ESSENTIAL OILS TO REPEL MOSQUITOES
Help! Mosquitoes love me! I don’t want to put regular insect repellents on my skin and wearing long sleeves, pants, socks and shoes in the heat of the summer is NOT an option. Are there essential oils I can use?
I hear you loud and clear! Mosquitoes love me too! There isn’t a summer that goes by that I don’t spend some of the time slapping a body part and doing the ‘mosquito dance’ – you know, the one that requires aerobatic jumping and ducking movements with the frenzied flapping of hands and arms. Oh … and what about flipping the lights on and off in the dead of the night to smush that sneaky one that somehow slipped into the room … only to succumb to sleeping like a tightly wrapped burrito in the sheets with a pillow over one’s head while the relentless whiny hum of the culprit continues?
As you may know, in addition to being a nuisance there is potential risk to one’s health as a result of mosquito bites. Some people experience severe reactions with excessive itching, swelling and bite-site infection. And a few species of mosquito carry and spread life-threatening viruses from one ‘blood-host’ to the next. In North America this is primarily the West Nile virus.
Acquiring a basic understanding about what attracts and repels mosquitoes puts us in a better position to protect ourselves and our loved ones. You may wish to visit the Health Canada and/or the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention websites to further inform your choices. I have included their web addresses at the end of this article.
Mosquito Control and National Geographic write that female mosquitoes locate their blood-hosts 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).
Most mosquito species prefer dark, cool places like trees, grass and shrubs, are more drawn to persons wearing dark colored clothing and have a ‘fondness’ for the slightly cooler body temperatures of the extremities, like arms and the lower leg. 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!
You are perspiring? ‘Nummy’ says Ms. Mosquito as she is doubly-drawn to the chemicals released in the perspiration and to your body’s humidity. Even small amounts of water will draw mosquitoes and all mosquitoes need water to breed. Be vigilant about taking care of standing water sources such as mud puddles, children’s wading pools, bird baths, uncovered rain water catchers and so on.
Lactic acid or more specifically ‘blood lactate’ (salts of lactic acid) is another ‘like’ for mosquitoes. Lactate is naturally present in humans, animals and even some bacterial species. Its level measurably increases in the blood as a result of stress, exercise and to a degree after eating salty and processed foods.
Okay … so this last tidbit might be a bit over the top but imagine yourself mosquito-free at an outdoor garden party attracting only the attention of the other guests with your bite-free self and entertaining knowledge about those pesky party crashers!
There are numerous synthetic and ‘natural’ mosquito repellent products available to consumers. Please remember that natural is not synonymous with safe. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any type of bug repellent product. Never apply bug repellents on open wounds, blisters, cuts or scrapes, and if you are pregnant use extreme caution with bug repellents of any type. The same precautions are necessary for young children, the elderly and those with some chronic health conditions. Always check with your primary care provider if you have any questions.
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 are at the end of this article.)
Please 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!
Which carrier oils are the best to use with the essential oils? Pretty much any vegetable oil will work but there is one in particular that is wonderful for your skin and contains its own mosquito repelling properties – cold pressed Neem oil (Neem seed oil, Neem tree oil) from India’s native Neem tree, Azadirachta indica. In addition to its repelling properties it is known to have antiseptic, antifungal, antiviral and healing dermatological properties. It has been used for centuries to aid in the healing of skin conditions, inflammation and fever, and more recently rheumatic disorders. It is used in toothpaste, skin lotion, hair care, soap and pharmaceuticals. It does have a strong, pungent odor but this is easily remedied by the addition of essential oils. Neem oil is thick and tends to ‘sit’ on the skin for a while so use sparingly. Neem oil alone is effective against mosquitoes for up to 12 hours!
Fractionated coconut oil is a great carrier oil. It is colorless, odorless, does not turn rancid, absorbs quickly into the skin and easily washes out of the linens and clothing 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.
Here is a basic recipe you can use as a guide. Into a small sealable glass jar add 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of your chosen carrier oil with 10 to 25 drops of the suggested essential oils and shake well to blend. If you are using Neem oil as your carrier oil the lesser amount of essential oils will do. Care2.com suggests adding an optional 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of aloe vera gel to the blend for its cooling effect. One of my favourite recipes is adapted from a wonderful synergistic blend of Valerie Ann Worwood; 5 drops red thyme, 10 drops lemongrass, 5 drops lavender and 5 drops peppermint (The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy, 1991).
Prefer a water-based spray? Make a synergistic blend of essential oils (try the one above) and store in a tightly capped dark glass bottle. Into a PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) plastic or plain glass bottle, with pump spray nozzle, add 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of distilled water and 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of inexpensive vodka (a solubilizer). To this liquid add 5 drops of the essential oil synergistic blend. Shake well before each use. Alternatively, use 4 tablespoons (60 ml) of water and 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of witch hazel or 5 tablespoons (75 ml) of lavender hydrosol. Nice!
Don’t have time to be ‘creative’? 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 tend to evaporate or absorb quickly. Your blend will require reapplication every 30 minutes to remain effective! And if you are wearing sunscreen (which is a must!), get caught in the rain, it is a hot day, you are perspiring, have gone swimming or it is windy, reapply accordingly.
Personally, I find the topical application of a Neem oil blend with the added benefit of a spray as a back up most effective during peak mosquito times. And to be honest, I do wear light, long-legged and sleeved clothes with socks and shoes if I need to. I absolutely refuse to be a buffet for mosquitoes!
Information on Mosquitoes and the West Nile Virus
Health Canada website: hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/iyh-vsv/life-vie/insect-eng.php
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website: cdc.gov/ncidod/westnile/index.htm
Article’s Web References
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.
Note from Jacqueline Fairbrass, Founder SCT
One of my favorite ways to repel mosquitoes is to have a huge planter of Citronella on the patio and by the front door. You know the annoying way mosquitoes hang on the door and as you open to go in, they scoot in with you? A simple way to fix this is to apply several drops of Citronella essential oil (Cymbopogon nardus) to a cotton pad and wipe around the seal of the door. The mosquitoes will no longer sit on the door. Add a lovely plant by the door and you’ve gone a long way to making sure they don’t come in the house~~all without icky chemicals!
Barbara Power, Certified Aromatherapist