Citronella oil is derived from a plant that is closely related to lemongrass, which most of us are probably very familiar with since it is often used in cooking. But unlike lemongrass, citronella is not often used in food preparation. Instead, it is usually an ingredient in many beauty products, such as massage oils, lotions and perfumes. Since it is widely known as an insect repellent, citronella oil is also typically incorporated in candles, bug sprays, potpourri, lotions, and other concoctions designed to ward off all sorts of flying bugs.

One of the most dreaded insects around is the mosquito. Once the weather becomes warmer, they begin to swarm. In tropical countries (like where we are), mosquitoes are a year-long problem. Their numbers seem to surge and diminish with the occurrence of rain. The more frequent rains become, the more mosquitoes appear.

We don’t like mosquitoes because they carry very dangerous diseases. In our country, dengue hemorrhagic fever and malaria are huge problems. Thousands of people die each year of dengue alone. When mosquitoes bite to suck blood from a host, they also transfer disease-causing viruses. Come to think of it, it’s hard to imagine that such a small bite, a sting even, can be more life-threatening than a huge wound.

The Role of Citronella
Citronella has a scent that mosquitoes do not like. The citrusy odor also confuses mosquitoes which are flying about in a chemical soup, trying to locate a likely victim. So, lighting up citronella-scented candles, putting small bowls of citronella-based potpourri, or using lotions and sprays that contain citronella can help in stopping mosquitoes from biting you.

Though the idea of waging a war against mosquitoes using citronella is ideal, especially because the scent is quite pleasing (unlike other repellents that have strong odors), the effectiveness of citronella is questionable. Based on experience, citronella is actually not that successful in keeping away mosquitoes. I used citronella essential oil, which I bought from a dermatologist, as suggested by my pediatrician so that I can use this to keep mosquitoes away from my baby. Small drops of oil should be placed on the clothes; and never on the skin because it is irritating especially to babies’ sensitive skin. After application, the scent was strong. But it dissipated in just a few minutes, which was when the mosquitoes began to hover near my child again. It seemed like the bugs were just waiting for the scent to disappear before attacking again. So, I needed to reapply the oil from time to time.

Using Citronella
In case you are interested in using citronella to ward of mosquitoes, do so – but be sure to reapply every 30 minutes or so. If you or your kids are going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, better opt for a mosquito repellent lotion, like Off!, which offers longer protection. It’s also not a good idea to have your children wear citronella-based anklets or bracelets because, as I mentioned earlier, the oil can be pretty irritating on the skin.