5 Natural Ingredients You Can Use As DEET-Free Mosquito Repellent

Image by Ani Dimi / Stocksy

We're smack in the middle of summer, and that means time at the beach, days in the sun, and unfortunately, for many of us, being eaten alive by mosquitoes. Next to humidity and sunburns, bug bites are definitely on the list of summer's downsides. 

Growing up, many of us were sprayed head to toe with mosquito repellents to solve this problem. And while the Environmental Working Group wants us to know that ingredients like DEET aren't as bad as many of us assume, they can still smell terrible and leave you sticky and uncomfortable. The good news is that if you're looking for an all-natural option, there are quite a few to choose from. 

Here are five natural ingredients you can use as mosquito repellent, according to science: 

1. Lavender Oil

Lavender might just be the most relaxing plant on earth. And according to various studies, it can also help you feel calm in the face of mosquitoes this summer. You can add a few drops of lavender to a spray bottle and rub it onto your skin before you go outside; or, if you're into gardening you could also try planting lavender around your home. Bugs don't like the smell of lavender growing, either, so it might reduce the number of bugs that decide to make your home their home. 

As an added bonus, lavender oil can also be used to soothe skin irritation from any mosquito bites you already have.

2. Thyme 

Thyme is primarily famous for its many uses in the kitchen (gluten-free rosemary-thyme bread, anyone?), but that's not all it's good for! Not one or two but five of the compounds found in thyme oil have been investigated for their mosquito-repelling properties. A 2005 study found that alpha-terpinene and carvacrol—two of those compounds derived from the essential oil of the Thymus vulgaris plant—exhibited significantly greater repellency than DEET, the most common commercial formulation. All five of the compounds studied—carvacrol, p-cymene, linalool, alpha-terpinene, and thymol—had a duration or repellency that was longer or equal to that of DEET. As an added bonus, thyme also smells fantastic but it's not overpowering.

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3. Catnip 

You've probably heard about catnip in the context of, well, cats. But it also has other properties that are worth knowing about! In fact, research presented to the American Chemical Society—one of the world's largest scientific societies—showed that catnip was actually more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET. As entomologist Chris Peterson, Ph.D., the lead author of the study told Science Daily, "Nepetalactone is about 10 times more effective than DEET because it takes about one-tenth as much nepetalactone as DEET to have the same effect." 

For this specific research, they tested catnip on yellow fever mosquitoes (a type of mosquito found commonly in the U.S.), but Peterson said it should work on other types as well.

4. Citronella Geraniums 

You consider putting these bright purple flowers in your hair before you think about using them as bug repellent, but citronella geraniums have both beauty and beneficial properties. In fact, they have a super-strong lemon scent that is thought to ward off all types of bugs if you plant them near where you'll be sitting.

If you want to test this out, just make sure you're planting citronella geraniums (officially known as Pelargonium citrosum) because not just any type of geranium will do the trick. This specific flower smells like citronella oil, which is thought to be responsible for its ability to fend off bugs, including mosquitoes. 

5. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil 

Last but not least, lemon eucalyptus—which comes from a tree called Eucalyptus citriodora—has demonstrated pretty incredible bug-repelling powers. In fact, the CDC even named eucalyptus oil one of the most effective active ingredients in mosquito repellents. As a result, even many non-natural options feature eucalyptus. 

But what does the research say? One study tested a mix of 32% lemon eucalyptus oil for three hours and found that it led to 95% protection from mosquitoes. Pretty good odds, right?

If you're looking for an all-natural option, try experimenting with one (or all!) of these plants and essential oils. Just make sure to dilute essential oils in a carrier oil, like jojoba oil, before putting them on your skin.

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