As we move into the summer months, it’s hard not to want to spend all day outdoors. But this can easily be ruined by the insects we have to share the outdoors with. Fortunately, there are a handful of essential oil bug sprays that don’t require the use of toxic substances like DEET to keep the bugs away.
Not to mention, some of the viruses carried by ticks and mosquitoes are quite harmful if caught. Depending on the tick, they have the ability to spread harmful bacteria and viruses, which can seriously affect someone if care is not taken.
Ticks and Disease
Bacteria, viruses, and microscopic protozoa are all transferable by ticks—if they’re affected, that is. Ticks acquire pathogens by biting an infected animal (such as a rodent), and during feeding, disease-causing organisms living inside the rodent are then transferred to the tick.
The most common ticks that people come across are the American dog tick (also known as the wood tick) and the blacklegged tick (also known as the deer tick). The blacklegged tick causes the most tick-borne diseases than any other tick species (1).
Diseases that can be transmitted by ticks include:
– Lyme’s desease
– Rocky Mountain spotted fever
– Powassan virus disease
– borrelia miyamotoi Disease
– borrelia mayonii Disease
Most signs or symptoms of a tick-borne disease appear a few days to weeks after the bite. It’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible after a tick bite, even if you don’t have symptoms. Saving the mark for lab testing is also a smart move.
With that said, how can we prevent these life-debilitating diseases without compromising our outdoor experience? While most people would resort to conventional insect repellants that contain DEET, I recommend Do not do get poisoned by this chemical.
DEET has been linked to skin irritation, respiratory effects, rashes, and even neurological effects. I talked about the potential dangers of DEET in a previous post. DEET exposure has even caused death in some people, as a result of direct application to the skin.
So what do we use instead of conventional insect repellants? Insect repellants with essential oils, of course!
The 8 Best Insect Repellents With Essential Oils
Essential oils contain natural compounds that some insects simply I can not stand. But not everyone essential oils work against insects. Only a select few are really effective, and each one differs in the bugs it keeps away.
The active ingredients in essential oils are volatile, so they may only be effective for a short period of time (about an hour from my experience). After that, you will notice that the errors come back quite quickly. Reapplying is necessary, but worth it to help protect your long-term health.
1. Citronella (Cymbopogon winterianus)
The National Pesticide Information Center claims that citronella oil acts as an effective insect repellant by masking odors that are attractive to insects. This makes finding a body more difficult for an insect to locate and attack.
Studies have shown that citronella is most effective when combined with vanillin (the essential component of vanilla) to extend the reapplication time (more than 3 hours!) (2).
you can buy citronella here.
Effective against: Mosquitoes and other flying insects. Do not use on bare skin.
2. Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)
This beautifully scented flower can also help repel insects. I used it when I was working in northern Manitoba, where the bugs exceed anything I’ve ever seen. Surprisingly, it worked well. I had to reapply it every 30 minutes to an hour, but it was worth it. Lavender essential oil has been used for centuries to repel insects and protect clothing and bedding from moth and other insect infestations. Lavender also helps control the inflammation and itching that accompany insect bites.
you can buy lavender here.
Effective against: Mosquitoes, black flies, fleas and other biting insects.
3. Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata)
The clove bud contains the compound eugenol, which kills insects on contact. As a result, bugs are more likely to stay out of your way when this scent is on your clothing and/or body. One study found that clove essential oil provided the longest duration of 100% repellency (2 to 4 hours) against three species of mosquitoes (3) (compared to citronella, patchouli, makaen, and citronella).
you can buy clove here.
Effective against: Biting insects such as mosquitoes, horseflies, houseflies and gnats.
4. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Lemongrass is as powerful as any commercial insect repellent. Contains citronellol Y geraniol, and is effective against a wide range of biting insects. Studies have found that when human subjects apply the lemongrass variety Cymbopogon citratus to their skin, they are free from mosquito bites for 3 hours (4).
you can buy lemongrass here.
Effective against: Mosquitoes, flies and other biting insects.
5. Lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora)
Lemon eucalyptus is an incredibly effective oil against mosquitoes and ticks. All this is possible thanks to its incredibly high concentration of citronella: more than 85%. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has listed PMD (paramenthane-3,8-diol), another active ingredient in lemon eucalyptus, as effective against mosquitoes and other insects. In fact, some conventional sunscreens use the natural compound PMD in their formulas as an insect repellent.
You can buy lemon eucalyptus here.
Effective against: Mosquitoes and ticks, but not sandflies or gnats. It lasts several hours.
6. catnip (cataria nepeta)
Catnip essential oil is so effective that it has been found to repel mosquitoes more effectively than DEET (5). Another 2006 study found catnip oil to be the most effective (compared to thyme, amyris, eucalyptus, and cinnamon). It provided over six hours of protection at two different concentrations (6).
You can buy catnip here.
Effective against: Mosquitoes, ticks and other flying insects.
7. Virginia cedar wood (Juniperus virginiana)
Cedarwood is an incredibly effective essential oil against ticks: In a 2014 study, Virginia cedarwood essential oil killed 100 percent of the blacklegged ticks it was tested on (7). Not so surprisingly, cedar shavings are often used as a natural form of tick prevention in gardens and on patios. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even lists cedarwood as an effective means of repelling blacklegged ticks and other arthropods (8).
You can buy Virginia cedar lumber here.
Effective against: Ticks, ants, fleas, lice, cockroaches and mites.
8. pink geranium (pink pelargonium)
Another incredibly effective essential oil against ticks is rose geranium. One study examined more than 10 different chemotypes of geranium essential oil and found that they were quite effective at repelling ticks (9). I also read this great article about the Tisserand Institutewhich cites several studies indicating that geranium essential oil is an effective tick repellent.
You can buy pink geranium here.
Effective against: Ticks, mosquitoes, flies, cockroaches, ants and midges.
How to use essential oils to repel insects
While I often rub essential oils directly onto my clothing, I would not recommend doing so. I have stained my clothes a few times when doing it when I overdo it, so here are some tips and tricks on how to apply essential oil to clothes and body without staining and without getting a fully concentrated oil on your skin.
1. Dilute 10 drops of your main essential oil (and a couple more drops of any other essential oils you want to add – you can make a powerful combination by combining the oils above), in four ounces of witch hazel in a spray bottle and spray over your skin and/or clothing. Just be sure to shake the bottle before spraying.
2. Mix 10 drops of your primary essential oil (and a couple more drops of any other essential oil you like) into four ounces of jojoba oil, apricot kernel oil, liquid coconut oil, or other carrier oil. Rub into your skin and get on with your day!
Note: Adding vanillin (vanilla essential oil) to your homemade solutions can also extend the lasting power of your essential oil insect repellents.