True Cellular Formulas Team - October 05, 2023

Natural Bug Repellents

Why You Should Avoid Chemical-Based Alternatives

Natural Bug Repellents


In the midst of a balmy summer evening or an adventurous trek through the woods, nothing spoils the moment quite like the incessant buzz of a mosquito near your ear or the itch of an insect bite. While the market is flooded with numerous bug repellents claiming to be the ultimate shield against these pesky critters, many of these solutions are laden with harsh chemicals. 

These chemical-based repellents, although effective, come with their own set of concerns, both for individual health and the environment. As a result, there’s a growing interest in natural alternatives that offer protection without the adverse side effects. This article delves into the reasons you might want to think twice before reaching for that chemical spray and introduces some of nature’s own repellents, including the delightful aroma of vanilla.

Why Chemical-Based Bug Repellents Can Be Harmful

Toxicity to Humans

The primary purpose of any bug repellent is to keep those pesky insects at bay, but at what cost? Some of the most commonly used repellents contain chemicals that can have adverse reactions on human health.

  • Skin Irritation: For many, the immediate aftermath of using a chemical repellent is a tingling or burning sensation on the skin. Prolonged use can escalate these symptoms, causing redness, blisters, and rashes.[1]
  • Inhalation Risks: Spraying repellents often results in the release of fumes. When inhaled, these can cause headaches, dizziness, and in extreme cases, more serious respiratory issues.[2]
  • Allergies: While not everyone will have this reaction, some individuals may develop allergic responses to the chemicals, ranging from mild sneezing to severe respiratory distress.[3]
  • Neurological concerns: Some repellents contain ingredients linked to neurological disorders when used excessively. For instance, there have been concerns regarding DEET, a common repellent ingredient, and its potential neurological effects.[4]

Environmental Impact

Our actions invariably affect the world around us, and the use of chemical repellents is no exception.

  • Water Pollution: When we wash off these repellents, they go down the drain and can eventually find their way into our waterways. Over time, these chemicals can harm aquatic life and disrupt the delicate balance of our ecosystems.
  • Impact on Non-Target Species: Not all insects are pests. Chemical repellents often don’t discriminate and can harm beneficial insects, like bees and butterflies, crucial for pollination.[5]
  • Chemical Build-up in the Environment: Unlike organic substances, many synthetic repellents don't degrade easily. This means they can accumulate in the environment, posing long-term ecological risks.

Resistant Bugs

Nature has a way of adapting. Over-reliance on a particular chemical repellent can lead to the evolution of bugs that are resistant to it. This not only reduces the effectiveness of the repellent but also makes these bugs harder to manage in the long run.[6]

Natural Alternatives to Chemical-Based Repellents

The concerns surrounding chemical repellents have prompted many to seek out natural solutions that are gentler on the body and the environment. Fortunately, nature offers an array of ingredients that can keep bugs at bay. Here are some of the top contenders:


Vanilla, beyond its use in your favorite baked goods, has been identified as a deterrent for mosquitoes.

  • How it works: The sweet and pleasant aroma of vanilla is off-putting to mosquitoes, making it an effective repellent.
  • Application methods: For a natural repellent, mix a few drops of pure vanilla extract with water in a spray bottle and apply it to your skin or clothing. This not only keeps the bugs away but also leaves you smelling delightful.
  • Added benefits: The smell of vanilla is often associated with warmth and comfort. Additionally, its natural compounds might offer mild moisturizing effects to the skin.

Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

This essential oil is derived from the leaves and twigs of the lemon eucalyptus tree and has gained recognition for its efficacy.

  • How it works: The distinct scent of lemon eucalyptus oil masks the scents that attract mosquitoes.
  • Application: When using this oil, ensure to dilute it with a carrier oil or lotion before applying to the skin. This maximizes its repellent properties while minimizing any potential skin irritation.


Lavender, renowned for its calming properties, is also a formidable opponent for bugs.

  • How it works: The fragrant smell of lavender is repellent to a variety of insects, including moths, fleas, flies, and mosquitoes.
  • Application: Consider placing lavender sachets in closets and drawers, using lavender essential oil on your pulse points, or even spritzing a lavender spray on your linens and clothing.


This refreshing herb does more than flavor your gum; it's also an enemy to spiders and certain insects.

  • How it works: The potent smell of peppermint acts as a natural deterrent.
  • Application: Peppermint essential oil can be diluted with water and sprayed around windows and doorways to deter spiders. For added benefit, planting peppermint in your garden can repel unwanted pests and provide a delightful herb for your kitchen.


