With the trend toward removing needless and potentially damaging chemicals from the household, many people are turning toward natural alternatives for mosquito repellents. One of the hottest items on the market is a silicone bracelet containing the essential citronella oils, which claim to repel mosquitoes naturally. But do they really work?
Citronella, whether in the form of candles or a bracelet, utilizes the oils of Cymbopogon species of plants. These oils have been in use as an insect repellent within the United States at lease since the middle of the 20th century. Citronella is nontoxic and has many beneficial properties including its pleasant smell as well as a calming effect on dogs. Recently, citronella bracelets have come on the market claiming to be a safe, effective alternative to chemical-based insect repellents.
Citronella bracelets are self-contained, flexible coils made of soft silicon that expand to fit around the hand and are worn around the wrist. The silicone is infused with citronella and other oils, such as lemongrass and geranium oil, all of which have some insect repellent properties in their own right. The premise behind the bracelets is that the smell of citronella (and the other oils) repels mosquitoes for up to 60 hours continuously. The bands are sold in lawn and garden stores as well as online.
There is anecdotal evidence that these bracelets seem to repel mosquitoes effectively for the advertised period of time, or at least for the duration of exposure. There is some controversy, however, as to whether the anecdotes were either truthful or were merely the placebo effect.
In an effort to ascertain the veracity of the claims of the manufacturers of citronella bracelets, The Canadian Family Physician, a medically oriented website run by The College of Family Physicians of Canada, tested the bracelet against other insect repellents currently on the market. It concluded that while citronella oil itself had a mildly repelling effect on mosquitoes, bracelets and bands containing citronella had no appreciable effect on repelling mosquitoes. The Canadian Family Physician went on to recommend the use of DEET-based repellents for maximum protection.
The bracelets may be based on the theory that the body heat of a person is somehow able to draw out the scent of the citronella oil in a manner similar to citronella candles. Whatever the theory, there is ample scientific evidence that the bands are, at most, weak in comparison to other repellents or, at worse, completely ineffective.