective if the same mosquitoes are lurking around.
CITRONELLA ESSENTIAL OIL
Research in the journal Current Drug Discovery Technologies found that pure citronella essential oil is highly effective at repelling mosquitoes. While many people claim that this old standby doesn’t work for them, the reality is that most of the citronella products on the market are not pure enough or natural enough to be effective. Some are synthetic derivatives of the oil—fragrance oil—which had no therapeutic benefit at all. So, if you find that citronella doesn’t work for you, it may be because of the product’s lack of quality. Avoid fragrance oil completely.
To use the essential oils above you’ll need to dilute them in a carrier oil like sweet almond, fractionated coconut oil, or apricot kernel oil. Higher potencies yielded superior repellent properties in the research but you’ll need to balance that with your skin’s tolerance. Studies typically found that a 5 percent solution (about 60 drops of essential oil in one ounce or 30 mL of carrier oil) yielded excellent results; however, start with a 2 percent solution which is about 24 drops of essential oil in the same amount of carrier oil and gradually build up after you’ve confirmed that your skin can tolerate it. Ideally, conduct a test patch test on the inside of your wrist and wait at least 48 hours before using more extensively.