If you’re planning to spend any time outdoors this summer, you need to know the most effective insect repellents to help keep you and your family safe. Every year, it seems that the bugs we encounter become bigger, scarier, and the problems they can cause from a bite become worse than the year before. That’s why it’s so essential to know what kinds of insect repellents actually work and which ones you should leave sitting on the shelf at the drug store.
Most insect repellents help to protect against ticks and mosquitoes, and in many cases, these are the most common disease carriers. Mosquitoes can carry West Nile Virus, and a type of mosquito that is new to the US, called the Asian Tiger mosquito, has the potential to carry and transmit 20 different types of diseases. There is also the St. Louis encephalitis and that is just in the US. In other countries, these flying, buzzing, biting bugs can expose people to yellow fever, malaria and dengue fever.
Ticks often spread human babesiosis; Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and Lyme disease.
Consumer Reports tested different types of insect repellents and found that several of them helped to protect against deer ticks, as well as two of the commonly found mosquitoes for eight hours or longer. They also found that four of those tested, including Cutter Backwoods Unscented, Off Deep Woods Sportsmen II, 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent 8 and Off FamilyCare Smooth & Dry, have different levels of deet in them.
Some insect repellents contain the active ingredient lemon eucalyptus, which may be safer, but it is not recommended for children under the age of three. Another effective ingredient in insect repellents is picaridin. Natrapel 8-hour with picaridin is almost as effective as the repellents containing deet.
Since many of these products are almost equally effective, it will likely come down to the way that these products smell and feel. For instance, Off Deep Woods smells sort of like citrus fruit, and it leaves a residue. Cutter Backwoods seems to have very little fragrance and minimal residue. Natrapel smells like flowers and some report that it feels a bit greasy. The 3M Ultrathon smells strong and leaves the skin feeling oily.
There are some problems with the ingredients in some of these repellents. According to the EPA, deet is safe when used the way it’s directed, but if misused, it has been known to cause toxic reactions. Infants that are less than 2 months old should not use them. According to the American Academy of Pedicatrics, no repellents with over 30 percent deet should be used on children.
It is also noteworthy that the CDC recommends that products that contain deet and sunscreen should not be used. This is due to the fact that sunscreens are meant to be applied often, and a lot of it used, but applying too much deet to the body is not advisable.
The bottom line is that insect repellents that contain deet are extremely effective, but can be harmful in other ways. So it might be safer; and equally effective, to apply repellents with other active ingredients more often.