Health benefits

Benefits And Side Effects Of Citronella Oil

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We all are familiar with different kinds of oils extracted from seeds, plants, and many other natural ways. Most of them are part of our daily life. We use them in our food and for some cosmetic use as well.

One of such oils is citronella oil. It serves many purposes. In this article, we are having a deep sail through the benefits and side effects of citronella oil. We are also going to burst some of the common myths revolving around the use of citronella oil.

What is citronella oil?

Citronella oil falls in the category of essential oil, extracted from the stems and leaves of different species of Cymbopogon or the lemongrass. Lemongrass is a tropical plant of the Asian genus. Lemongrass is also known in different names at different places, such as Malabar grass, Cochin grass, and fever grass. The plant itself is used in cooking and for herbal medicine. This citronella oil is made by distilling the plants of the Cymbopogon genus. ‘Citronella’ got its names from a French word that means ‘lemon balm’ due to its citrus-like floral aroma. The oil has got tremendous health benefits. It has been used widely among the Asian population for centuries. It is mainly used to treat infections and rashes. Citronella oil is commonly used as an insect repellent, mainly as a mosquito repellent. It can help you keep the biting bugs at bay. It is also used in cosmetics, soaps, lotions, perfumes, and sprays as a fragrant element. 

Apart from helping prevent insect bites, it is also known for its chemical elements that can enhance physical and mental health. At times, citronella is also used to treat diarrhea and parasitic infections. Though it is used as a flavouring agent in food and beverages, using it in large quantities can cause serious side effects. Let’s look into the health benefits and other effects of citronella oil in detail.

Benefits of Citronella Oil at a Glance:

Since centuries, our ancestors have been using the oil for many purposes. Some of them are:

  • Insect repellent
  • Parasitic infection treatment
  • Wound healing
  • Eliminate fatigue
  • Flavouring agent in food and cosmetics

It is also said that, when applied on the scalp, it protects the hair from dryness, dandruff, frizziness, and flaking. It can also moisturize the skin and hair. Citronella oil is used as the main ingredient in aromatherapy which is found to be helpful for conditions such as:

  • Cold
  • Depression
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Stomach ache
  • Muscle spasms
  • Flu
  • Difficulty urinating

While it is used for many purposes, there are not many scientific studies or researches that support them. Research and studies on such essentials are still going on. We only have evidence of experience by our forefathers.

Benefits of Citronella Oil Explained

Let's have a look into some studies conducted by prestigious institutions on the benefits of citronella oil.

  • As insect repellent

A review of studies in the Tropical Medicine and International health conducted in 2011 finds that, when used in combination with Vanillin- an element found in vanilla bean, acts as an effective insect repellent. It can provide up to three hours of protection. The study also suggests DEET is more effective than citronella oil. DEET is a chemical repellent that can offer 35 times more protection than citronella oil. Mosquito repellent candles using citronella oil are less effective than the diffusers and sprays. Some studies also suggest that citronella oil needs to be reapplied to be effective.    

  • As antifungal agent

Some studies suggest that the antifungal properties found in citronella oil help in destroying fungi causing health problems. A study in 2013 analyzed how citronella acts against the strain of fungus called Aspergillus niger, which causes lung and sinus infection in people with weak immune systems. The result of the study was amazing. It says that citronella oil can effectively destroy the fungus that leads to infection. As a result, citronella is suggested to be used as an environment-friendly, safe fungicide. Citronella oil can be a powerful antifungal agent. But in some cases, it requires reapplying daily to put fungal infection under control. Though it has antibacterial properties, citronella oil is not a beneficial solution for killing a wide range of germs and bacteria when compared to other essential oils.

  • For wound healing

Studies point out that the antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties of citronella oil can be helpful in wound healing. It can speed up the process of wound healing, which can help people with diabetes. A study conducted in 2016 suggests that the anti-inflammatory and antifungal properties of citronella oil are helpful in diabetic patients who face difficulty with slow wound healing. But the research findings have certain limitations as it is conducted on animals.

