Does Essential Oil Mosquito Repellent Actually Work?

by Fernando Martinez

Essential Oils and Aromatherapy is well known to provide many therapeutic benefits such as mood regulation and relaxation just to name a few. However, did you know that essential oils could also be used to keep pesky mosquitos and other bugs at bay?  

As our essential-oil-obsessed team at MOXĒ marks World Mosquito Day, there seems no better time to learn about the usefulness of essential oils to repel insects and how to use them in a safe and eco-friendly way. 

To answer the question Do essential oils bug repellent actually work?” this article discusses, among others:

  • Effects of insect bites
  • Risks of commercial insect repellents
  • Do essential oil-based insect repellents actually work? 
  • Other non-toxic ways to fight back mosquitoes
  • How to treat insect bites
  • And more

First, let's discuss a bit about bug bites and the dangers they pose. 

Insect Bites and its Effects

Besides the discomforting pain and itchiness that trails mosquito bites, there are a variety for more severe outcomes such as Lyme Disease or West Nile Virus.

These conditions usually come with several symptoms, including 

  • Headache, High Fever, Numbness, Vision loss, Convulsion, Muscle numbness, and even paralysis

    In fact, the West Nile Virus which affects the central nervous system can cause death of one in every ten patients.

    Risks of Commercial Bug Repellents

    To repel these tiny pesky bloodthirsty creatures, over the years, many families and individuals rely on commercial repellents.

    Although effective, these products contain irritating chemicals such as DEET, which is an acronym for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide. 

    According to EPA, using insect repellents containing DEET should not be harmful if label directions are followed and the product is used safely. In rare cases, using DEET products may cause skin rashes. 

    Other active ingredients often used in commercial insect repellent include 

    • Picaridin
    • Cyfluthrin
    • Permethrin
    • Pyrethroids

      Several researchers have unveiled some environmental and health concerns with the regular use of such ingredients and often advocate for avoiding these chemicals altogether. 

      Close-up of man's legs being sprayed with insect repellent in the park

      Essential Oils For Mosquito Repellent

      In the search for safer ways to keep the bugs away, some research reports suggest certain essential oils contain properties that tick the right boxes – anecdotal testimonies support the same. 



      Citronella essential oil is an organic and effective way to combat mosquitoes. This oil is produced from herbal ingredients, which are renowned natural mosquito repellents.

      For the outdoors, lighting up citronella candles may promise as much as 50 percent additional protection.

      Studies commend citronella’s bug repellent effectiveness, which If well formulated, can deliver as much effect as DEET and keep you protected for as much as two hours.

      Note, however, that the citronella content can quickly evaporate when poorly mixed, leaving you unprotected and exposed to bugs. 

      Simply, reapply citronella-based repellent every two hours or follow the label instructions for correct use. 


      Whereas lemongrass fragrance is my favorite among many essential oils, it’s a turn-off for mosquitoes and many bugs.

      Similar to citronella, lemongrass oil has mosquito-repelling properties, which make them both common recommendations for natural bug repellents.

      Lemongrass contains a fragrant chemical called mylol which is shown to be offensive to many pests, including fruit flies, fleas, chiggers, ticks, and mosquitoes.


      Cedarwood essential oil is a natural bug repellent and is often sold as a moth deterrent substitute due to their unique aromatic smell. Hence cedar closets are commonly used to ward off moths and absorb moisture in the air. 

      Cedarwood’s insect repellent properties come from various chemical constituents, particularly cedrene and cedrol. It is used as an effective fungicide, molluscicide and insect repellent—often against mosquitoes and moths.

      Cedarwood mulch is often used to make plants smell unappealing to insects.

      The cedarwood shows excellent repellent properties for a range of troubling pests, including flies, mosquitoes, and silverfish. In fact, a 2018 research study concluded that Cedarwood is an effective mosquito killer and provided long protection times in a cage assay on cotton. 


      Peppermint oil delivers a fresh, soothing aroma which is, at the same time, horrible to insects. Peppermint oil showed strong mosquito repellent action against adult mosquitoes when applied on human skin.

      Peppermint scent dislodges ants, fleas, aphids, cockroaches, head lice, spiders, moths, wasps, in addition to mosquitoes.

      With regular use of peppermint essential oil sprays, these tiny nightmarish creatures will scout for a more comfortable residence, miles away from your home.

      Essential Oils Risk Factors

      If you read our blogs, you know that we discourage the use of undiluted essential oils for direct skin applications.

