Insect Repellent: Ratings of Sources
Consumer Reports evaluates 15 insect repellants by putting testers' treated arms into a cage filled with mosquitoes and counting the number of bites they got every five minutes. They also tested against ticks by placing five uninfected ticks on the tester's arm to see how many would enter the treated area. Five products, with a variety of active ingredients, perform well enough to earn recommendations.
A team of scientists tests seven commercial mosquito repellents, along with two fragrances and a vitamin B patch, by releasing mosquitoes into a sealed chamber with a tester's treated hand. Products with DEET are generally the most effective, but one spray containing lemon eucalyptus oil is also a top performer. The vitamin B patch had no effect at all.
Cathy Wong, a naturopathic doctor, sums up the evidence on several natural mosquito-repelling ingredients. She says lemon eucalyptus oil is both safe and effective, noting that Repel Lemon Eucalyptus trumps DEET-based sprays in multiple studies. Bite Blocker, with geranium oil, also beats some DEET-based products in studies. Wong says most other natural insect repellants, such as citronella, don't have enough evidence yet to support their use.
Annie B. Bond, Good Housekeeping's natural health expert, offers her recommendations for natural insect repellents, both commercial and homemade. She names Bite Blocker Herbal, Buzz Away Extreme, and California Baby Natural Bug Blend, but she doesn't cite any tests or explain why she prefers these products to other natural mosquito repellants.
Amazon.com offers thousands of products to repel mosquitoes and other insects, but it's difficult to sort out the sprays and creams from items like wristbands and electronic traps that experts say are unlikely to work. Still, the effort is worthwhile as most of the top rated mosquito repellents are listed, and many get enough feedback -- hundreds of reviews in some cases -- to be meaningful.
The outdoor gear retailer REI.com sells a variety of bug repellents for extended outdoor activities. In addition to rating these products, many REI reviewers include valuable insights as to how they perform in more rugged environments. However, only a handful or products earn high ratings from more than 25 users.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency provides information about the safety and effectiveness of all the chemicals it approves as insect repellents, including DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. The site also has a searchable guide for finding products to repel mosquitoes, ticks, or both, based on their active ingredients and how long they can be expected to last. However, this information comes from the manufacturers, not from unbiased comparison tests.
This article from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identifies effective mosquito repellents and explains how to use them safely. It says the only ingredients currently recognized as effective are DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. All are said to be safe for people of all ages except for oil of lemon eucalyptus, which should not be used on children under 3.
This slideshow from Parents.com covers ingredients in kid-safe insect repellants and how to use them. It endorses several specific products, including Bite Blocker, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, and EcoSmart Organic, but it doesn't appear that Parents.com has actually tested any of them.
There are over 60 items in the insect repellent category at Drugstore.com, though some of them are different sizes or formulas of the same product. However, only a few of these have substantial user feedback. We found five mosquito repellents with overall ratings of at least 4 stars from 25 users or more. The site provides a helpful summary of the most commonly cited pros and cons for each product.
In this older article, health reporter Martin Downs speaks with experts and examines medical literature to explain how mosquito repellents work and which ingredients are most likely to be safe and effective. He also notes that a repellant only works if it's applied directly to the skin.