Using bug spray is one of the best defences we have right now against bug bites — as well as certain diseases like Zika.
The virus is spread by aggressive mosquitoes that bite during the day, and in addition to wearing long sleeves and pants, or staying inside, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommends anyone over two months old should use insect repellent in areas where mosquitoes are present.
Consumer Reports recently came out with its annual bug spray buying guide, and found that only three ingredients are effective at warding off mosquitoes for at least seven hours. Roughly in order of effectiveness, those ingredients are: DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
Their findings are backed up by academic research too, which tends to show that DEET — which when used normally “does not present a health concern to the general population, including children” — is the most effective.
But it’s crucial to buy the right concentration of these ingredients, CR notes, since lower percentages of these ingredients did not do well. The effective concentrations are:
- 15% to 30% DEET
- 20% picaridin
- 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus (But the CDC says you shouldn’t use this ingredient on kids under three years old.)
Products marked “natural” or with active ingredients other than these three were not effective at protecting people from mosquito bites, according to CR. (They’re also not necessarily safe.) Combination sunscreen-bug sprays didn’t work, either. And they actually had people stick their arms in mosquito chambers to test them out.
The most effective product CR tested was Sawyer Picaridin, which had 20% picaridin and protected against mosquitoes for eight hours. The runners-up were Ben’s 30% Deet Tick & Insect Wilderness Formula and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus. (You can see the rest of their six recommended bug sprays here.)
Your protection can also depend on how you apply the bug spray. Don’t spray it under your clothes, use your hands to transfer it to your face, and put it on top of sunscreen, advises the CDC.
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