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Skin Problems & Treatments Health Center

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Insect Repellents - Topic Overview


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.

How to use insect repellent safely

Read and follow all instructions on the label. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends the following precautions for using insect repellents:

  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin or clothing as directed on the product label. Do not use under clothing.
  • Never apply a repellent to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply to the eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around the ears. When using sprays, do not spray directly into your face. Spray on your hand first, and then apply to your face.
  • Do not allow your child to handle the product, and don't apply the repellent to your child's hands. When using a repellent on your child, apply it to your hands and then put it on the child.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas, such as inside a car. Avoid breathing a repellent spray, and do not use it near food.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing. Heavy application and saturation generally isn't necessary for effectiveness. If biting insects don't respond to a thin film, apply a bit more.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water and then bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or several days in a row. Also, wash treated clothing before you wear it again.
  • If you think you or your child may be having a reaction to an insect repellent, stop using the repellent, wash treated skin, and call your doctor or local poison control center. If you see your doctor, take the repellent with you.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 04, 2014
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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