It’s the height of outdoor season, but there are intruders lurking around, planning to destroy your favorite activities: mosquitoes. Special lanterns can help repel these pesky insects around small areas. Still, your best protection against mosquitoes is repellent (plus, you don’t have to be confined to one place). However, you may be more concerned with the potential health effects of mosquito repellent more than the insects themselves. Natural mosquito repellents are chemical-free options that may offer some of the same benefits as their conventional counterparts. Make sure you read all the product labels carefully and know how to use these natural repellents to ensure safety and effectiveness.
How Do Natural Repellents Work?
Natural mosquito repellants are increasing in popularity. They’re alternatives to conventional, chemical-based repellents containing DEET or picaridin. These types of active ingredients are intended for lasting mosquito protection. Conventional products are recommended by many health professionals because they have been studied in the prevention of mosquito-carrying diseases such as West Nile virus and malaria. However, when used for long periods of time and in large quantities, these chemicals carry their own risks including mood changes and skin reactions.
Due to such possible risks, you might consider a natural mosquito repellent. These don’t contain chemicals like DEET. Instead, such products repel mosquitoes with plant-based ingredients that these insects dislike and avoid. Natural repellents work best in areas of mild infestation, as well as with young children who cannot use conventional repellents. It’s important to learn the details of natural repellents, as they come in many different forms with various ingredients.
Types of Natural Repellants
There is no one single type of natural mosquito repellent. These types of insect repellents are based on plant extracts which may help keep mosquitoes away naturally. Learn about some of the most common ingredients and how they can help.
- Eucalyptus Oil
Derived from dried eucalyptus leaves, this oil is a common ingredient in natural repellents. You can also buy the oil from a natural health store. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) doesn’t recommend lemon eucalyptus for children under three years of age.
- Clove Oil
Traditionally an antiseptic, clove oil has also been used in alternative medicine for asthma. Its potency is used in some insect repellents to offer similar effects in regards to warding off bugs. Clove oil is best used in packaged form with other ingredients because of its strength.
- Citronella Oil
This is a common oil made from lemongrass leaves and stems. In fact, both natural and conventional repellents may contain citronella oil. The downside is that the effects of this oil only last for several minutes alone. If you want to stick with a natural version, make sure citronella is combined with other mosquito-fighting ingredients.
- Cedar extract
Derived from cedar tree foliage and bark, cedar extract is a common essential oil used in natural products. It works best when diluted and used with other oils.
Soybeans are available for more than just eating. Soybean oil is an essential oil that can be used as a standalone ingredient for mosquito protection.
Other natural ingredients are being studied by manufacturers for potential mosquito repellent product inclusion:
- Neem oil
- Celery extract
- Thyme oil
- Fennel oil
Aside from buying natural products, there are other methods you can take to prevent mosquito bites naturally. These include:
- Preventing the accumulation of standing water around your home
- Staying away from flowerbeds and thick bushes
- Not applying perfumes and scented skin products prior to going outdoors
- Wearing pants and long-sleeved shirts (if temperatures allow)
Precautions & Considerations
Despite the claims for safety with “natural” ingredients, natural mosquito repellents carry risks of their own. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, natural insect repellents tend to last for only two hours—this is about half the time of chemical-based products. For this reason, natural repellents may not be ideal for long outdoor activities. It’s important to reapply often to ensure adequate mosquito protection. If you feel you cannot reapply a natural repellent at least every two hours, you may need to use a conventional version to avoid the possible repercussions of mosquito attacks.
Natural repellents can also cause allergic reactions. There is unfortunately no way of knowing you have an allergy to a plant until you try the product. Test a small area of your arm and wait a few days before applying on your entire body. Discontinue use and call your doctor if you experience any rashes, swelling or hives. Also, spray versions can irritate your lungs, despite the fact they’re made with natural ingredients. Never spray natural repellents in enclosed areas, as these are intended for outdoor use only.
As a last consideration, it’s important to remember that not all repellents are registered with the EPA, and they don’t have FDA approval. This doesn’t automatically mean natural repellents are dangerous. What this does mean however, is that natural repellents may not undergo the same testing and safety requirements as their chemical counterparts.
Whether you choose natural or conventional insect protection, the end purpose is the same: protection from diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. There are many potential benefits with natural mosquito repellents, but you must be mindful of the possible risks to protect your family. Address specific product concerns with your family physician.