Medical Mythbuster: Do Natural Insect Repellants Really Keep the Bugs Away?

Whether you enjoy spending leisurely evenings in the backyard or time hiking in the woods, you’re bound to come across some annoying bugs. Since some insects like mosquitoes and ticks can transmit dangerous diseases, it makes sense to use an effective bug repellant to protect yourself. Some people prefer to use repellants with natural ingredients rather than man-made ones such as DEET and picaridin. But do they work?

The good news is that insect repellants that use natural ingredients can be effective. However, the essential oils that they often use tend to evaporate quickly from the skin. This means their effectiveness will not last as long as other repellants. So be aware you will need to apply natural repellants more often to get proper protection.

If you want to use a natural insect repellant, look for one that uses some of the ingredients below which have been proven to work well.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus
Used since the 1940’s, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is the only essential oil registered with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as being safe and effective for repelling mosquitoes. Keep in mind that insect repellants that use essential oils have the potential to cause skin reactions in people with sensitive skin.

A popular ingredient in many mosquito repellants, Citronella was originally used by the Indian Army to repel mosquitoes at the beginning of the 20th century. It was found to be a highly effective insect repellant in a 2011 research study. Keep in mind citronella can evaporate quickly from the skin if it is not formulated properly.

Tea tree oil
Also known as melaleuca oil, tea tree oil is made from a plant found in Australia. Popular in a number of skin-based products, tea tree oil can be a very effective insect repellant. This study performed in Australia showed that it worked well against flies, mosquitoes, and biting midges.

Soybean oil
A common ingredient in food, soybean oil can also be an effective bug repellant. When the University of Florida’s Medical Entomology Laboratory tested a number of repellants, they found that a 2% soybean oil formula repelled mosquitoes for 1.5 hours. While effective, products using soybean oil will probably need to be applied more often than others.

Thyme oil
A popular herb, thyme is often used to season food. However, thyme oil is considered to be one of the best essential oils for providing protection against mosquitoes. This 1999 study showed that thyme oil was a highly effective repellant that provided 1 ½ to 3 ½ hours of protection, depending on strength.

Whichever insect repellant you choose, be sure to read the directions and safety information on the label carefully. Wearing a hat and long sleeves outdoors is also a good way to keep from getting bitten by those pesky bugs!

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