Health Canada bans citronella

by John Biggs

dried citronella flakes

• For those of you relieved to have found natural products containing citronella that actually work to repel bugs – so you could avoid using Deet – you had better stock up. These products are in the process of being axed by Health Canada. Better yet, do something about it. Call your MP or protest directly to Health Canada or to the Health Minister.

The reason these safe citronella products are being ordered off the market – even as Deet has caused so many side effects and is still widely available – involves establishment manipulation of science. You see, citronella contains a substance called methyleugenol. When methyleugenol on its own was administered internally to mice – via a stomach tube – tumours arose at multiple sites. twelfth/profiles/Methyleugenol.pdf Oral administration and intraperitoneal injections in rats produced similar results. The conclusion that was reached and publicized right off the top is that methyleugenol is “Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” so citronella is being pulled based on “reasonable anticipation.” But there are problems with Health Canada’s rationale. Humans applying citronella oil to their skin is obviously not the equivalent of forcing oral ingestion of one of its isolated constituents into the stomachs of mice/rats or injecting it into their body cavities, (i.e. methyleugenol). In addition to the obvious reasons, when it comes to natural substances, the whole simply doesn’t equal the sum of the parts.

To illustrate this, consider a presentation given by Bruce Ames, PhD., at the Seventh International Symposium on Functional Medicine. Bruce Ames is the scientist who came up with the Ames Test for carcinogenicity. Using this test, you can take a compound and assess its potential to cause gene mutations and based on the outcome, you can determine how likely it is to cause cancer, or not. According to Dr. Ames, you have to be careful about drawing conclusions from this and he used fruits and vegetables to make this point. He noted that, if you take any fruit or vegetable and break it down into its constituent compounds and test them individually, invariably about half of them will cause cancer (i.e. test positive), yet fruits and vegetables themselves don’t cause cancer. They are, in fact, protective against cancer. Thus, the effect of the whole cannot be assessed from the parts and you definitely can’t draw direct conclusions from one constituent.

Likewise, you can’t draw accurate conclusions about citronella by testing isolated methyleugenol. But, of course, outcomes from the Ames test on methyleugenol are being used as evidence to withdraw citronella even though methyleugenol can be found in bananas, black pepper and bilberries and the EPA in the US considers citronella to be safe (

The amount of double-speak surrounding the issue is incredible. Even though topical preparations of citronella are being pulled and Canadian health stores have had product seized and verbal stop-sale warnings have been issued to suppliers, citronella’s addition to cigarettes is just fine because it doesn’t increase carcinogenicity. (See “toxicity” heading at this link: %B8%9D%E5%9C%8B%E8%8F%B8%E8%8D%89/057.pdf ). And when talking about Deet carcinogenicity, despite Swedish human studies showing that an increased rate of exposure increased testicular cancer,, the conclusion stated: “Interpret the results with caution” and “These data do not necessarily suggest that long-term use of DEET could cause testicular cancer.“ Also take a look at the “Health Effects in Humans” tab at this link where it states: “Case reports of toxicity from DEET exposure have been documented in the medical literature and range in severity from mild skin irritation to death.” Death! Or as reported on ABC’s Primetime Live segment on the issue: rashes, dizziness and seizures in adults and brain disorders, seizures and even (yes) death in children from Deet. See also

Compare this to the documented side effects for citronella; states, “Citronella oil seems to be safe for most people when applied to the skin as an insect repellent. However, it might cause skin allergies in some people.” &activeIngredientName=CITRONELLA%20OIL

Hmmm, skin allergies versus death for documented side effects – and the one that produces death is still on the market.

To approve a natural health product, Health Canada requires two human trials to approve its claim even if there is a mountain of test-tube evidence for one or more of its constituents. But to pull citronella, it is using “reasonable anticipation” that one of its constituents may pose a threat to humans. Of course, “may” automatically implies “may not” and there’s zero actual data that citronella is dangerous to humans.

But it doesn’t end there. Suppose you say, “OK, I won’t use citronella topically, I’ll just use it on patches stuck to my clothes, something many have found very effective.” Well, Health Canada is ordering these off the market as well. So I found it no coincidence when I recently saw a commercial for Johnson & Johnson’s OFF repellent clip-on device. Now, it is all starting to make sense.

Do you get the picture? The boom has come from above and multi-nationals/pharmaceutical companies have Health Canada in their back pocket. And the agency is only too willing to comply because after all, if we get another West-Nile scare, bug-repellent will be big business. Given methyleugenol’s presence in several other essential oils, such as rose, basil, anise and nutmeg to name a few, don’t be surprised if these also come under attack in the future. Once again, bureaucratic regulation based on a false premise of public protection is being used to make competition for the big boys illegal. Sound familiar? It’s happening to our supplements as well.

How far, as Canadians, are we willing to let this go, without holding our politicians and bureaucrats accountable? If this upsets you, do something about it. Call your government offices and let them know exactly how you feel, politely of course, and remember to request a response.

