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The number of new dengue cases in Singapore has been climbing steadily for several weeks now, so it is crucial to defend your family against mosquitoes. If you’re wary of using insecticides in your home, or unsure about what’s in a store-bought mosquito repellent, essentials oils are a good natural alternative.
Unlike off-the-shelf sprays and lotions, repellents made from essential oils are suitable for infants and children as they do not contain harmful chemicals, says KK Tang, owner of online essential oil boutique Unikk. While the oils will not kill the insects, it will deter them. Here are four essential oils to stock up on – you can either use each on its own, or combine them, to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Citronella oil is obtained from the leaves and stems of a type of grass called cymbopogon nardus. It is officially recognised as a plant-based, non-toxic bio-pesticide in the United States. You can use it around the home without worrying about it having any adverse effects on your pets or the environment.
In fact, because citronella oil repels many insects – including mosquitoes, black flies, fleas and ticks – it is a popular ingredient in many insect repellent products sold off the shelf, from mosquito patches to scented candles.
Lemongrass essential oil is extracted by steam-distilling the leaves from the cymbopagon citratus plant. It contains similar chemical properties as citronella, but has a brighter and more fragrant aroma. KK advises that lemongrass be used sparingly as it can cause skin sensitivity in some individuals.
Distilled from the dried leaves of eucalyptus, this essential oil has a strong woody and sweet smell. Similar to citronella, the strong scent is believed to confuse a mosquito’s sense of direction and taste. This prevents the mosquito from locating and attacking you. Additionally, eucalyptus oil can double as an antiseptic to soothe an itch if you have already been bitten.
Peppermint essential oil is usually used as a flavouring agent, but the herbal extract is also a natural deterrent against mosquitoes. Menthol, the chemical that produces the familiar minty scent we all recognise, is universally hated by flying insects and will keep them away.
Using these essential oils
KK recommends a blend of these four oils for best effect. A mixture of citronella and lemongrass is sufficiently potent, she says, but most people prefer the enhanced fragrance of eucalyptus and peppermint.
This is the most effective method of dispersal. Mix equal parts of each essential oil and add the blend to a candle burner or electric vaporiser.
Add a few drops of the blend into a spray bottle and dilute with water. Shake well before spraying on clothing, linen or curtains. This method is less potent than vaporising as the mixture is less concentrated, but it’s a quick fix if you don’t have a vaporiser.
To apply essential oils on your skin, you need to mix it with a base oil or cream first. KK recommends adding about three to five drops of essential oil per 30ml of carrier. A good cream base you can use is organic raw shea butter, which is mild enough for use on a baby’s skin. Shea butter moisturises the skin and provides relief for itch. You can also use an olive oil or coconut oil base.