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Recipe: How to Keep Away Mosquitoes with Essential Oils (may be as effective as DEET)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta may have finally admitted that products using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE or PMD), rather than citronella can provide longer lasting protection against mosquitoes, just as the toxic chemical bug repellent DEET does. In this article from Healthier Talk, I’m going to show you how to make your own mosquito repellent, made from natural ingredients, as recommended by the CDC.

Mosquitoes can spread dangerous, and sometimes deadly, diseases including West Nile virus, different types of encephalitis and Zika. Now when you visit the CDC website page on West Nile two different publications list oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE or PMD) as providing longer lasting protection as well. More on that in a moment. But first let’s take a closer look at DEET.

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Troubling Side Effects from DEET Insect Repellent   DEET is an effective mosquito deterrent, however, despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s seal of approval to spray the stuff on our bodies, there are some serious concerns about the potential side effects of this chemical. Some studies have found the chemical repellent to have few side effects, while others point to troubling reactions. In one early study done in the 1980s the effects of DEET were studied on employees of the Everglades National Park.

One quarter of the folks complained of negative side effects of DEET, including…

  • skin irritation
  • rashes
  • numb or burning lips
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • difficulty concentrating

DEET has been shown to affect the central nervous system in animal experiments. In one study, animals exposed to the equivalent of a human dose performed more poorly on muscle coordination tests. According to one Duke University researcher, exposure to the chemical caused brain cell death and behavioral changes in animals.

When applied to the skin a certain percentage of DEET is absorbed into the bloodstream. And the toxicity of the chemical goes up when it’s combined with isopropyl alcohol or freon, both of which are common ingredients in commercial bug repellents. The EPA recommends washing the spray away as soon as you return indoors and to avoid breathing it in. In fact, DEET products are required to carry several child safety warnings.

So although it’s important to note that if the risk of West Nile is high, oil of lemon eucalyptus (para-menthane-diol) may still not be the best choice, if you’re looking for a safer alternative for everyday use, OLE  may fit the bill.

CDC Recommends Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus to Repel Mosquitoes   Two publications offered on the CDC website now say some oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE or para-menthane-diol) products provide longer-lasting protection as well against mosquitoes that can spread West Nile Virus. The agency’s “West Nile Virus Fact Sheet” now states…

“When outdoors, use repellents containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, some oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol. Follow the directions on the package.” And on the CDC “West Nile Virus Prevention & Control” page the agency says… “Avoid Mosquito Bites: Use insect repellents when you go outdoors. Repellents containing DEET, pic aridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.”

Concerned consumers who want protection against mosquitoes and other biting bugs may now be able to turn to products made with oil of lemon  eucalyptus (or para-menthane-diol). Oil of lemon eucalyptus has been shown to provide protection that’s similar to low concentration of DEET in two studies. Which is great news because this safer, non-toxic alternative could be a far better choice for you and your own family for everyday use.

Make Your own Natural Bug Repellent   There are already some DEET-free repellents on the market that are using pure oil of lemon eucalyptus. These products use the refined para-menthane-diol, the form of the oil which is now mentioned on the CDC website, as an effective repellent.  Check your local home improvement stores, pharmacy or online.

It’ s also very simple to create your own bug spray using whichever combination of essential oils appeals to you. But please do keep in mind that the essential oils you would use at home are not the same refined PMD listed by the CDC on their website. The pure essential oils have not yet undergone the same testing. For the best results, use several different essential oils. This will give you the broadest coverage against a variety of different species of pests.

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Homemade Natural Bug Repellent Spray   To make your own bug spray, you’ll need a 10-ounce spray bottle, and some simple ingredients;


• 5 ounces distilled water
• 4 ounces witch hazel
• Essential oils, choose three or four such as: oil of lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, rosemary, lavender, peppermint, basil, thyme, geranium, citronella (yes it works but it’s not the only one, or even ‘best’), tea tree oil (check with your pediatrician before using on kids and don’t use tea tree oil if the spray will be used on very young children )


• Add the distilled water and witch hazel to the 10-ounce spray bottle
• Then add a total of 30 to 40 drops of essential oil
• Shake well

The Healthier Talk website (the source of this story) is keeping a close eye on the situation to see if PMD products continue to be recommended. Although elsewhere on the CDC site it still states that essential oils do not provide the same level of protection, we’re happy to see the CDC is now willing to list  lemon eucalyptus (OLE or para-menthane-diol) among products that can offer longer-lasting protection. For folks who prefer a repellent with a botanical base OLE may be an effective option. Please share this important information with friends and family.


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Article for information purpose only. Essential oils are not intended to treat any illness or disease. Please read our FDA statement.

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: West Nile virus:
2. CDC: West Nile Virus Fact Sheet:
3. CDC “West Nile Virus Prevention & Control”:
4. Zika virus ‘a game-changer’ for mosquito-borne diseases:
5. The Hazards of DEET:
6. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil: An Insect-Repelling Power:

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