ESSENTIAL OILS TO REPEL MOSQUITOES
I enjoy being out in nature and I love gardening. Unfortunately nasty mosquitoes are out in nature and they love gardeners! Can you recommend an aromatherapy solution?
Sign me, Itching To Get Out There
I received a similar question this time last year (Ask the Aromatherapist, July 2010) but thought it important to respond again albeit a shortened version. Much of Canada and the Northern United States experienced cooler and wetter than usual Spring season this year, contributing to an increase in the mosquito population.
Mosquito Control and National Geographic write that female mosquitoes who are the ‘biters’ locate their bloodhosts by scent, sight, heat and movement. From 100 feet away (30 meters) they can smell our scent, especially the carbon dioxide (CO2) we exhale. They respond to higher-than-normal concentrations, especially when the CO2 is mixed with host-odor; e.g. following exercise or when we are hot. They follow scent upwind and can see us at a distance of about 30 feet (10 meters). (i, ii)
Most mosquito species prefer dark, cool places like trees, grass and shrubs and are more drawn to persons wearing dark coloured clothing. They have a ‘fondness’ for the slightly cooler body temperatures of the extremities, like arms and the lower leg, and are drawn to the chemicals released in our perspiration. Floral and fruity fragrances are a big draw; including perfumes, colognes, hair products and scented sunscreens. If you use aromatic clothes detergent, fabric softeners or dryer sheets you are a walking invitation! (iii)
In aromatherapy the most common essential oils used for their mosquito repellent properties include cedarwood, citronella, geranium, lavender, lemon balm, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, peppermint, red thyme and tea tree. Catnip or catmint essential oil is not commonly used in aromatherapy but is achieving much attention as a successful mosquito repellent. (The botanical names of essential oils in this article are found at the end of this article.)
It is important to note that while pennyroyal essential oil is often cited as an effective mosquito repellent it is highly toxic to humans and animals in even minute amounts. I do not recommend using pennyroyal essential oil!
Always dilute essential oils in a base or carrier oil. Pretty much any vegetable oil can be used but there is one in particular that is wonderful for your skin and contains its own mosquito repelling properties. It is cold pressed Neem oil (Neem seed oil, Neem tree oil) from India’s native Neem tree, Azadirachta indica. Neem oil is thick and tends to ‘sit’ on the skin for a while so use it sparingly. Neem oil alone is effective against mosquitoes for up to 12 hours!
Fractionated coconut oil is a great carrier oil. It is colourless, odourless, does not turn rancid, absorbs quickly into the skin and easily washes out of fabrics it may come into contact with. It is also light enough to spray from a bottle if that is your preferred way of applying a mosquito repelling blend. Olive oil and grape seed oil are also good carrier oils but are generally too thick to spray through a bottle.
One of my favourite recipes is adapted from a wonderful synergistic blend found in Valerie Ann Worwood’s The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy (1991). Into 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of your chosen carrier oil blend 5 drops red thyme essential oil, 10 drops lemongrass essential oil, 5 drops lavender essential oil and 5 drops peppermint essential oil. Care2.com suggests adding 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of aloe vera gel to insect repellent blends to take advantage of its cooling effect.
If you do not have time to make a blend, rub a few drops of lavender essential oil onto your feet and ankles before slipping on your sandals. Spritz your clothing with lavender hydrosol. And don’ forget that a dab of lavender essential oil on a mosquito bite helps to relieve itchiness and jump start healing. Tea tree essential oil is great for bites as well!
Most essential oil based mosquito repellents evaporate or absorb quickly. Your blend will require reapplication every 30 minutes to remain effective. And if you are wearing sunscreen, get caught in the rain, are perspiring or have gone swimming reapply accordingly.
My personal preference for repelling mosquitoes is the topical application of the above recipe using Neem oil as a carrier. I also like to have on hand a 30 ml (1 fluid oz) spray bottle of fractionated coconut oil into which I have added 30 drops of lavender essential oil. It is simple, portable and easy to apply.
I would love to know how well these work for you. I look forward to your next message signed, ‘The Happy Gardener’!
Common and Botanical Names of Essential Oils
Catnip – Nepeta cataria, Cedarwood – Cedrus atlantica, Citronella – Cymbopogon nardus, Geranium – Pelargonium graveolens, Lavender – Lavandula angustifolia, Lemon balm -Melissa officinalis, Lemon eucalyptus – Eucalyptus citriodora, Lemongrass – Cymbopogon citratus, Peppermint – Mentha piperita, and Tea tree – Melaleuca alternifolia.