Summer means backyard barbecues, beach bonfires, and rooftop parties—but what do all of these things have in common? Bug bites. Trying to prevent nature’s tiniest inhabitants from ruining outdoor fun can often feel like a losing battle, especially if you’re aiming to reduce the number of chemicals you put in, on, or near your body. Enter: organic bug sprays.
While chemicals like DEET are effective, says board-certified cosmetic dermatologist Dr. Dendy Engelman, "it's been linked to skin irritation, allergic reactions, and dizziness, among other—and more serious—health concerns." She also notes that natural bug sprays are safer for sensitive skin, pregnant women, infants, and children. Instead of synthetics and chemicals, natural bug sprays include ingredients like essential oils with bug-repelling properties to mask the scents and certain pHs that attract insects.
"Although essential oils and many natural ingredients can still be irritating to skin (and are still capable of triggering an allergic reaction), many people desire to use less chemicals or synthetic pesticides to minimize risk of toxicity (although most chemical pesticides have been proven safe and effective), or to avoid the sticky feeling that often accompanies chemical sprays," says board-certified dermatologist Dr. Rachel Nazarian. "Many of the ingredients in natural bug repellents are also calming or hydrating to skin, and often have a pleasant smell." To help repel insects without the use of harsh ingredients, scroll on for a few of the very best natural bug sprays to guarantee a comfortable summer.
Murphy’s Naturals Personal Insect Repellent
Dr. Nazarian recommends Murphy's Naturals to keep bugs at bay, "This one does NOT contain DEET, and uses a plant-based repellant," she says. "It’s also very lightweight and dries easily." Effective for up to six hours after application, this must-try bug spray is made from citriodiol, a naturally sourced, plant-based insect repellent.
Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
"I recommend using bug sprays that contain lemon eucalyptus," offers Dr. Engelman. "This essential oil is known to be one of the best natural ingredients to ward off insects." Like Murphy's Naturals, Repel's bug spray relies on this powerful oil rather than DEET. It also claims to work for up to six hours while also fighting disease-transmitting mosquitoes—double win.
Meow Meow Tweet Insect Repellent
Definitely a contender for chicest packaging, this natural bug spray is also a heavy hitter when it comes to deterring insects. A combination of essential oils and natural skin toners makes this an ideal choice for hair, skin, and clothes.
Jao Patio Oil
If sprays aren’t your thing, this bug-fighting body oil offers the perfect solution. "Jao Brand Patio Oil is another great bug repellant with lemon eucalyptus," says Dr. Engleman, "and it adds in jojoba oil, hemp oil, chamomile, and calendula to soothe and nourish skin while it protects." These hydrating ingredients make this one of the best-smelling insect repellents—and a convenient on-the-go moisturizer for summer skin.
Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray
For a citronella-based and DEET-free pick, Dr. Nazarian offers the Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray. The organic insect repellent also contains citronella's cousin, lemongrass, which contains aldehydes that bugs prefer to steer clear of. A hint of rosemary essential oil not only adds a yummy scent, but anecdotal evidence suggests its potential bug-repelling properties as well.
Garner's Garden DEET Free Bug Spray
An essential oil blend of eucalyptus, citronella, and lemongrass makes this a powerhouse of all-natural bug repellents. Also on the ingredient list? Peppermint oil. While not a main ingredient, anyone who's ever gotten a whiff of this pick-me-up scent can attest that it doesn't take much, so consider your natural musk (which attracts the bugs) totally incognito to the mosquitos with this stuff. For some extra skin-loving goodness, the DEET-free formula also comes as a body oil complete with aloe vera and vitamin E.
Kinfield Golden Hour DEET-Free Repellent
Kinfield uses a unique strain of Indonesian citronella. After putting it to the test with independent trials, they found it to be more effective at deterring mosquitos than others. Bonus—with citrus and vanilla, the stuff smells amazing. But the vanilla scent isn't used just to make you smell good: A 2011 study review found that a combination of vanillin and citronella extended protection time from three hours (using citronella alone) to six hours.
Harper's Naturals Natural Bug Spray
Another pick that will give your perfume a run for its money? This olive fruit oil-based blend of essential oils and witch hazel by Harper's Naturals. A bug spray that doesn't stink of DEET is one thing, but anything that works to prevent itchy mosquito bites and smells bomb while doing so is an absolute unicorn and we're here for it.
Skeem Design Outdoor Body Spray
Less is more with this natural bug spray from Skeem Design. Citronella oil and fresh verbena mask the scents that attract mosquitoes and other insects, making this a useful product for outdoor occasions.
Dr. Nazarian suggests applying natural bug sprays at least every two to four hours and up to every hour with some weaker repellants like citronella.
EiR NYC Stay Away Spray
On top of the mountain of nourishing benefits of using soybean oil for the skin, the ingredient is also a little-known bug kryptonite. Tests from a 2002 study have shown that soybean oil-based repellents deterred mosquito bites for up to an hour and a half. In fact, soybean oil formulas were the only non-DEET repellents tested that even compared to a DEET-level of protection. Stay Away Spray is also armed with sweet-smelling essential oils like clove, cedar, and lemongrass that also ward off insects.
Erbaviva Buzz Spray
The organic and biodynamic essential oils making up Erbaviva's Buzz Spray take "natural" to a whole new level. Organic ingredients like citronella, lemongrass, and rosemary are sourced using holistic farming practices that help heal the earth and replenish soil. So essentially, you can tell the bugs to buzz off and save the planet at the same time. It's a win-win.
Beekman Natural Bug Repellent Soap
Not all natural bug repellents have to be sprays. "The ingredients that have the highest success rate in repelling insects are picaridin (made synthetically, but is meant to replicate an ingredient in a pepper plant), oil of lemon eucalyptus, and to a lesser degree citronella," explains Dr. Nazarian. This expertly designed, naturally derived soap uses coconut oil and goat's milk for moisture and citronella and oil of lemon eucalyptus to keep bugs at bay before you’ve even gotten out of the shower.
Journal of Medical Entomology. "Repellency of the Components of the Essential Oil, Citronella, to Triatoma rubida, Triatoma protracta, and Triatoma recurva (Hemiptera: Reduviidae: Triatominae)." 2015.
Tropical Medicine and International Health. "Effectiveness of Citronella Preparations in Preventing Mosquito Bites: Systematic Review of Controlled Laboratory Experimental Studies." April 11, 2011.
The New England Journal of Medicine. "Comparative Efficacy of Insect Repellents Against Mosquito Bites." July 4, 2002.