  • Aiding weight loss

The effects of citronella oil on weight loss are yet not authentic as the research was done on rats. The research findings were thrilling as it showed significant results in weight loss by decreased food intake, lowered cholesterol, and slower weight gain. It needs more research to be authentic about citronella effects on weight loss in humans.

  • In aromatherapy

Two types of citronella oil are used in aromatherapy- java citronella oil, and Ceylon citronella oil. Among them, java is considered to be a better quality option. Certain studies suggest a decrease in blood pressure, respiratory and heart rate in people who inhaled citronella oil. It also suggests that citronella oil can help with fatigue and stress management. However, all of these findings lack authentic research support.

Citronella Oil Side Effects

There are always two sides to every coin! We have seen that citronella oil can be of many uses. However, not certain about the citronella oil side effects. Studies are still going on to find out the benefits and side effects of many natural oils such as citronella. You can consider using citronella oil in moderation if needed. Research and studies that back citronella use as of now lack scientific evidence. As of now, considering the research findings, toxicity is lower if you inhale or apply the oil over your skin.

Citronella oil should not be consumed internally. Internal consumption can result in health issues like stomach upset, cough, and throat irritation. Do not apply it to the eye as it can cause irritation and redness. It can also cause temporary opacity of the cornea, which is a mild condition that can reverse in a week. It is said that undiluted citronella can have adverse effects on the skin if applied. It can cause skin irritation and rapid heart rate (tachycardia) in some people. Excessive application of citronella oil can cause allergic reactions as well. If you are to opt aromatherapy using citronella oil, take necessary safety precautions. Pure citronella oil can result in nose and throat irritation if inhaled. It might also result in acute inflammation of the airways.

What to Watch Out?

There are no written guidelines to use citronella oil properly. If you want to save yourself from citronella oil side effects, here are some tips that might guide you in proper usage.

  • Do not apply pure citronella oil directly to the skin.
  • Mix pure citronella oil with any other neutral carrier oil in a ration of 1:1.
  • After use, wash it with soap and warm water.
  • Avoid excessive sun exposure after using the oil.
  • Do not use directly in aromatherapy. Take a tissue or a cloth to apply. You can also use a vaporizer or commercial diffuser.
  • Do not inhale the oil directly from the bottle.
  • Don't take it internally without medical supervision. Try maximum not to take the oil internally.


Citronella oil is widely accessible online and natural food stores. Availability can never assure quality. Here are a few things to consider while buying that can ensure quality.

  • Read the product label to ensure quality. Do not buy if there are added ingredients mentioned in the label.
  • Have a quick quality check before buying. Sometimes people sell it diluting with vegetable oil. See placing a drop on a piece of paper to find it. The product can be diluted if there is an oil circle developed around the droplet.
  • Do not fall for the fragrance. If you go behind the scent, you may end up buying citronella oil with added artificial aroma.
  • Keeping it in a plastic or clear glass bottle can lead to degrading if exposed to the sun. The ultraviolet effects can be oxidizing. So, it is vital to keep it in light-resistant glass bottles.

Some might say that Java citronella oil is a better version than the Ceylon essential oil. But there is no scientific evidence proving its effectiveness, except that one is a bit stronger. The oil is useful to treat minor cuts and scrapes as it contains methyl isoeugenol compounds. It can also help control body smells caused by bacteria. If you are to use citronella oil for cosmetic or other purposes, the best choice is to talk to your doctor. It is said that citronella side-effects can be alarming at times. Prevention is always better than cure.  


Dr. Julia Hermos is a member of the Gold Humanism Honor Society, an organization that seeks to develop doctors’ interpersonal skills and a Bariatric physician. She received her medical degree from the State University of Newyork. Dr. Hermos has a master’s degree in education and was a teacher for many years. Now she joined the Medical counsel team to provide effective communication through her articles and reviews. She encourages her patients to ask questions on their queries. So feel free to go through the articles in this blog and share your thoughts using the comment section available in all pages.

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