Which insect repellents provide the best protection?

Posted at 6:00 PM, Jul 07, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-07 18:26:49-04

To test repellents Consumer Reports enlists brave panelists to stick their arms cages filled with swarming mosquitoes. All disease-free, of course.

Consumer Reports looked at repellents with synthetic chemicals like DEET. As well as ones that contain picaridin and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus which mimic chemicals found in nature. And there were also plant based repellents labeled, “natural” with ingredients like citronella, lemongrass and cedar oils.

Your best protection against mosquito and tick-borne diseases like West Nile or Lyme is to avoid getting bitten in the first place; that’s why an effective insect repellent is so important. The good news is that you should only need one product to protect you against both insects. Our testing indicates that anything that protects you from mosquitoes should also protect you from ticks.

The best repellents protected for six and a half hours or more while the lowest scoring ones only lasted for two hours or less. Consumer Reports says it’s best to avoid the plant based, natural products.

The thing about “natural repellents” is that these products are not registered with the EPA. Because the agency deems the chemicals they contain to be of minimal safety risk, they don’t bother to evaluate them for safety or effectiveness. What that means is that the companies that make these products dare not required to prove to federal regulators that they work.

What did make a difference in the tests were the active chemical ingredients.

Out of a total of 25 products that we’ve tested, all of the ones that earned our recommendation contained one of just three different active ingredients - and each one at a limited range of concentrations: so  20-percent Picaridin, between 15 and 30-percent DEET, or 30-percent Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus.

Two products with DEET earned top scores - Total Home Woodland Scent Insect Repellent with 30-percent deet from CVS and this OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent.

If you want to skip the DEET this 5-dollar Repel Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus formula performed almost as well.

Or, consider a Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent with 20-percent Picaridin.