Woman applying insect repellent against mosquito and tick on her leg during hike in nature. Skin protection against insect bite
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Natural Mosquito Repellents that Actually Work, According to Experts

Chemicals can irritate skin, smelly bad, and feel sticky. These natural repellents are just as effective.

Nothing ruins being outdoors more than getting eaten alive by bloodsucking mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other bugs. Aside from itchy and painful bites, illnesses from these infected insects have nearly tripled in 13 years from 2004 to 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported.

So, if you haven't stocked up on bug repellents this year, now is definitely the time to do so!

While many bug sprays are available to protect you from getting bitten, most have an unpleasant scent and can leave you feeling sticky and uncomfortable during your outdoor adventures. Additionally, many include the active ingredient DEET. While the chemical is effective at repelling mosquitoes and the EPA states it doesn't pose a serious toxicity risk, DEET can cause bad skin irritation, especially if you use it for extended periods, Jeb Owen, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Entomology at Washington State University, told Wide Open Spaces.

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Instead, the best home remedies and natural mosquito repellents will be both effective at keeping biting bugs away and gentle on your skin for all-day use when heading out camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, or just hanging out in the backyard.

Protect yourself and your family from insect-borne diseases such as Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue virus, and Lyme disease—not to mention the annoyance of being covered in bites, head to toe—with these natural mosquito repellents.

READ MORE: The Top 10 States With the Worst Mosquitoes in the U.S.

What DIY Remedies Naturally Keep Mosquitoes Away?

Many mosquitoes fly over green grass field

Getty Images, Kwangmoozaa

Certain foods, seasonings, and oils not only have uses in the kitchen but also can be used as DIY remedies for natural pest protection.

1. Essential Oils
When it comes to fighting off creepy crawlers and fliers such as mosquitoes, gnats, and ticks, well-known essential oils including lemon eucalyptus, cinnamon, thyme, soybean, Greek catmint, and tea tree can be effective in keeping them away, Sally Paulson, PhD, associate professor of veterinary and medical entomology at Virginia Tech, told Wide Open Spaces.

In fact, one study from 2014 showed that a mixture containing 32% lemon eucalyptus oil provided more than 95% protection against mosquitoes for nearly three hours.

READ MORE: How To Kill Ticks, According to Experts

2. Fresh Herbs
"Lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary, basil, and lavender all naturally repel mosquitoes. Planting these near your deck or around your yard can reduce a mosquito population," Anthony Szema, MD, a clinical professor of medicine, occupational medicine, epidemiology and prevention at Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, told Wide Open Spaces. Mosquitoes also hate the smell of cedarwood, citronella (often found in outdoor candles), and clove, he adds.

3. Catnip
Planting catnip in your garden is good for more than just a happy cat. Scientists from Iowa State University also found in a study that catnip can be 10 times more effective at repelling mosquitoes than DEET.

Technically, this counts under the fresh herbs category: Catnip is actually a member of the mint family!

How to Use Them
If you're not much of a gardener, you can also mix these essential oils and ingredients from these plants with water to create a natural spray or bug repellent, Dr. Szema says.

If you're dealing with fresh plants, you can chop it up, simmer it in a saucepan with water for 10 minutes, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for an hour, Dr. Szema said. Once it's cool, he recommends straining the liquid to remove the chunks and pouring about 4 tablespoons of the liquid into a small spray bottle, adding water to the bottle if necessary. You can then apply a small amount to a patch of skin on your arm or leg to make sure you don't have a reaction to the spray.

One user tip: "When using the spray, be careful to avoid your face. You can also use the spray on surfaces, such as tables or window sills, to deter ants and flies," Dr. Szema said.

Can You Use Wild Plants In a Pinch?

A farmer agronomist inspects and inspects the green soybean leaves growing in the field

Getty Images, beorm

If you don't have access to any natural ingredients or bug repellents at a camping site or hiking trail, you should not use random plants around you as an alternative, both our experts say. While the plants mentioned above can be effective natural bug repellents, they should be distilled into a liquid before being applied, as directed above.

"I do not advise people to go out in nature and in a pinch start pulling plants and rubbing them on yourself," Owen said. Doing this can be dangerous and can lead to allergic reactions or even plant poisoning.

Instead, you should wear loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and pants, and avoid wearing perfumes, lotions, and black clothing, as these are all attractants, Paulson said.

The Best Natural Bug Repellents You Can Buy

If you don't feel like making your own DIY version, you can use any of several natural mosquito repellents on the market. However, Paulson notes that just because a repellent is natural doesn't necessarily mean it won't irritate the skin, so definitely avoid any oils you know you're sensitive to and consider testing the product on a small patch of skin first.

A few notes on effectiveness and safety: Lemon eucalyptus is the only plant-based active ingredient recommended by the CDC for mosquito bites. Of course, it's important to buy products only from reputable brands and sources. One way to do that is to use the EPA's online tool to find an EPA-registered repellent. Paulson also advises people to read and follow the application directions for each bug repellent, which can typically be found on the back label of the product.