Find your MP using your postal code: HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

Contact the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health at 613-957-0200 by email:,
or write to:
The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, P.C., M.P.
Health Canada
Brooke Claxton Building, Tunney’s Pasture
Postal Locator: 0906C
Ottawa, Ontario, K1A 0K9

Contact Glenda Yeates, Deputy Minister of Health at 613-957-0212, or, or write to:
Deputy Minister’s Office
Health Canada
(See address above for the Health Minister)

John Biggs (BSc, NCP) is a nutritional consulting practitioner and the owner of Optimum Health Vitamins in Alberta.

photo © Food-micro

24 thoughts on “Health Canada bans citronella”

  1. I love how the Citronella candles read in small print on the front that it’s only for outdoor use only. Because of that I’m stuck with a citronella candle burning inside my office and after 20 mins I couldn’t take it any more and blew it out because my throat felt like it was becoming irratated.

  2. Shame on the vivisectors. STOP intentionally inflicting suffering on animals in laboratories, as they did with force feeding mice citronella.

  3. I very recently discovered that a previously undiagnosed allergy/sensitivity was causing my blood vessels to become inflamed (hypersensitivity vasculitis) leading to swelling (edema) of the surrounding tissues. So far, I have determined that the allergens/irritants that cause my immmune system to respond this way include hops (in beer), tobacco (took one puff once at a party and it literally knocked me on my ass), coffee (not caffeine, but something else in the beans), and lemon grass oil (in various herbal teas).

    Yesterday morning, for the first time in my life, I tried a stick of aluminum-free natural deodorant, and immediately noticed a burning sensation on my skin. Within a minute of applying it, I began to feel a tingling sensation in my lips, cheeks, and temples, so I ran to the bathroom to wash the stuff off with soap and water. As I was standing at the sink washing my right armpit, I started feeling lightheaded, so I jumped into the shower, lathered up both ‘pits with soap, and rinsed and repeated several times until the burning sensation on the skin had subsided.

    The lightheadedness passed within minutes of washing off the deodorant, but for several hours after that, I could track the progress of the allergen/irritant in my bloodstream, as everywhere it went in my body (and it went all over—it’s called the circulatory system for a reason), I could feel the blood vessels becoming inflamed and the surrounding tissues tingling, burning, and swelling. The swelling was more than just a sensation; my feet and legs puffed up visibly, as did my cheeks and neck, especially at the back, just below the base of the skull.

    Looking at the ingredients in the deodorant, I discovered that it not only contained “humulus lupulus (hops extract),” but also “cymbopogon flexuosis (oil).” As mentioned, hops are one of the substances I’d already determined to be a trigger for a vasculitis attack, but I’d never heard of cymbopogon flexuosis. Upon further investigation, I learned that cymbopogon flexuosis oil is another name for lemon grass oil, as is citronella.

    So there you have some strong anecdotal evidence that citronella can enter the bloodstream through the skin. Further evidence is the fact that lemon grass oil (also called “citronelle”) in herbal tea gives me a similar, but less extreme reaction. I know it is entering my bloodstream through my mouth, as the blood vessels in the roof of my mouth are the first to experience the effect.

    Of course, most people aren’t allergic or hypersenstive to the stuff like I am, but there is obviously something about it that has a very powerful effect on some people. Just look at this list of side effects from

    Lemongrass is LIKELY SAFE for most people when used in food amounts. It is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken by mouth or applied to the skin short-term for medicinal purposes. However, there have been some toxic side effects, such as lung problems after inhaling lemongrass and a fatal poisoning after a child swallowed a lemongrass oil-based insect repellent.

    Special Precautions & Warnings:
    Pregnancy and breast-feeding: It is LIKELY UNSAFE to take lemongrass by mouth during pregnancy. Lemongrass seems to be able to start menstrual flow, so there is a concern that it might cause a miscarriage.”

    Upon reading the above, I couldn’t help but think that, with my condition, if I had put any quantity of a citronella-based insect repellent in my mouth as a child, I would have died, too.

    A final point to ponder: Could it be that the reason citronella is so good at repelling bugs is that insects “know” something we haven’t figured out yet about its toxicity?

    • Lemongrass is not citronella, refer at Latin names.
      Example: apple includes thousands of different species. A common name isn’t relevant when talking toxicology.
      Lemongrass is specifically known to cause this type of allergic hyper reactions.not citronella.

  4. This is another example of stupidity. If the doctors at health Canada want to ban dangerous products they should start with cigarettes, as they contain Arsenic, and Cyanide among other chemicals. But will they? NO as they get money every time someone lights up on taxes. This means as long as the government is making dollars on a product it will be fine, as we warn you on the label. What a joke.

  5. Most citronelles do not contain the toxic chemical. Pesticide experts hired by Health Canada say that Citronelle is safe.

