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Best Insect Repellent

By: Amy Livingston on April 20, 2017

Editor's Note:
If mosquitos, ticks and other insect pests are bugging you, our research finds that OFF! Deep Woods VIII can keep you from being eaten alive. If its key ingredient, DEET, is a turn off, we also name some alternatives that work nearly as well for adults and even young kids.

Off! Deep Woods VIII Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Key ingredient – DEET, 25% Protection duration -- 8 hours Effective against -- Mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers

Best mosquito repellent

DEET is one of the most effective mosquito-repelling chemicals on the market, and no DEET-based formula performs as consistently well as OFF! Deep Woods VIII. It's among the top performers in two laboratory tests, keeping mosquitoes and ticks at bay for hours. Users generally agree that the product is effective and easy to use, and they like that it doesn't feel greasy like other DEET-based products.

Buy for $13.09
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Key ingredient – Lemon eucalyptus oil, 30% Protection duration – 6 hours Effective against -- Mosquitoes, ticks, fleas

Best natural insect repellent

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus uses a plant-based insect repellent -- oil of lemon eucalyptus -- to effectively chase away mosquitos and other biting insects. It does well in expert testing, and draws generally strong user reviews. The active ingredient is considered to be less toxic than DEET, and is easier on clothes and gear, but shouldn't be used on children younger than three.

Buy for $15.00
Sawyer Picaridin Review
Best Reviewed
Specs that Matter Key ingredient – Picaridin, 20% Protection duration – 8 to 14 hours Effective against -- Mosquitoes, deer ticks, flies, chiggers, and no-see-ums

Best insect repellent for kids

Sawyer Picaridin is a bug repellent that's highly effective, yet safe enough for even young children. Its active ingredient, picaridin, has low toxicity and works well in expert testing. In addition to mosquitos, Sawyer Picaridin does a good job of repelling ticks, flies, chiggers, and no-see-ums. Also, unlike many insect repellents, it has no offensive odor or greasy feel.

Buy for $7.19

Types of Insect Repellent

Mosquito Repellents With DEET

Experts say that bug sprays with DEET are the most effective option to repel mosquitoes and ticks. They don't do much against other biting insects, such as black flies, fleas, and mites, but those insects usually don't carry potentially fatal diseases. However, some question DEET's safety, especially when it comes to use by young children, and don't like its smell or feel. In addition, DEET can melt through plastics and damage fabric, leather, and painted surfaces.

Natural Insect Repellents

Most so-called "natural" bug sprays and repellents use oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is actually a synthetic chemical that's made from extracts of eucalyptus plants. Be that as it may, in tests, products containing 30 percent lemon eucalyptus oil are effective at repelling mosquitoes and ticks, and reviewers say these products can repel other insects as well. Although it has fewer side effects than DEET, oil of lemon eucalyptus bug repellents are not approved for use in children under 3 years old.

Insect Repellents For Kids

Experts say that among bug repellents that actually work, those containing picaridin are the safest to use on children, even those as young as two months. Products containing 20 percent picaridin do a good job of repelling mosquitoes and ticks in independent testing. Users also find these products effective against other insects, such as flies, chiggers, and no-see-ums. Experts say picaridin is safe for children of all ages; its only known side effects are skin irritation, which is very rare, and eye irritation, but it can damage fabric and leather.

Fighting back against bugs that bite

For many years, people seeking protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs faced a dilemma. The only truly effective insect repellents contained DEET – a chemical that has raised some concerns about its safety.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has repeatedly reviewed DEET and concluded that it's safe for both adults and children, so long as it's used correctly. However, not all experts agree, especially when it comes to youngsters. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics says DEET shouldn't be used on babies under 2 months old, and products with more than 30 percent DEET shouldn't be used on children at all. Canada's federal health department is even more cautious: it recommends that children between 6 months and 12 years old should avoid products with more than 10 percent DEET. It says to avoid using DEET on children under 6 months or on older children for more than 30 days running.

Until recently, this left concerned parents with no good ways to protect their kids from mosquitoes and ticks – or from the diseases they carry. Today, however, consumers have far more options.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recognizes several mosquito-repelling ingredients as effective weapons in the war against malaria, West Nile, Lyme disease, and other insect-borne diseases. In addition to DEET, there are three other chemicals – oil of lemon eucalyptus, picaridin, and IR3535 – recommended for use on both skin and clothing.

In this report, we review insect repellents that contain Deet, oil of lemon eucalyptus and picaridin. There aren't that many bug repellents containing IR3535 as their primary ingredient, and the few that have been included in professional tests weren't among the top performers. We also don't cover products with another chemical, permethrin, which can be applied to clothing and camping gear to both repel and kill insects, but shouldn't be applied to skin.

It's also possible to buy truly all-natural insect and mosquito repellents, which rely solely on natural oils like citronella, geranium, and soybean to repel bugs. Many users like them because they're gentle and mild-smelling, but unfortunately, most of them don't perform very well in professional tests or, at best, need to be re-applied very often to be effective. If you want to give one of these a try, we name a couple of choices in our sections on the best natural insect repellents and the best insect repellents for kids.

Finding The Best Insect Repellent
Our Sources
"Insect repellents"
"Efficacy of Some Wearable Devices Compared with Spray-On Insect Repellents for the Yellow Fever Mosquito, Aedes aegypti (L.) (Diptera: Culicidae)"
"The Efficacy of Some Commercially Available Insect Repellents for Aedes aegypti (Diptera: Culicidae) and Aedes albopictus (Diptera: Culicidae)"

To find the best mosquito and other bug repellents, we looked first at laboratory tests conducted by ConsumerReports.org and the Journal of Insect Science, which show how long different products can protect against mosquitoes and ticks. Then we examined background information from the EPA and the CDC to evaluate the safety of different bug-repelling ingredients.

We also looked at reviews from actual users at retail sites like Amazon.com and REI.com. These helped fill in the details on how bug sprays work in real-life conditions – how they feel, how they smell, and whether people experienced side effects after using them. Based on all this information, we offer our picks for the best insect repellents with DEET, the best natural insect repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus, and the best choices for kids.

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What every best Insect Repellent has:

  • Effective ingredients.
  • Long-lasting protection.
  • Safety.

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