A time-tested favorite, citronella has long been used in candles and lotions as a mosquito repellent.

  • How it works: The strong, lemony scent of citronella masks the smells that attract mosquitoes, making it harder for them to locate us.
  • Application: Citronella candles are a popular choice for outdoor gatherings, while citronella-infused lotions and sprays can be applied directly to the skin.

Safety Precautions When Using Natural Repellents

While natural bug repellents offer a gentler alternative to chemical-based products, it's essential to understand that "natural" doesn't always mean "harmless." Even with these nature-derived solutions, some precautions should be taken:

Skin Patch Test

Before applying any new product or substance extensively, especially essential oils, it's a good idea to do a patch test. This means applying a small amount to a discreet section of your skin and waiting 24 hours to see if there's any reaction. This can help prevent potential allergic reactions or skin irritations.

Dilution is Key

Many essential oils are potent in their pure form and can cause irritation if applied directly to the skin. Always ensure to dilute them with a suitable carrier oil or water before application. Follow recommended ratios, often provided by the manufacturer or a trusted aromatherapist.

Avoid Contact with Sensitive Areas

Whether it's a chemical or natural repellent, always avoid contact with the eyes, mouth, and any open wounds. If any product gets into these areas, rinse immediately with plenty of water.

Safe Storage

Even natural products can be hazardous if consumed. Ensure that all repellents, including those based on natural ingredients, are stored out of reach of children and pets.

Duration and Reapplication

Natural repellents might need to be reapplied more frequently than their chemical counterparts. Pay attention to how long they last and reapply as necessary, especially if you notice bugs starting to take an interest in you again.

Consideration for Pregnant or Nursing Mothers

While many natural repellents are safe, it's always a good idea for pregnant or nursing mothers to consult with a healthcare professional before using any new product.

Benefits of Opting for Natural Alternatives

Making the switch from chemical to natural repellents might initially seem like a small change, but it comes with a plethora of benefits that are worth considering:

Lower Health Risks

Natural repellents are typically formulated from plant-based ingredients, which, in general, pose fewer health risks than synthetic chemicals.[7] They're less likely to cause skin irritations, allergic reactions, and other adverse effects commonly associated with chemical repellents.

Environmentally Friendly

Every time we wash off a product from our skin or discard a bottle, there's potential for environmental impact. Natural repellents, being biodegradable, reduce the risk of long-term chemical accumulation in the environment. They break down more easily and are less harmful to aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.

Sustains Beneficial Insects

Unlike broad-spectrum chemical repellents, natural alternatives are often more selective, targeting mainly the pesky bugs. This means they're less likely to harm beneficial insects like bees, which play a crucial role in pollination and maintaining ecological balance.[6]

Aromatherapy Benefits

Many of the essential oils used in natural repellents, like lavender and peppermint, are staples in aromatherapy. So, while they deter bugs, they can also provide a calming and uplifting sensory experience. This dual-purpose is especially beneficial during outdoor activities like camping or meditation sessions.

Cost-effective and Multipurpose

Several natural repellents, especially essential oils, serve multiple purposes. For instance, the same lavender oil that keeps bugs at bay can be added to a bath for relaxation or used in a diffuser to promote sleep. This multi-functionality can save money and reduce the number of products you need to buy and store.

Supports Sustainable Farming

By opting for natural products, especially those that are organic or sustainably sourced, you're also supporting sustainable farming practices. These farming methods prioritize the health of the soil, water, and surrounding ecosystems, promoting a more harmonious relationship with nature.


The choice between chemical and natural bug repellents goes beyond mere personal preference. While chemical solutions are readily available and effective, their potential health and environmental impacts are hard to ignore. In contrast, nature offers us alternatives like vanilla and lavender, which do more than just repel pests—they enhance our well-being and leave a lighter footprint on the environment. Embracing natural repellents is a step toward a more health-conscious and eco-friendly lifestyle, benefiting us and the world we inhabit.

  1. Court, Andrew. “NYC Woman Sues Starbucks for $5m over Fruitless Fruit Drinks: ‘False.’” New York Post, 21 Sept. 2023, 
  2. Lindwall, Courtney. “What Is Greenwashing?” Be a Force for the Future, 9 Feb. 2023,
  3. “Fashion Greenwash: How Companies Are Hiding the True Environmental Costs of Fast Fashion.” Greenpeace UK, 24 Apr. 2023, 

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