Two reasons why citronella is NOT the best choice of natural insect repellent

With the ongoing debate over the safety of DEET, more and more consumers are looking at alternative natural insect repellent products for protection against biting insects. But which ones really work?

In this article we will compare citronella against Citriodiol (also known as oil of lemon eucalyptus) which is the active ingredient in our Mosi-guard® Natural range. We will specifically compare the efficacy and safety of citronella and Citriodiol.
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Citronella is one of the oldest and better known natural insect repellents. But it doesn't necessarily work best. Image via Flickr by Ahmad Fuad Morad

Citronella is one of the oldest and better known natural insect repellents. But it doesn't necessarily work best. Image via Flickr by Ahmad Fuad Morad

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (also known as Citriodiol) is the active natural ingredient in Mosi-guard Natural. Image via Flickr by Shubhada Nikharge

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (also known as Citriodiol) is the active natural ingredient in Mosi-guard Natural. Image via Flickr by Shubhada Nikharge

Citronella efficacy and safety

Citronella is one of the oldest and better known natural insect repellents on the market. Despite the fact that many people have heard of and trust citronella to help protect them against biting insects, studies have shown that it is not the best choice of natural insect repellent.

  1. Citronella efficacy
    Efficacy is defined as the ‘capacity for producing a desired result or effect’ (Dictionary.com). When it comes to insect repellent efficacy means how well a product works in repelling biting insects. Due to the high volatility of citronella oil it evaporates quickly off the skin, making citronella’s staying power as a natural insect repellent very limited. It may work when first applied, but studies show that its stops working within an hour or less. This leaves you unprotected from biting insects very quickly.

    Mixing citronella oil with other substances can extend this protection time to some extent - possibly up to 2 hours, but its repellency remains mediocre at best. This is hardly the kind of protection you want when you are trying to enjoy the outdoors with family and friends, nor is it the protection you need when in areas where mosquito-borne and insect-borne diseases are present.

  2. Citronella safety
    Some countries have classified citronella as a hazardous substance because it is a skin sensitiser, causing an allergic reaction following contact with the skin. In fact Health Canada has gone as far as to ban the use of citronella in natural insect repellents due to concerns over possible cancer causing effects - see here. In many countries where it is still permitted to be used as a natural insect repellent, citronella is limited to 10% concentration or less. By limiting citronella’s relative concentration in products, it’s effectiveness in keeping bugs away is also reduced even further. This is another reason why citronella based insect repellents do not offer long lasting protection from biting insects that can cause irritation and illness.

Citriodiol efficacy and safety

Citriodiol is also known as oil of lemon eucalyptus or Eucalyptus citriodora oil hydrated, cyclized EC Oil (H/C), Mosi-guard Natural contains the active ingredient Citriodiol.

  1. Citriodiol efficacy
    Citriodiol based repellents have been tested for effectiveness in more than 35 laboratory and field studies around the world, against 26 different species of biting insects. These studies prove the long lasting effectiveness (up to eight hours) of Mosi-guard Natural and reflect a level of efficacy that far exceeds that of citronella or any other plant-based repellent and is even on par with synthetic repellents like DEET. 

    Mosi-guard Natural is the UK’s most widely used naturally sourced insect repellent and was rated by Which? amongst its ‘best performing’ natural insect repellent in product comparison tests published July 2012. Mosi-guard Natural earned a maximum five star efficacy rating for providing up to eight hours protection against multiple insect bites which, the report states, ‘ is on a par with best-performing DEET products’. That also means it lasts eight times as long as most citronella products on the market.

    Unlike citronella based natural insect repellents, Citriodiol has undergone evaluation and registration by some of the strictest regulatory bodies, including Sweden’s KEMI, Canada’s PMRA and the United States EPA, for both efficacy and safety. The active ingredient in Mosi-guard Natural is also the only naturally based active to be recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as an effective repellent.

  2. Citriodiol safety
    Mosi-guard Natural and other Citriodiol based repellents have undergone extensive testing for safety to ensure it is a product your whole family can rely on for protection. Unlike citronella, which has raised safety concerns in many countries, Mosi-guard has been evaluated and approved as safe for use for children as young as 6 months. It is not cancer causing and has a very low level of dermal absorption (absorption through the skin), so it is safe to apply to the skin.

Citronella versus Citriodiol conclusion

If you prefer a natural insect repellent, according to data it’s time to move on from citronella because it’s vital that the natural insect repellent you choose actually works and is safe to use.