  6. What I don’t understand is they allow DEET and other products – for instance we had a wasp problem on my deck, so we purchased RAID’s “natural” wasp spray… Supposedly approved for indoor use and “safe”… Well I used it outside and I felt damn near paralyzed the next day… Sore throat, everything. I didn’t directly inhale anything, it wasn’t windy, I used it outside and I was SICK and shocked by the chemicals. That particular wasp spray was supposed to be safe because it was made from a type of “eugenol” or plant-derived oil [allegedly, they still add other chemicals and propellants to these “natural” used as a marketing term products], and that can say on the label that you may use inside but it is truly a horrible poison that no person should ever use… But it’s “a family” company and they’re allowed to sell it in every chain store.
    Citronella on the other hand, as bug spray, has never triggered my chemical sensitivities or made me feel sick… And I am very sensitive to everything. I can’t even eat non-organic strawberries because I’m afraid; many have too many chemicals and give me hives. And DEET, for the record, makes me feel dizzy and light-headed and thirsty, like I’m being poisoned slowly.

    So now they’re taking away my citronella? This is ridiculous! I suspect the government and the big businesses that want to keep everyone hooked on their chemical products are best friends. This government is disgracing us, putting the lock down on so many natural, effective and traditional solutions for things. SHAME ON THE CONSERVATIVES! Are those money-loving, power-hungry robots going to take away everything good? It seems to me they’re working on it. They want us all using the same big brand everything, as they sell us and our energy off to the highest bidders [US, China]. This government is not fit to govern.
    ALCOHOL IS CARCINOGENIC, NO? TOO MUCH BARBEQUED FOOD IS CARCINOGENIC, NO? What will you ban next? Provide us with science if you want, but it is our bodies, and at the end of the day, this government allows businesses to sell us cigarettes, alcohol and imported meat [possibly one day CLONED meat, shudder, I hope not; but the legislation hasn’t caught up to these realities and if the business is big enough, the government will likely allow it to be sold unlabelled]… But they have time to demonize citronella? WTF

  7. When Health Canada can ban the sale of topically applied citronella-based sprays as insect repellents on the basis carcinogenicity in rats resulting from oral ingestion of methyleugenol, their scientific competence must be called into serious question. Unless Health Canada can demonstrate that citronella-based sprays produce tumors from topical application, it is difficult to see how they could reasonably justify the ban.

    “Studies on rodents showed that minimal ME within a dose range of 1–10 mg/kg body weight, which is about 100–1000 times the anticipated human exposure to ME as a result of spiced and/or flavored food consumption, did not pose a significant cancer risk (Smith et al. 2002). Further, toxicological studies in animals demonstrated that orally administered relatively high bolus doses of ME resulted in hepatic neoplasms. Nevertheless, the detected level of ME in biomonitoring studies indicated that human exposure was several orders of magnitude lower than the lowest dose utilized in the bioassay (Robinson and Barr, 2006).” Tan KH, Nishida R. J Insect Sci. 2012;12:56. doi: 10.1673/031.012.5601.

    • Why doesn’t anyone give mice an equivalent dose of Deet to ingest and see what happens if this test is so accurate?

  8. I think Citronella, nutmeg and the rest are obviously great products, strong enough to heal people, Ya thanks so called health canada, we all need deet and other crap. Citronella also heals skin rashes, but wait we need pharmaceuticals right.

  9. Hi all!

    There is a product that I found that works way better and lasts longer than any citronella or deet product I have ever used.
    It is called the Insect Defend Patch. It is all natural and contains 100% vitamin B1 (Thiamine), it lasts up to 36 hours and is waterproof.
    I love this product and refuse to use anything else…Especially products that are either frowned upon by Health Canada, or in the process of being removed from the shelves…

    Here is more information on the hazards of deet, as well as the Insect Defend Patch…

  10. I think its fabulous that Health Canada is taking some responsibility and removing this potentially cancerous, I repeat CANCEROUS product from the market. I am willing to bet that this post has been funded by Citronella itself. I think everyone can agree the less chemicals we are breathing and smearing onto our skin (the largest organ in your body), the better. There are PLENTY of alternative bug repellents, including citrus,burning all kinds of evergreen trees, and using mosquito netting. Thanks for the concern, but I’ll stick with Health Canada on this one.

    • dear happy camper, what evidence do you have that citronella DOES cause cancer?
      please share your knowledge with our readers

      • Stop talking about evidence !! Science has limited knowledge and has probably not even 5% of reality. And educated fools talk about science!

        To top it all, there is a strong business motive to all facts and evidences than reality.

        Go back to nature – there’s nothing like it. Dont ban Citronella anywhere! And STOP TROUBLING POOR LITTLE MICE!

        • The potential of oil of citronella to cause cancer has not been studied. However, studies have shown that oil of citronella does not alter or damage genes. Geraniol, a major component of oil of citronella, has been observed in several studies to reduce the growth of some cancers. In another study, large doses of some minor components of oil of citronella were fed to rodents five times per week for two years. There was no evidence of increased cancer rates. However, methyleugenol, a minor component of oil of citronella, is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It has caused the development of tumors in mice.

    • Yes lets let Health Canada, whom is just one of areas of government that are in the back pocket of Big Corps who have a lot to loose if natural plants, vegetables and fruits can really facilitate healing in humans decide for us… YA REALLY I am going to give my power away to anyone except myself… NOT!!! I will decide what I want to use on my body, in my body and around my body, NOT HEALTH CANADA.. who isn’t real anyway!!!

    • Happy camper, if you’re not being facetious, you’re either a moron or upper management of a big chemical company.


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