Inspect an insect repellent before buying
When choosing a mosquito repeller, first consider the primary active ingredient. Most pesticides used in bug repellents are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency, including DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Some protect against certain insects better than others, last for a longer duration, or can cause damage to other materials that you touch while they're on your skin. When comparing products with the same active ingredient, you can expect a highly concentrated product or slow-release formula to last longer. Products containing more than a 30 percent concentration of DEET aren't recommended for children, and experts say even natural products with oil of lemon eucalyptus aren't recommended for children under 3 years old.
Next, decide what type of product you want -- spray, lotion or wipe -- and smell it to see if it's something you can stand to wear for several hours. Sprays are fast to apply, but may require reapplying more frequently because they evaporate faster than lotions. Sprays can also be used on clothing, but should not be aimed at the face because they can irritate the eyes (instead, spray repellent on your palms, and then rub it into your face). Applying wipes or lotions can leave a greasy feel on the palms of the hands.
Experts offer the following tips for using bug repellent:
- Use caution when applying bug repeller to children. Wait until an infant is 2 months old before applying a DEET product, and never use a concentration of higher than 30 percent. Oil of lemon eucalyptus isn't recommended for children younger than 3 years old. Don't apply repellent to children's hands because they may put their fingers in their mouth or rub their eyes.
- Don't 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).
- Test any new bug repellent on a small area of skin first. The inside of the elbow is a good testing spot.
- Only apply to exposed skin, not underneath clothing. The ingredients in some bug repellents may damage synthetic fabrics.
- Don't apply insect repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
- Apply sunscreen before using bug repellent. A 2004 study conducted by University of Florida researchers determined that using DEET combined with sunscreen could increase DEET's skin absorption. If you need both sun protection and bug repellent, reviews 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 as well.