mosquito biting a person's arm, mosquitoes and ticks

Preventing bites from mosquitoes and ticks could mean side-stepping a serious infection such as West Nile virus or Lyme disease. So it’s no wonder people are on the lookout for ways to avoid these bites. DEET is the most common insect repellent. The EPA has concluded that DEET is safe, but many people worry about potential toxicity. As a result, they search for other ways to avoid bites. One reader has come up with an interesting approach:

Natural Ways to Repel Mosquitoes and Ticks:

Q. I use either coconut milk or coconut oil on my skin when I go out. Originally, I put it on to see if it helped protect me from the sun. I think it helped, though I have no proof.

Then I noticed that I had no ticks, even though my yard is overrun with them. In addition, no mosquitoes were biting. They hover, but they don’t land.

Is There Science to Support Coconut Oil Against Mosquitoes and Ticks?

A. Many people use coconut oil on their skin as a moisturizer, but you are the first to suggest it might serve as a bug repellent. The few scientific studies that have looked at coconut oil to repel mosquitoes used it as a base for other essential oils. Neem oil (2 percent) in coconut oil is quite effective (Sharma et al, Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association, Sep. 1993).  In addition, ylang ylang (Canaga odorata) extract in coconut oil is useful, though not quite as effective for preventing mosquito bites as DEET (Soonwera & Phasomkusolsil, Acta Tropica, Feb. 2015).

When mosquitoes carry dangerous diseases such as Zika or West Nile virus, we urge people to use a proven effective repellent such as lemon eucalyptus oil, picaridin or even DEET. Neem oil or ylang ylang in coconut oil could possibly work, but you might have a harder time finding these herbal extracts than commercial repellents.

As for ticks, a commercial tick repellent product with a coconut oil base is an effective tick repellent (Schwantes et al, Parasites & Vectors, April 2008). The product is Zanzarin® Bio-Hautschutz Lotion (Engelhard Arzneimittel, Germany). It is probably difficult to find in the United States.

Will Coconut Oil Protect You from Sunburn?

You mentioned that you initially started applying coconut oil or coconut milk to prevent sunburn. We checked to see if there was any research on that, and found that oils, including coconut oil, don’t offer significant protection against damage from ultraviolet light (Gause & Chauhan, International Journal of Cosmetic Science, Aug. 2016). However, Korean scientists have found that culture coconut extract, a fermented coconut oil product, can improve skin barrier function and ease inflammation resulting from sunburn (Kim et al, Food and Chemical Toxicology, Aug. 2017). We have not seen this product on the market.

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  1. Donna

    Avon’s Skin So Soft works great but any oil would probably work. The oil will destroy its wings and can’t fly. Ive also taken a thin cotton shirt ( to not overheat in summer) and spray with permethrin It’s strictly for outerwear. It won’t work if sprayed on skin. Permethrin although safe on skin it won’t repel mosquitos. The body chemistry…Leave the shirt outside due to the smell and in the morning you will find several dead skeeters that came in contact with the shirt.

  2. Craig

    I use coconut oil as a moisturizer. I found it does repel mosquitoes. I get the food grade clear oil at the grocery store and put it in an old soap pump container. I have not added any other ingredients, just the coconut oil.

  3. Nancy B

    Anyone tried aloe vera juice or gel in the eyes to reduce cataracts. Have heard it works but don’t know of any research related to its use.

  4. PATSY

    How does one unplug an ear? May have been caused by a fall. Been to EMT he said tmj but isn’t massage exercises. Nothing worked. Even had an audio exam. No help. Wanted to sell aids. Help in some future article. Pain in ear and neck, also.

  5. Sally

    At my local farm center I found a lovely plant commonly referred to as “Citronella Mosquito Plant.” I put it outdoors on my roofed deck: no mosquitoes at all, day or night. Wasps and various flies occasionally, but zero skeeters.

    • Melissa
      Bethlehem, PA

      If caused by the fall, the blockage could be a collection of dried blood. I would think your doctors looked for that.

      But I had a similar problem that included all the symptoms you described. I used a prescription steroid nasal spray that helped bring down the inflammation. This then allowed the blockage to be released. It turned out to be large sacs of something that accumulated in my sinuses. I believe it may have been caused by the mold that I inhaled when scrubbing it off the basement walls in a home we had just moved into. It turned out there were many kinds of mold in the house. It caused terrible congestion in my sinuses & ears, loss of hearing, fever on and off for a year, fatigue, swollen glands, body aches & sore throat.

    • Donna

      Had 2 big plants on both sides of front door and didn’t bother the skeeters but the skeeters bothered us.

  6. Irene

    I add a drop or two of citronella essential oil to 1/2 cup of coconut oil and spread that on exposed skin to keep gnats and mosquitos away. One should always test for allergy to citronella oil first.

  7. Bunny
    both in NC and TN

    Our family uses Listerine to repel mosquitos when working in our yard and veggie garden. Keep it in a spray bottle; spray skin ALL over – forehead, ears, neck, any uncovered skin, and even on clothing collars and cuffs. For us, it has been very beneficial.

  8. cmoo
    South Carolina

    What to do once bitten by a mosquito (may be a carrier)?

  9. Carla
    NE Ohio

    Just read about lemon eucalyptus oil being just as effective as DEET. Please check this out, People’s Pharmacy!

    • Terry Graedon

      We have written about repellents containing oil of lemon eucalyptus. They test similar to DEET for effectiveness.

  10. Cathie
    Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    I wonder if drinking fresh coconut water daily might help prevent mosquito bites. I live in a tropical environment where fresh coconut is readily available. In other words, maybe it’s not only a topical application that could prevent mosquitoes and ticks from biting. I would be interested in any research.

  11. Judy
    Winston Salem

    I am normally a mosquito magnet but started taking garlic pills to help keep my cholesterol down. It does seem as if I am getting fewer bites this year, and they aren’t swarming around me after about 5 minutes outside. I had also added Cinnamon and Cider Vinegar when I stopped my statins, as friends had had success with those three but I imagine the garlic would be the main repellant.

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