Essential Oils as an Insect Repellent
It’s a beautiful warm day, the birds are chirping, the sun is shining and you have decided to have a picnic. You find your perfect area of grass, have a yummy lunch, and get all set up. When out of nowhere, here they come… the bugs! Buzzing in your ear, landing on your skin, and biting you. UGH! Bugs can be such a pain!
One of the greatest things you can do for yourself and your family is to use natural products when they are available and effective. Choosing to use a natural insect repellent on the ones you love may be something you desire, but how do you know what products you can trust to keep your family safe? The good news is that there are many Essential Oils that have been proven to adequately aid in protecting you from invading insects.
Which Essential Oils are Effective for Repelling Insects?
Let’s talk facts. What Essential Oils have actually proven to help keep bugs at bay? There have been many studies done over the years to help show what natural plant extracts might really work to repel insects. So, let’s go over the details.
Not to be confused with the two separate Essential Oils, Lemon and Eucalyptus, Lemon Eucalyptus is a specific type of Eucalyptus plant known as Eucalyptus citriodora. The lemon scented gum plant is very high in citronellol which has proven to be effective in driving away bugs. This oil also contains para-menthane 3, 8 diol also known as PMD which is the only plant based repellent advocated for use by the CDC. Technically, the Essential Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is not registered with the EPA and only contains a small amount of PMD, while the artificially boosted oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or OLE contains about 60% PMD and is proven to work at repelling bugs for up to 8 hours. The Essential Oil itself is volatile to oxygen and does not last as long, so it has shown to only be effective for about 1 hour. Fortunately, there are ways to extend the life of the oil which we will get to later.
You may know Catnip to be a tempting herb that your cat goes crazy around, but the Essential Oil is actually very good for deterring insects. Catnip contains a chemical compound called nepetalactone. That specific compound is VERY powerful at deterring bugs!
Cedarwood Oil is specifically helpful for repelling fleas, ants, and ticks. In one study, Cedarwood Essential Oil was placed between ants and their food source, and the ants were driven in the other direction. In addition, the component cedrol has been helpful to eliminate ticks in studies. When high doses of cedrol were exposed to black legged tick nymphs, the results were fatal.
Geraniol, the main component of Geranium oil, has proven to be effective in repelling a wide range of insects. It has been the topic of many studies, showing over and over again that it provides powerful protection. In one study, testing indoor and outdoor efficiency while being diffused, it proved over 95% repellency at 3 meters. Other studies have shown that Geraniol is great for deterring termites, lice, and flies. In a separate study on 4 tick species, a plant based repellent containing 5% Geraniol kept over 95% of the ticks away for up to 3 and a half hours. The levels of Geraniol and Citronellol are slightly higher in the Rose Geranium variety.
This pleasant smelling oil has a very specific job when used to repel insects. Not, because it keeps the bugs away, but rather because it extends the life of the other Essential Oils used in the blend. Just a 5% dilution of vanillin could prolong the life of the volatile oils by up to 8 hours. This is incredibly helpful as the effects of the Essential Oils only last about an hour on their own.
Synergy is defined as an outcome having a combined greater effect than the sum of all its parts. This applies to holistic aromatherapy very often as we know that using two or more oils in a blend creates a compounding effect that is better than using just one Essential Oil. This same rule applies to creating a natural bug blend. Utilizing a few different Essential Oils that are good for repelling insects may increase the effectiveness because of its synergistic effect. Adding an oil that is high in Geraniol with an oil that contains PMD and an oil rich in citronellol could offer much greater protection against pesky bugs.
Best Carrier Options for Insect Repellents
How you prepare your natural repellent can be just as important as oils you use. As mentioned earlier, Essential Oils are very volatile and dissipate quickly once they are exposed to oxygen. Studies have been performed to see how one can elongate the life of the oil to increase protection. One study showed that adding the oil to a cream base extended the repellency to 2-3 hours instead of 20-60 minutes.
Lauric acid is a saturated fat found in Fractionated Coconut Oil that has proven to fend off fleas, ticks, and more. In addition, the coconut oil creates a stabilizing effect for the Essential Oils used in the mixture, thus making it a great choice for a base ingredient. Also, a study out of India found that adding just 2% of Neem Oil to Fractionated Coconut Oil kept volunteers protected from bites up to 12 hours.
If you choose to create a spray style bug repellent, you could make it water based, but you might consider adding vanilla or a carrier oil to help extend the protection time. In general though, you will have to re-apply more often than with an oil or cream based recipe. Also, remember that Essential Oils and water do not mix, so at least 25% of your recipe should include a high proof alcohol to solubilize the mixture.
DIY Bug Repellent Oil
2 oz Glass Bottle with Lid
2 oz Fractionated Coconut Oil
1/4 teaspoon Neem Oil
5 Drops Lemon Eucalyptus Essential Oil
10 Drops Vanilla Absolute
8 Drops Cedarwood Essential Oil
7 Drops Geranium Essential Oil
Put all of the drops of Essential Oils into the bottom of the bottle, swirl to mix together. Add the Neem Oil and Coconut Oil and close the lid. Roll around in hands to combine thoroughly. Apply oil generously to skin (avoiding clothing) before going outside in buggy areas.
Of course, if you are not wanting to make your own, REVIVE has you covered with our Bugs Away Outdoor Spray. This protective spray utilizes many of the oils we just discussed and is ready for use when you want to enjoy the outdoors without the hassle of obnoxious insects.