Essential oils are made of a wide range of hydrocarbons, and their repellent activity has been linked to the presence of compounds called monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes. Specifically, the compounds α-pinene, limonene, citronellol, citronellal, camphor and thymol have been found to be the most actively effective against insect pests.
Numerous recent studies have shown essential oils effective at repelling mosquitoes and other bugs. Of the essential oils tested so far, some of those proven to be most effective are eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass, cinnamon, clove, and basil.
Aromatherapy for Health Professionals mentions a study done by Dube Upadhyay & Tripath (1989) the specifically touts sweet basil for its insect repellent power. Also cited is a study by Gildemeisters & Hoffman (1956) showing the efficacy of cinnamon, citronella, clove, and eucalyptus essential oils in repelling biting insects.
The Naturally Clean Home: 150 Super-Easy Herbal Formulas for Green Cleaning recommends eucalyptus, citronella, rosemary, cedarwood, peppermint (for mice,too), and lavender (especially for moths).
Essential oils can also be a safe, effective remedy for insect bites. In the book Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art lavender, tea tree, calendula, helichrysum, cedarwood, chamomile, eucalyptus, peppermint, rosemary, and thyme are all recommended topically to relieve itching and inflammation from insect bites.
Dr. Kurt Schnaubelt in Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapyspecifically praises lavender essential oil as being "highly effective for relieving itching insect bites".
Essential Oils with Insect Repellent Properties:
Recipe for Natural Bug Repellent:
10-15 drops of each essential oil:
For body spray, mix with 2-3 tablespoons of witch hazel or vodka.
For body lotion or oil, mix with 2-3 tablespoons of lotion or carrier oil such as jojoba, grapeseed, or quality cooking oil.
Feel free to experiment with different essential oil combinations to find what you like best.
- Be sure to only use pure, therapeutic grade essential oils. It's important to know you are getting a safe, pure product with no toxic solvents or contaminates.
- Some oils, especially citrus and lemongrass, can cause photo sensitivity, so do not apply these topically before going out into the sun.
- Most of these essential oils are safe to use around dogs, but use caution around cats and birds.
- Pure, undiluted essential oils are powerful and may need to be diluted with a carrier oil for individuals with sensitive skin.