Мы также предлагаем курсы на русском языке. Перейдите по ссылке, чтобы узнать больше.

Chemical-Free Insect Repellents

Natural and safe ways to keep bugs at bay

Insects are an integral part of our ecosystem, but their presence can often disrupt our outdoor experiences and also cause itchy, painful bites. While conventional insect repellents effectively keep bugs at bay, they contain harmful chemicals that can negatively impact your health and the environment.

Natural insect repellents are a safer and more sustainable alternative. Learn which ingredients to avoid (and why) and what you can use instead to protect yourself from insect bites.

Toxins in insect repellents

DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a chemical compound used as the active ingredient in many insect repellent products. It was first developed by the United States Army in the 1940s for military personnel to protect against insect-borne diseases. Since then, it has become one of the most widely used insect repellents available on the market. DEET works by interfering with the insect’s ability to detect the presence of humans through their scent, making it difficult for mosquitoes, ticks and other insects to locate and bite the treated individual. When applied to the skin or clothing, DEET forms a protective barrier, reducing the likelihood of insect bites. It comes in various formulations, such as lotions, sprays and wipes, with different concentrations of the active ingredient. Despite its effectiveness at repelling insects, topical use of DEET can cause allergic skin reactions, blisters and eye irritation, especially at concentrations of 50% and above. It also has a history of causing seizures and encephalopathic symptoms (memory loss, speech issues, mood swings, coordination problems), neurological problems and altered brain function in some people. Young children under the age of eight are particularly susceptible to the harmful effects of DEET, experiencing headaches, seizures, involuntary movements and convulsions after using it.[1]

Permethrin is a synthetic chemical insecticide and repellent that belongs to a class of chemicals called pyrethroids. It is widely used in insect repellents to repel and kill a variety of insects, including mosquitoes, ticks and other biting pests. When applied to clothing or other fabrics, permethrin forms a protective barrier that deters and kills insects that come into contact with the treated surface. It is particularly effective against ticks which can transmit Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, and it also helps repel mosquitoes that may carry diseases such as malaria, Zika virus and dengue fever. Permethrin is not recommended for direct application to the skin as it is highly toxic – it can cause skin irritation and has shown to alter brain morphology and neurochemistry, and cause cognitive issues[2]. Breathing in permethrin spray is harmful to your health and can cause respiratory irritation, coughing, difficulty breathing or other respiratory distress.

Diethyl phthalate (DEP) is a chemical compound commonly used as a plasticiser, meaning it is added to plastics to increase their flexibility and durability. DEP is occasionally used as a solvent to improve the efficacy and consistency of insect repellent products, or act as a carrier for other active ingredients to help solubilise or stabilise the active repellent ingredient. Even though it is considered a low-toxicity chemical, concerns have been raised about its adverse effects on the body, including hormonal disruption, reproductive and developmental issues (especially in pregnant women and children), reduced fertility, skin irritation, allergic reactions (when applied topically) and increased risk of certain cancers.[3] [4]

Picaridin is a synthetic compound used as an alternative to DEET. It is generally considered safer than DEET, but high concentrations can cause skin irritation and eye irritation in some individuals.

Synthetic fragrances are present in most conventional insect repellents as they mask the natural scents of the active ingredients which are very unpleasant smelling. Synthetic fragrances are made of thousands of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde and phthalates which are linked to hormonal disruption, allergic reactions, respiratory, reproductive and nervous system issues[5], kidney problems and cancer[6]. Learn more about the dangers of fragrances.

Aerosol propellants such as butane, propane or isobutane are used in aerosol insect repellents to expel the active ingredients from the can and disperse them into the air. Aerosol insect repellents typically come in pressurised cans, and when the valve is opened, the propellant forces the liquid repellent out as a fine mist or spray These propellants are flammable and can cause skin irritation or respiratory problems if inhaled.

Preservatives likes parabens and formaldehyde-releasing agents are commonly used in insect repellents to prolong shelf life, prevent contamination and help maintain the stability of the active ingredients. These types of preservatives are known to cause skin irritation, redness, itching, rashes and hives. Inhaling aerosolised preservatives during application may cause respiratory sensitisation in some individuals, leading to respiratory symptoms like coughing or breathing difficulties. Parabens are linked to hormonal disruption as they exert weak oestrogenic effects when absorbed through the skin.[7] [8]

Natural alternatives to toxic insect repellents

Natural insect repellents use plant-based ingredients to effectively ward off insects. These eco-friendly alternatives offer a safer choice for everyone, including children, pregnant women, and those with sensitive skin.


Citronella is a natural plant-based oil derived from various species of the Cymbopogon grass family, commonly known as lemongrass. It is renowned for its insect-repellent properties and is frequently used as a safe and effective alternative to chemical-based repellents. To use citronella as an insect repellent, you can find it in the form of candles (opt for soy, coconut or beeswax), sprays, lotions or essential oils. When applied to the skin or used in a diffuser, citronella emits a pleasant citrus-like scent that repels mosquitoes, flies and other pesky insects.