      Carrier oils are excellent options to help dilute your essential oils.  A common recommendation advises mixing three to five drops of essential oils with an ounce of carrier oil. Here, I’ll recommend almond oil.

      Are Essential Oil-based Insect Repellents Regulated by the EPA?

      EPA Offices, Washington DC

      Remember that essential oils are not EPA regulated, however many natural products can qualify for exemption from registration under FIFRA section 25(b). A natural pesticide must use ingredients that have been approved by EPA in order to qualify for the exemption. However, remember that essential oil’s skin effect varies across people. Although natural, these oils may not suit specific skin types.

      Ideally, as with any new product, conduct a skin patch test before general application.

      How to Patch Test Skin For Bug Repellents

      Apply essential oil on a small part of your skin, and observe the effects for an hour or two. If you notice any burning sensations or hives, wash off and discontinue use.

      However, you may also check the ingredient list to make sure you are not allergic to the formula. If skin irritation occurs, discontinue use and get medical advice.

      Other Natural Ways to Repel Bugs

      Besides the non-toxic essential oil-infused sprays, let's quickly discuss some effective natural practices that keep the bugs away without exposing your family to unhealthy chemicals.

      Wear long-sleeved shirts and pants

      The fact that covering your body prevents mosquito bites is common knowledge. 

      But you know these insects can bite through light fabrics. To frustrate their efforts, use a thick-textured cloth.

      Use long sleeves and long pants. And, also, consider using socks on your legs and gloves on your hands; particularly if you’d be sitting out.  


      A working fan and mosquitoes are natural enemies.  Mosquitoes have a hard time maneuvering through moving air. So, being around an overhead fan or a window fan keeps the restless flying bugs yards off.

      Environmental control

      Stale water sitting around your home are cool breeding hubs for mosquitoes. These insects lay in stagnant water and in favorable conditions, the eggs hatch, introducing a new army of hungry and insatiable bugs into your yard.

      Of course, preventing mosquito breeding around your home means avoiding bug bites.

      To discourage such breeding activities around your home, ensure you fill up puddles with the soil and pour out birdbaths. 

      Bug zappers

      Although here’s another non-toxic alternative, bug zappers also kill some ‘helpful’ insects – some are pest food; others eat and reduce pests in your home.  According to research, only 5% of insects killed by bug zappers were mosquitoes.

      Bug traps

      These are relatively new innovations for eliminating bugs. These devices are designed to attract and trap insects.

      Some emit carbon dioxide, tricking the insects to come closer, thinking the traps are breathing humans or animals.

      Although this non-toxic insect repellent works, some experts question its effectiveness in reducing mosquito populations in target areas.

      How to Treat Mosquito Bites 

      Mosquitoes usually leave their victims with painful, itchy bites.

      Typical symptoms that trail exposure to bug bites may include:

      • High temperature

      • Bleeding or pus at bitten spots

      • Lingering Scabs

      For homemade therapy, apply apple cider vinegar on bitten spots. To further combat pain and prevent an infection, apply freshly cut garlic or onions on affected spots.

      Over-the-counter hydrocortisone and calamine lotion are other helpful products with similar relieving effects.

      If the bug bites result in an allergic reaction or an infection, observe the symptoms and discuss with a doctor soon enough.


      Researchers are currently exploring more natural ways to repel mosquitoes. However, some essential oils such as citronella, lemongrass, cedarwood and peppermint oils have shown effectiveness as insect repellents in multiple studies. 

      This sounds like good news, particularly to those looking to avoid commercial insect repellent like DEET. 

      The need for a more natural way to avoid bug bites can never be overemphasized, especially for kids and expectant mothers.

      Thankfully, using essential oil blends not only shields your family from the terrible bug bites and their dreaded effects but also offer you a unique and fun way to keep mosquitoes and other buds away.

      Although the EPA certifies some sprays on the market, infamously DEET-based repellents, the toxicity of these commercial products has been widely questioned. 

      As the world celebrates world mosquito day, go share the word about:

      • How much discomfort and harm bug bites can cause
      • The risk associated with using commercial bug repellent - both to man and the environment 
      • Natural eco-friendly ways to repel bugs - including using the essential oils mentioned above and other natural non-toxic approaches. 

         Not sure where to source your essential oil blends?

        MOXE offers a wide range of essential oils and blends that you can easily infuse into your everyday life - whether to keep the bugs at bay or for aromatherapeutic purposes. 

        Have you had any personal experience with [or questions about] essential oils and bugs? We can't wait to read your experience in the comment box below.

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