As a concentrated form of antioxidants and phytochemicals taken from the plant’s stems and leaves, citronella oil has been used for centuries in China, Indonesia and Sri Lanka to help decrease rashes, inflammation, infections, pain and other health conditions.
What is citronella? Well, citronella oil comes from the Asian grass plant known as Cymbopogon nardus. It’s most commonly used as a natural fragrant oil, in insect repellents, as well as in beauty, household and perfume products. According to scientific research, pure citronella oil is known to have amazing antibacterial and antifungal abilities. (1)
With these potent properties, is citronella oil harmful to humans? Not when it’s used properly! In fact, the most popular use for citronella is as an ingredient in homemade or commercially made insect repellents, since it naturally repels various bugs.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers citronella to be a biopesticide, which means it’s a natural “nontoxic mode of action” against potentially harmful insects like mosquitoes. (2) And insect repellent is just one of citronella’s many possible uses and benefits.
Benefits of Citronella Oil
According to various studies investigating the effects of these compounds, citronella oil has been shown to have the following benefits:
- Naturally repels insects
- Fights free radical damage
- Fights bacteria and fungi
- Reduces inflammation
- Promotes relaxation
- Helps control pets’ behavior
Today, there are more than 30 species of Cymbopogon grown wildly throughout parts of the world and used in Southeast Asian cooking and teas. There are two primary types of citronella used to create pure citronella oil: the Java type and the Ceylon type. Both originally come from parts of Asia, especially grassy areas of Sri Lanka.
Ceylon citronella is obtained from the Cymbopogon nardus plant and has the following main active ingredients: citronellal (27.87 precent), geraniol (22.77 percent), geranial (14.54 percent), citronellol (11.85 percent) and neral (11.21 percent). (3) It has a scent similar to citrus fruits, wood and cinnamon.
The Java type is similar and derived from a related species called Cymbopogon winterianus. Java citronella’s main active ingredients include: geraniol (40.06 percent), citronellal (27.44 percent) and citronellol (10.45 percent). (4) Of the two types, Java is thought to be more powerful, and therefore it’s usually more expensive. It has a darker color and “fresher” scent similar to lemon and lemon essential oil. Of citronella’s active ingredients, the three that are most researched and valued include citronellol, citronellal and geraniol.
Both types of citronella oil have widespread uses, including stress reduction, antibacterial or antiseptic action, and skin rejuvenation. Citronella essential oil is one of the most common aromatherapy oils and is part of what gives many household sprays and candles their signature scent. Additionally, it can be used as a food additive for flavor and preservation, so you can sometimes find it in foods and beverages.
Lemongrass essential oil can be confused for citronella essential oil and vice versa. Are lemongrass and citronella the same? A citronella plant, also called a mosquito plant, does resemble its relative, the lemongrass plant. The oils derived from these plants also have similar smells, uses and benefits, but they are definitely two completely different plants and oils.
9 Citronella Oil Uses + Benefits
What is citronella used for? Here are some of its many uses:
1. All-Natural Insect Repellent
Citronella has been registered as a gentle, plant-based insect repellent in the U.S. since 1948. It has even been shown to repel dangerous Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are capable of spreading dengue fever and the Zika virus. (5) Research published in The Israel Medical Association Journal also shows how citronella can be effective in helping to prevent head lice, too. (6)
According to some research, you need to reapply citronella oil about every 30–60 minutes for its bug-repelling effects to last. You can combine several drops with coconut oil and spread it on your body like lotion, or add some to a spray bottle with water and cover your skin, hair and clothes.
2. Anti-Inflammatory and Pain Reducer
Like many citrus essential oils, citronella contains compounds that fight free radical damage and help reverse oxidative stress. A 2000 review published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Chemistry studied 34 different citrus essential oils and their components for radical-scavenging activities. They found that many citrus volatile components, including the main type found in citronella called geraniol, had high antioxidant capabilities for fighting free radicals that can cause disease and cellular damage. (7)
Due to its antioxidant properties, citronella can be used as a natural pain-relieving treatment to decrease inflammation and pain. Combine several (two to three) drops with a carrier oil like coconut oil and massage it into swollen joints, tissue and muscles.
3. Uplifting and Stress Reducing
Citronella has a citrusy scent that can be both uplifting and relaxing. In fact, research has shown that citronella oil seems to activate both para-sympathetic and sympathetic nervous activity. (8)
Citronella can contribute to natural stress relief so try diffusing it in your home or office to counteract a rough day. When inhaled, citronella can encourage relaxation, invigoration and pleasant memories and may even reduce trouble sleeping and depression.
4. Destroys Parasites
Citronella oil is used to expel worms and parasites from the intestines. (9) In vitro research shows that citronella’s geraniol also has strong anti-helminthic activity, which means it effectively expels parasitic worms and other internal parasites by either stunning or killing them without causing any damage to the host. (10) This is precisely the reason that citronella is used to prevent both internal and external infections, and why it should play a central role in a parasite cleanse.
