When it comes to keeping mosquitoes and ticks away, health officials say the first line of defense is an insect repellent containing DEET. However, experts also say exposure to the chemical should be limited and recommend washing off any DEET-laden insect repellent as soon as possible after you're done outside.
Reviews note that you can minimize DEET absorption by using a controlled-release DEET bug repellent. Among such insect repellents, 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent 8, with 25 percent DEET, contains less of the chemical than competitors but is just as effective in tests. 3M Ultrathon was the first controlled-release product to emerge on the insect repellent market and is primarily sold at specialty retailers of outdoor gear. This waterproof and sweat-proof formula was developed for the U.S. military and is still used by troops today.
The manufacturer claims 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent 12 Lotion lasts for up to 12 hours and repels mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, gnats and fleas. Editors at Which? magazine in the U.K. found it to last seven hours, which is still longer than any of the other 18 insect repellents tested. It also outperformed 15 other insect repellents (including Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent) tested on a single test subject Backpacker magazine with an effectiveness of six hours. 3M Ultrathon also has lower-DEET concentrated aerosol and pump sprays offering between three and eight hours of protection.
Controlled-release products encapsulate DEET in a polymer so it doesn't penetrate the skin as quickly. Instead, the DEET stays on the skin's surface. Another plus: Slow-release products don't use alcohol. Alcohol opens the pores of the skin and creates more exposure to the DEET; people with sensitive skin may experience an adverse reaction to the alcohol. While reviewers testing controlled-release bug repellents find that they don't necessarily extend the protection time against bites, experts confirm that these products serve to minimize your exposure to DEET.
Off! FamilyCare Insect Repellent Smooth and Dry (Est. $5 for 4 oz.) is comparable to 3M Ultrathon, lasting up to eight hours, according to reviewers. For users who'd like to use a lower concentration of DEET, Off! FamilyCare is an effective option. It contains 15 percent DEET and works well in mosquito-infested areas.
Most bug repellents have some sort of scent (good and bad), but FamilyCare's scent is described as fruity, while Ultrathon is said to have no scent. In terms of skin feel, Ultrathon is a greasy lotion and FamilyCare comes in an aerosol can and dries quickly.
Both 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent 12 and Off! FamilyCare Insect Repellent Smooth and Dry are effective at repelling bugs, but we've named Ultrathon our Best Reviewed pick because it performed exceptionally well in expert testing and is well reviewed by users.