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Bug Off! A guide to choosing the best mosquito repellent

By July 29, 2019Well-being
An adult sprays bug spray on a girl's arm

Warm weather, long days, vacations, and barbecues — the summer season is an exciting time for most people. But, humans aren’t the only ones enjoying the summer, bugs are too!

Mosquitoes are particularly active during summer months, so it’s important to protect yourself and your family with a good repellent. Mosquito bites can be more than just annoying and itchy. They can spread dangerous diseases, such as the Zika virus, West Nile virus, Dengue Fever, and Yellow Fever.

Here’s a guide for choosing the best mosquito repellent to keep mosquitoes away, as well as how to use it to protect your skin:

What are the active ingredients in mosquito repellent?

Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recognize three major bug repellent ingredients: DEETpicaridin, and permethrin. This means these ingredients have been studied and deemed effective to get rid of insects with no serious side effects to humans or the environment.

DEET and picaridin insect repellents have shown the highest effectiveness at getting rid of insects, according to published studies. DEET is widely considered the stronger, more effective of the two, but picaridin is a close second and may cause less skin irritation on those individuals who have a reaction to DEET. These products can last from 4 to as long as 10 hours; check the label of your repellent to see the concentration and suggested length of use.

Permethrin is a long-lasting repellent that should not be directly applied to the skin. It is to be used on clothing, tents, and other outdoor gear.

Keep in mind that there are other options when it comes to protecting your skin with insect repellent. One less common ingredient approved by the EPA is oil of lemon eucalyptus. This alternative is plant-based, but it has been shown to be less effective than DEET, and should not be used on children ages 3 or younger due to potential skin irritation.

How should I apply mosquito repellent?


  • Do read the label for instructions for when, where, and how often to use the repellant
  • Do apply bug repellent only where it is needed, and when it is needed.

Do Not:

  • Do not apply repellent in the morning if you don’t intend to go outside until the afternoon.
  • Do not apply repellent on parts of your body that will be covered by clothing.
  • Do not reapply sooner than recommended on repellent instructions unless you have been heavily sweating, swimming, or if you’re starting to get bit. The original application is typically sufficient for the length of time advertised.
  • Do not apply bug spray before putting on lotion or sunscreen.
  • Do not apply bug repellent on skin with open wounds or sores, and do not apply near the eyes or mouth.

Can I use bug repellent on children?

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  • Repellents should not be used on infants younger than 2 months
  • DEET should not be used in a concentration greater than 30%
  • Test a small area of the child’s skin first to check for sensitive skin irritation


Mel Greiner

After working in communications at IBX for years, I'm no longer surprised to field questions from friends and family about how insurance works or the best ways to manage their health; I enjoy helping people understand how to live a healthier lifestyle. I'm also continually trying to apply that advice to my own home, scheduling exercise into my busy schedule and trying to convince my two young children to expand their food horizons. (Hint: Everything tastes better when in a smoothie.)