5. Natural Perfume or Room Spray
Because it has a clean, fresh scent similar to lemon or lemongrass, citronella is a common ingredient in soaps, candles, incense, perfumes and cosmetics. You can naturally deodorize your home, dishwasher, refrigerator and laundry machine by diffusing citronella or running a cycle of your household appliances with a few drops of citronella included.
6. Kitchen Cleaner
Proven to have strong antifungal and antibacterial properties, citronella oil can be used to help clean your kitchen, bathroom or household surfaces without the need for harsh chemicals.
7. Natural Anti-Fungal and Antibacterial Skin Care Remedy
Aside from keeping away bug bites, citronella can work as a natural skin care aid by killing off bacteria and fungus. Being both an antibacterial and antifungal essential oil, citronella can help with many common skin complaints, including athlete’s foot and acne. (11)
To use citronella oil topically, always dilute it in a 50:50 ration with a carrier oil such as coconut oil. As an easy-to-make home remedy for acne, try dabbing one drop of pure citronella essential oil mixed with one drop of coconut oil on blemishes three times a day using a sterile cotton swab.
8. Pet Controller
Although it might sound strange, rather than using an electric shock, citronella oil can help dogs to stop barking. This is why they make anti-barking collars that contain citronella. According to the ASPCA, research has shown that a citronella collar can be at least as effective for eliminating barking as an electronic collar, and it’s typically viewed more positively by dog owners. (13)
You can also use citronella to keep your dogs off of furniture. As a bonus, when you spray citronella on your furniture or linens, it keeps them free from bacteria, pests and odors. Add several drops to a spray bottle along with water, shake it up and spray it throughout your home and on household items.
Is citronella oil poisonous to cats? Cats are known to be more sensitive to citronella than dogs. Citronella is actually considered to be a cat repellent. (14)
9. Natural Shampoo and Conditioner
One of the most popular uses for citronella oil is cleansing and conditioning the hair and scalp. It can help eliminate excess oil and greasiness of hair while adding shine. Many people find it adds volume to hair and helps to detangle knots.
To use citronella oil for hair, add several drops to your shampoo or conditioner, or try making your own homemade recipe using a cleansing oil like coconut oil, which also benefits hair.
Citronella Oil Recipes
Taken from my Essential Oils Guide, here are several methods for safely using citronella oil at home:
- Aromatically: You can diffuse the oil in your home or backyard just like a candle using a diffuser. To make a natural room freshener, put a few drops of oil along with water into a spritzer bottle. You can also inhale the oil directly by sniffing it.
- Topically: Before applying citronella oil to your skin, it should be diluted with a carrier oil, like coconut or jojoba oil, in a 1:1 ratio. Rub the mixture into your skin, or spray some on your clothes and hair. You can also add a few drops of citronella essential oil to your bath, shampoo, soap, lotion or body wash.
Here are several recipes to try at home using citronella essential oil:
Total Time: 2 minutes
- 1/2 cup witch hazel
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 40 drops mixed essential oils (citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass, tea tree or rosemary)
- glass spray bottle
Mix all ingredients in eight-ounce spray bottle. Spray over all portions of the body, but avoid repellent in eyes and mouth.
Wondering where to buy citronella oil? It’s not hard to find citronella essential oil in health stores or online. Always look for one that is 100 percent pure, organic and therapeutic-grade that was created with chemical-free CO2 extraction methods.
Side Effects and Warnings
Is citronella oil toxic? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that citronella oil is known to have little or no toxicity when used as a topical insect repellent on skin. In fact, there have been virtually zero reports of adverse effects of concern since 1948. (15)
Like all commercially sold products that are intended to be applied to human skin, the EPA requires proper precautionary labeling on some insect repellents containing citronella so people know how to safely use it. Citronella oil is safe for adults and children over six months of age. Ask your pediatrician before using citronella on children under the age of six months. It’s a good idea to start out using citronella in small amounts and performing a skin patch test to make sure you don’t have any citronella oil side effects like allergies, redness, swelling or hives. (16)
Citronella oil is not recommended for use by pregnant women.
Can citronella oil be applied to skin? Yes, but it should always be mixed with a carrier oil like coconut or jojoba oil for external use. However, citronella is typically not recommended for internal use.
- Citronella oil contains many beneficial active compounds including geraniol, citronellal and citronellol.
- Citronella essential oil is mainly used topically so speak with your doctor before using it internally.
- Citronella oil has both antibacterial and antifungal properties.
- It’s really easy to make your own citronella oil mosquito repellent at home.
- Benefits of this citrusy oil include:
- natural pest repellent
- anti-inflammatory pain reliever
- stress reducer
- parasite destroyer
- cleaning aid
- natural deodorizer
- pet training
- skin and hair booster
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