Neem oil

Neem oil is a natural oil extracted from the seeds of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which is native to the Indian subcontinent. It has been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent and in traditional medicine due to its anti-inflammatory and wound healing properties. To use neem oil as an insect repellent, you can dilute it with water and apply it to the skin or use it as a spray. The strong odour of neem oil acts as a deterrent for a wide range of insects, including mosquitoes, ticks and ants. The compounds in neem oil disrupt the lifecycle of insects, hindering their ability to breed and reproduce.

Lemon eucalyptus

Lemon eucalyptus (Eucalyptus citriodora) is a plant that produces an essential oil with potent insect-repellent properties. To use it as an insect repellent, you can dilute the essential oil with a carrier oil (such as coconut oil) and apply it to exposed skin areas. The active component in lemon eucalyptus oil, called PMD (p-menthane-3,8-diol), has proven to be as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes and other biting insects. It’s important to perform a patch test before widespread use, as some individuals may be sensitive to lemon eucalyptus essential oil.


Peppermint (Mentha piperita) is a fragrant herb known for its cooling and refreshing properties. Its strong scent and natural compounds such as menthol repels various pests, including mosquitoes, ants, spiders and flies. To use peppermint as an insect repellent, you can crush fresh peppermint leaves and rub them on your skin or place them in areas where insects are a problem. Alternatively, you can use peppermint essential oil, mixed with water or a carrier oil, as a spray or lotion. As it’s safe and non-toxic, peppermint is an ideal option for families with children and pets. Aside from its insect-repellent properties, peppermint offers a host of other benefits, including its soothing effects on headaches, indigestion and respiratory issues.

Natural insect repellent recipe


  • 30 drops of essential oil (any of the above singularly or a combination)
  • 2 tablespoons of carrier oil (such as almond oil, coconut oil or jojoba oil)
  • 1 tablespoon of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • Distilled water
  • 1 teaspoon of vegetable glycerine (optional)


  • In a small bowl, combine the essential oil with the carrier oil. Stir well to blend the ingredients.
  • Add the witch hazel or rubbing alcohol to the mixture and continue stirring.
  • If desired, add the vegetable glycerine and mix thoroughly. This ingredient helps the repellent stick to the skin for a longer period.
  • Transfer the mixture into a small spray bottle.
  • Fill the rest of the spray bottle with distilled water, leaving a small space at the top.
  • Close the spray bottle tightly and shake well to combine all the ingredients.
  • Before each use, give the bottle a good shake to ensure the oils are evenly distributed.
  • To apply, spray the natural repellent onto exposed skin, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Reapply every few hours or as needed.

Other ways to protect yourself from insects

Here are some natural ways to repel insects both at home and while travelling:

Use natural repellent plants

Invest in some plant insect-repelling herbs and flowers for around your home, such as lavender, basil, marigold, mint and rosemary. These plants emit scents that naturally repel insects.

Avoid perfumes and strong fragrances

Aside from the fact that perfumes and fragrances contain hundreds of chemicals and harmful ingredients, insects are attracted to strong scents, so avoid wearing perfumes or using heavily scented body products when in insect-prone areas. 

Keep a clean environment and food covered

Insects are attracted to food and rubbish, so it’s essential to keep your living spaces clean. Regularly empty bins, clean surfaces and ensure food is properly stored in sealed containers. When picnicking or dining outdoors, keep food covered to prevent attracting insects.

Install window screens and mosquito nets

Use window screens to prevent insects from entering your home while still allowing fresh air to circulate. Ensure that screens are free from holes or tears. When sleeping in areas with mosquitoes or other flying insects, use mosquito nets to create a physical barrier between you and the insects.

Remove standing water and avoid stagnant areas

Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, so regularly empty and clean any containers or areas that collect water such as flowerpots, buckets and gutters. Avoid spending time near areas where there is stagnant water such as ponds, especially during dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.

Wear protective clothing

When travelling to insect-prone areas, wear long sleeves and trousers and socks to minimise exposed skin. Light-coloured clothing may also help deter certain insects.

Protect yourself naturally

When it comes to repelling insects, embracing natural solutions not only protects your health but also supports sustainability. By opting for natural insect repellents such as citronella, neem oil, lemon eucalyptus and peppermint, you can create a safer outdoor environment without compromising your well-being or the environment.

To learn more about making natural skincare products or protecting yourself in summer, take a look at the following short courses and resources:

Share this

Blog/Article content reflects the author's research and diverse opinions, not necessarily CNM's views. Items may not be regularly updated, so represent the best available understanding at the time of publication.

Enquiry Form


Subscribe to our Newsletter