My natural deodorant must be working too well, because on my recent trip to Thailand I was just irresistible to mosquitos.*
And when I say ‘mosquitos’, I mean flying tigers with giant syringe-like mouths that arrive silently, drink their fill, and leave me with a huge itchy welt.
Seriously, Thai mosquitos are another species entirely!
*Before I get lots of comments, no, sweaty underarms do not repel mosquitos, but they do repel fellow humans!
I arrived prepared. I brought my own homemade insect repellent, and a store-bought kind filled with nasties like DEET (just in case!) And I’m happy to report that the citronella really did work as well as the DEET version, at least in my experience. (Of course, having a few mozzie coils around the open-air living room helped too!)
I wanted a portable, all-natural insect repellent that didn’t repel human noses at the same time. And I wanted it to be safe and effective enough to use several times a day during my trip, as needed. Here’s the recipe I used so you can try it too!
Is insect repellent toxic?
Many commercial bug repellents contain a chemical called DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) which is intensely disliked by insects. Chemical constituents like eucalyptol, linalool, and thujone are thought to repel insects in the same way.
DEET was originally developed as a pesticide, and is in concentrations anywhere from 10%-100% in commercial bug sprays. If you’ve ever dripped strong bug spray onto a painted surface (or onto your painted nails), you’ve seen how it can dissolve paints and nail polish! DEET gets a rating of 5/10 in the Skin Deep Database.
My problem with it, besides the fact that it’s a strong chemical, is that DEET is often sold as a bug spray, which makes it easy to inhale the chemical as we apply the product – so you’re not only getting the chemical absorbed through the skin, but also directly inhaled into the lungs. And it’s not just the DEET you’re inhaling – it’s the artificial fragrance and all the other ingredients in the bug spray.
Do I ever use commercial bug spray? Sure, as a backup. But I always try the natural solution first – and on this trip, this natural bug repellent really worked for me!
Citronella – the natural insect repellent essential oil
Citronella essential oil is distilled from a species of lemongrass. You’ll want to look for Citronella oil that is identified by its latin name Cymbopogon winterianus. Citronella essential oil has actually been approved for use in the USA since 1948 (not so in the EU, unfortunately.) Anyway, there are studies showing that while Citronella oil doesn’t kill mosquitos, it is effective at repelling them – and that’s what we’re going for with this recipe.
There’s another essential oil that is sometimes called Citronella – but it’s a completely different plant: Eucalyptus citriodora. Also called Lemon Eucalyptus, this has a similar smell to citronella and is often included in natural insect repellents. I’ve used this myself, and can say that it does seem to work!
And finally, here’s my natural insect repellent recipe. You can get really creative with this recipe and add lots of different essential oils – but I kept it really simply (only out of necessity – this is what I had on-hand before my trip!) and I found the Citronella oil to be effective even on its own.
VintageAmanda’s Natural Bug Repellent Oil Recipe
a label (ideally waterproof)
Pour the sunflower oil into the jar. Add the essential oils by drop. Put the lid on. Shake gently to combine. Label.
To use: apply a small amount to the skin as an insect repellent as needed.
Note: This insect repellent is at a 5% dilution of essential oils. That’s quite strong – normally we use essential oils in 1-2% concentrations. So use this bug repellent sparingly, applied to the wrists, ankles, back of the neck – but not all over your body.
Insect repellent oil will last for 1 year.
What’s your favorite natural bug repellent? Let us know in the comments!
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