The Best Natural Bug Spray, According to the Environmental Protection Agency

Lounging in the backyard? Spritz yourself with oil of lemon eucalyptus to fend off mosquitos and ticks.

burning candle in glass vase on wooden backyard table
Photo: Chris Churchill

When uninvited insects scoff at repellent candles or diffusers, which often can't overpower the smell of fresh food, you have just one option if you're committed to fighting mosquitoes naturally: Spritz yourself with oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), the only natural bug spray shown to fend off mosquitoes and ticks for up to six hours, per the Environmental Protection Agency.

"Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a repellent active ingredient recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)," adds Dr. Eva Buckner, the medical entomology state extension specialist for the University of Florida. "However, it is very important to note that oil of lemon eucalyptus is not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oil. No essential oils are recommended as repellents by the CDC."

Like lemon-eucalyptus essential oil, OLE is also extracted from its namesake tree—then refined to increase levels of PMD, the naturally occurring biopesticide within it. As for the best way to get OLE onto your ankles and shoulders, before the mosquitoes start biting? Look for a natural bug spray, which tends to be the most effective, notes Dr. Jim Fredericks, PhD, chief entomologist at the National Pest Management Association; he also notes that you need a formula with at least 30 percent of the ingredient for the best possible results.

Luckily, there's natural bug spray on the market that makes the cut. Try Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus insect repellent ($5, As for the botanicals citronella and catnip, some evidence suggests they may deter mosquitoes for short periods, but they haven't been subjected to the same EPA tests as OLE and chemical formulas.

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