What to look for when buying natural insect repellant


The most common question I’ve been asked this summer is what is the best natural alternative for keeping pesky outdoor creatures away in these warmer months?

In my best efforts to make sure you can enjoy these glorious summer days and nights without having to spray yourself with products that can be harmful to your health, I’ve been geeking out on the latest scientific research and was thrilled to find science is proving that natural ingredients can be just effective as the less desirable ones, but it’s important to know what to look for.

The problem with a lot of commercial insect repellents is that they can cause skin irritation, respiratory conditions, and can harm our nervous system. Our skin is our body’s largest detoxification organ so anything nasty we spray on it goes into our bloodstream and our organs. Not ideal, right?

Essential oils work in plants to repel predators (and fight other environmental threats), they work to protect our bodies in the same way too, of course, only when they are 100% pure, therapeutic grade.

When applied to our skin, essential oils create a vapour barrier to protect us against environmental threats. Because they are highly volatile organic compounds, they do dissipate quite quickly, however, the use of a carrier oil (i.e. fractionated coconut oil, or jojoba oil) helps it stick to our skin and slows down this process, while Vanillin, a key compound in vanilla, has also been found to prolong efficacy.

Which essential oils are most effective as insect repellants?

Essential oil of lemon eucalyptus – has been found to be a highly effective and long against mosquitoes, insects and ticks. It is registered by the US Environmental Protection Authority for its ability to significantly reduce the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes. It is also recognised by the Centre for Disease Control as being comparable to DEET for protection against mosquitoes. It is important to note that pure oil of lemon eucalyptus / oil not formulated as a repellant is not recommended by the US EPA.

Catnip essential oilresearch carried out at Iowa State University found catnip essential oil to repel insects more effectively than DEET. Twenty mosquitoes were put in a glass tube, half of which was treated with catnip oil. After twenty minutes, only four mosquitoes (20%) were left on the side that was treated with a 1% dose and only five mosquitoes (25%) were left on the 0.1% (low dose) side, while eight to nine mosquitoes (40-45%) remained when the same test was carried out with DEET.

Lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, lavender, and geranium, essential oils are effective for a duration 30 minutes to two hours [Source: Essential oils as repellants against arthropods, M Young Lee, October 2019].

Side note: I have used peppermint oil (with water) to spray surfaces of a previous apartment in Sydney, where cockroaches can be quite problematic in older buildings, and also when I had an ant problem, I found it to be indeed true that insects do not like peppermint oil.

Arborvitae essential oil has also traditionally been used as a natural insect repellant because of its insecticidal and antimicrobial properties, while cinnamon, tea tree, clove, rosemary and thyme are also used in scientifically developed insect repellant formulations.

[Note: it is best to avoid using tea tree/melaleuca around pets as it is toxic to them – their bodies cannot metabolise it in the same way as humans].

Is it more effective to use one essential oil or a combination of oils?

In a 2018 study published on PubMed, the world’s leading medical database, “Essential oils as repellants against arthropods”  it was found that combining several essential oils from different plants increases the effectiveness and leads to a synergistic effect – that is, they produce a combined effect greater than their separate effects. The study also found blends made from synthetic compounds were less effective than pure oils.

So, now you know exactly what to look for when buying a natural insect repellant – ideally a combination of any of the above listed oils (make sure they are pure tested / therapeutic grade), a fixative ingredient like coconut oil, vanilla (or vanillin) is a bonus too. If there are ingredients that you don’t recognise on the label, it may be best left on the shelf.

I use doTERRA’s Terra Armour Outdoor blend, which comes as a spray and pure essential oil, it is a blend of Lemon Eucalyptus Leaf, Catnip, Cedarwood, Nootka Wood, Ylang Ylang, Litsea, Arborviate, Vanilla Bean Absolute, Fractionated Coconut oil and Tamanu Seed.

I use the spray on my body and also to spray the window frames in my kitchen (where there is a tree outside) to stop pests from coming inside in the evenings, or I pop the pure oil in the diffuser in the kitchen. The spray is safe for kids and can be applied every few hours.

Terra Armour outdoor pure essential oil blend 15ml is $15.00 AUD wholesale, $20.00 retail
Terra Armour outdoor spray 30ml is $31.00 AUD wholesale, $41.00 retail.

If you want to purchase Terra Armour wholesale and receive my ongoing oily support, you can do so by following the steps outlined here or drop me a line zara@ohmygoodness.net and I can help you get set up over the phone

Note: If you are in an area with a high risk of bug-borne diseases, the Environmental Working Group recommends avoiding botanically based bug repellants, aside from essential oil of lemon eucalyptus.

The information I share on Oh My Goodness is based on my own personal experiences and beliefs and what I do may not be right for everybody.  I encourage anyone with health concerns to consult a healthcare professional and do your own research too.


Zara is a healthy home coach and keynote speaker on a mission to empower 1 million people to takes steps towards a healthier home. Zara learned about the link between our homes and our health after going through two different types of cancer. Zara is passionate about shining the spotlight on what she believes to be the least understood health challenges of our time, and sharing the things she wishes she had known, that could have prevented the illnesses she has been through. Recognised as one of Australia’s leading health influencers, Zara was a finalist in the 2014 Bupa Health Influencer of the Year Awards. She has appeared on TEN News, Today Show and The Project, been featured in the Herald Sun, I Quit Sugar, and contributed Medibank’s Be. Magazine and Fairfax health online publications. Zara contributed to the National Breast Cancer Foundation’s first comprehensive report on breast cancer in young women in Australia.

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