Consumers who prefer to avoid chemicals like DEET should consider plant-based repellents that are non-toxic yet still effective. However, experts say nothing works as well as DEET, which is deemed safe even for kids as long as it's used properly.
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus (Est. $9 for 4 oz.) , which uses oil of lemon eucalyptus to stop mosquitoes, ticks, flies, no-see-ums (small biting flies) and gnats, is the clear winner in this category. It's one of the few plant-based products that receives glowing reviews from consumers and performed well in a professional test, which tested 10 repellents and rated the spray 97 out of 100 for repelling mosquitoes and ticks for more than eight hours. Out of a handful of natural products, it was the only plant-based repellent recommended by this expert.
The downside? You should only apply it twice a day, and, like many of its bug repellent competitors, some people say it stinks. Scent is relative, however; while few of the insect repellents are neutral, for every negative remark on a product's odor there's another countering that it's perfectly fine.
Users are generally satisfied with this product as a whole. One Amazon.com reviewer says, "It works every bit as well as, if not better than, the common deet-containing sprays, but it smells a LOT better, plus you don't have to worry about inhaling the overspray, or getting it onto your hands and therefore inevitably into your mouth, etc."
Another excellent product is Buzz Away Extreme (Est. $10 for 4 oz.) , which uses a combination of soy, citronella, geranium, castor and other oils to repel mosquitoes, gnats, flies, fleas and ticks. Reviewers are especially impressed by its ability to ward off ticks, and it has a less powerful scent than Repel. It requires reapplication every few hours and should only be used on kids one year and up.
Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent (Est. $8 for 4 oz.) is another popular choice, though many say that while it repels mosquitoes well, it attracts bees and some other insects. The scent isn't neutral, but it it's not offensive. "It has no nasty chemical smell, like other repellents," says one Amazon.com reviewer.
Of these three products Burt's Bees gets complaints for being greasy. There aren't any complaints about the feel of Repel, and Buzz Away isn't very greasy at all. Though all of these are "sprays," users complain that Repel and Burt's Bees can make a mess. "It does not spray a mist at all, it is a stream and if you are not prepared, will be a huge mess," one Amazon.com user says of Burt's Bees.
To be sure, even when using natural bug repellents you'll need to check the label for precautions on how to handle the product and whether it's appropriate for babies and toddlers. Even though they're plant-based, some are harmful if swallowed and can hurt your eyes or irritate your skin, so you may need to use caution when applying products on your face and wash your hands afterward.