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Insect Repellents - Topic Overview

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Products that work the best continued...

Picaridin is an insecticide that has been available for use in Europe for many years. It is available in the United States in a 7% concentration spray. It may work as well as DEET in repelling insects. Higher-strength concentrations that are sold in Europe protect against mosquitoes for up to 8 hours. Picaridin is odorless and does not feel sticky or greasy. It is less likely to cause skin irritation than DEET. And it does not damage synthetic fabrics or plastics. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not recommend the use of Picaridin on children younger than age 2 months.

Permethrin is a plant-based insecticide that works on contact. You spray it on clothing and other fabrics, such as mosquito netting and tent walls. Permethrin should not be applied directly to the skin. When it is combined with DEET, permethrin provides even better protection against mosquitoes. Permethrin keeps working even after you wash your clothes. You can buy clothes that already contain permethrin (such as BugsAway, Bug Shield, or Buzz Off) to help protect against mosquito bites.

P-menthane-3,8-diol. This insect repellent is commonly known as lemon eucalyptus oil. When oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the U.S., it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET. It provides up to 2 hours of protection against mosquito bites. Do not apply more than 2 times a day. And do not use this product on children younger than 3 years.

Soybean oil. Insect repellents that contain 2% soybean oil provide 1 to 4 hours of protection from mosquitoes when applied to the skin. Soybean oil is safe to use on infants and children.

IR3535. This repellent is a chemical similar to the amino acid alanine. Tests have shown that it can protect against mosquito bites for up to 1 hour.1

Products that don't protect against bites for long periods of time

Citronella is a lemon-scented oil, derived from a plant, that repels mosquitoes. It is not as effective or as long-lasting as DEET. The product can be reapplied frequently to increase its effectiveness. Citronella can be found in lotions or in candles for outdoor use. Citronella applied to the skin provides 15 to 20 minutes of protection from mosquitoes. There is no scientific evidence that citronella candles are effective.

Other plant oils. Other plant oils, such as lavender and geranium, provide less than 30 minutes of protection against mosquitoes. These products aren't recommended.

Products sold as repellents that don't work well to prevent bites

There are other products advertised as mosquito repellents that don't effectively prevent mosquito bites. These include:

  • Electronic (sometimes called ultrasonic) devices.
  • Electrocuting devices, which are often called "bug zappers."
  • Mosquito traps.
  • Geranium house plants.
  • Citronella candles.
  • Taking thiamine (vitamin B1) supplements.
  • Skin moisturizers that don't contain approved insect repellents.
  • Wrist, ankle, and neck bands that contain repellents, such as DEET or citronella.
1 | 2 | 3

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 20, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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