Smack! Smack! Scratch, scratch. Ah, the sounds of mosquito season…
While overseas travelers are concerned with potential serious results of
getting bitten, such as contracting Zika, West Nile, dengue or even malaria,
most of us just don’t want to sit around itching all season.
But what’s the best mosquito repellent? According to the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are four ingredients that
are effective in today’s products: DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon
eucalyptus and IR3535.
DEET, the most widely used bug bane, was developed by the U.S. military
in 1946. It developed a reputation as dangerous to humans, but recent
studies found no harmful effects of DEET when used on the skin, even in
pregnant women. However, it feels oily, has a pungent odor, and can melt
plastic, so may damage your gear, spandex clothing or even your sunglasses.
It is the most effective mosquito repellent, lasting as long as 13 hours.
Picaridin is the newest bug stopping product in the U.S., widely used across
Europe and Australia and available here since 2005. It is a synthetic
compound developed from a plant extract found in black pepper plants.
In recent tests,
Consumer Reports gave two products with picaridin top ratings for repelling mosquitos that
carry the Zika virus for eight full hours. It does not damage fabrics
Oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as PMD, is a chemical copy of oil produced
by the lemon eucalyptus tree. It is not an essential oil, although it
may be labeled “plant-based” or “botanical.” It
may cause a reaction on sensitive skin, but was found by
Consumer Reports testing to be effective for seven hours.
Finally, IR3535 has been used as an insect repellent in Europe for 20 years
with no substantial adverse effects, according to the EPA. A chemical
derived from an amino acid, it has been available in the U.S. since 1999.
Like DEET, it can damage plastics and synthetic fabrics, and can mar paint
or manicures, but is not harmful with ingested, inhaled or used on skin,
and repels mosquitos up to eight hours.
Spray repellents work faster than lotions, but lotions may have time-released
ingredients so offer longer protection. And, mixing bug repellent with
sunscreen may diminish the effectiveness of both, so the CDC recommends
putting on sunscreen first, then your bug bane. They don’t recommend
two-in-one products because they may result in higher than needed doses
Finally, if that can of bug spray is more than three years old, invest
in a new one, especially if it’s been exposed to extreme heat or
cold, which can reduce its effectiveness.