What the best insect
ingredients. Most pesticides
used in bug repellents are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), including DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus. The CDC
recommends these four ingredients as the most effective for repelling
disease-carrying mosquitoes. Natural products with ingredients such as
citronella or geranium oils don't tend to work as well, if they work at all.
protection. Unless you only
plan on being outside for a few hours, and aren't in an area heavily infested
with ticks and mosquitoes, consider buying a longer lasting bug repellent so
that you don't have to reapply it constantly. In general, the higher the dosage
of the product's active ingredient, the longer it will last. However, that's
only true up to a point. For instance, experts say DEET's effectiveness levels
off at about 30 percent, so products with more than that are only useful if
it's raining or you're sweating heavily.
- Safety. All of the insect repellants in this
report use ingredients that the EPA has deemed to be effective and safe -- when
used as directed. However, care should be taken to avoid over use, and if you
have younger children. Keep in mind, products containing more than a 30 percent
concentration of DEET aren't recommended for children under 12, and experts say
even natural products with oil of lemon eucalyptus aren't recommended for
children under 3 years old. One way to minimize your exposure to risky
ingredients is to choose a product with a slow-release formula, which makes a
less concentrated product last longer.
formulas and scents. A product
can't protect you from bugs if it smells or feels so awful you can't stand to
wear it. Unfortunately, insect
repellents with effective ingredients, like DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus,
often have a strong smell and a sticky or greasy feel. If you know strong
smells bother you, consider a product with picaridin, which has very little
odor. If possible, test a product before using it to make sure you can tolerate
Know before you go
Do you need wide-ranging or targeted
bug protection? Some insect
repellents only work on mosquitoes, while others can repel a wider range of
insects, such as flies, chiggers, and biting gnats. If you're heading to an
area where Lyme disease is prevalent, look for a product that repels deer ticks.
Spray, lotion or wipe? Sprays are easier to apply than
lotions, but may need to be reapplied more often because they evaporate faster.
Sprays can also be used on clothing, but you need to take care not to aim them
at your face because they can irritate the eyes (instead, spray repellent on
your palms, and then rub it onto your face). Applying wipes or lotions can
leave a greasy feel on the palms of the hands. As for insect-repelling
wristbands, don't even bother; according to ConsumerReports.org, they
don't deter mosquitoes at all.
How does it smell to you? Different people react very
differently to the same scent. For instance, some reviewers say products with
oil of lemon eucalyptus have a pleasant herbal scent, while others describe
them as nauseating. It's best to get a good whiff of any repellent before you
buy it and make sure it's something you can stand to wear for several hours.
What are you wearing and
carrying? One problem with
insect repellents containing DEET is that they can eat right through certain
plastics and synthetic materials, such as vinyl. Several reviewers complain
about having clothing and expensive gear damaged by spilled insect repellent.
Products with picaridin can also damage cloth, leather, and vinyl. Oil of lemon
eucalyptus and other natural oils are the least destructive.
Are you buying for children of
different ages? Your first
thought might be to go for a "natural" repellent for young children,
but that's not always the wisest choice. Products with picaridin and even lower
concentrations of DEET are considered safe for children as young as two months,
while those with "natural" oil of lemon eucalyptus aren't safe for
children under three. Make sure any repellent you go for is suitable for all
caution when applying bug repellent to children. Although most insect repellents are safe for
children to use, small children shouldn't apply it themselves. Instead,
apply it to your own hands and rub it on. Don't apply too much on
children's hands, since they might rub their eyes or put their fingers in
spray aerosols in an enclosed area or near the face. Instead, spray the bug repellent in a
well-ventilated area onto your hands, and then rub it gently onto the face
(avoiding areas near your eyes and mouth, and going easy around your
ears). Wash your hands thoroughly as soon as you're done applying the product.
Also, never spritz bug spray around anywhere near food.
your skin and clothing. Don't
apply mosquito repellent over
cuts, wounds or irritated skin. If you're using a new bug
repellent, test it first on a small area of skin, such as the inside of
the elbow, to make sure it doesn't give you a rash. Since the ingredients in some bug repellents
may damage synthetic fabrics, apply them only to exposed skin, not underneath clothing.
- Apply sunscreen before using bug
repellent. If you need both sun protection and bug repellent, experts
say you should apply sunscreen first, wait for it to dry, then apply
repellent. For sunscreen suggestions, see our separate report on sunscreens.
- Wash DEET-treated skin with soap
and water after returning indoors. Remove and wash treated clothing
in a separate load before wearing it again.