6 Insect Repellents Get High Marks

Consumer Reports Health Tests the Ability of Bug Repellents to Keep Insects at Bay

Medically Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on May 25, 2010

May 25, 2010 -- Consumer Reports Health has issued a new ranking of the six repellents it says are best to ward off mosquitoes and deer ticks.

The magazine says it tested 10 insect repellents in an outside laboratory, where volunteers let deer ticks crawl on them and also exposed themselves to mosquitoes.

Six of these repellents earned a "recommended" rating from Consumer Reports. These six repellents, along with their active ingredients and cost, are:

  • Off Deep Woods Sportsmen II; 30% DEET; cost: $1.25 an ounce.
  • Cutter Backwoods Unscented; 23% DEET; cost: $1.33 per ounce.
  • Off FamilyCare Smooth & Dry; 15% DEET; cost: $1.63 an ounce.
  • 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellant 8; 25% DEET; $1.67 per ounce.
  • Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus; active ingredient oil of lemon eucalyptus; cost: $1.94 an ounce.
  • Natrapel 8-Hour with picaridin; 20% picaridin; cost: $2.00 an ounce.

Others tested included:

  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard plus IR3535 Expedition SPF 30, active ingredient IR3535; cost: $3.50 per ounce.
  • Bite Blocker Xtreme (organic); Plant oils are listed as the active ingredient; cost: $1.34 per ounce.
  • Cutter Skinsations Clean Fresh Scent; 7% DEET; cost: $1.04 per ounce.
  • Burt's Bees All Natural Herbal; active ingredient plant oils; cost: $2.00 per ounce.

Consumer Reports Health says that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has judged DEET to be safe when used as directed, but that it has caused rare toxic reactions when not used as instructed. The EPA also says DEET shouldn't be applied to babies less than 2 months old.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised against using repellents with DEET concentrations higher than 30% on any kids. And Consumer Reports Health says no one should use a repellent with more than 30% DEET.

The top six repellents protected against deer ticks and mosquitoes for seven hours or more, Consumer Reports says in a news release.

Tips to Prevent Insect Bites

Though the bugs used in the evaluation were disease-free, mosquitoes in the U.S. can sometimes carry West Nile virus or St. Louis encephalitis, the magazine says.

And people who travel outside the U.S. might run into mosquitoes that carry malaria, yellow fever, or dengue fever. Ticks, it says, also can spread Lyme disease, human babesiosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

The magazine says people should follow directions and use their hands to apply the repellent to the face. It urges people to keep the repellent out of eyes, mouths, and cuts and to use just enough to cover exposed skin.

Though the labels of some repellents suggest the repellents can be used on clothes, most of the repellents tested damaged leather and vinyl, and some stained synthetic fabrics.

Consumer Reports recommends taking these steps for extra protection from insects:

  • Wear light-colored, loose clothes and avoid scented products when outdoors, especially from dusk to dawn, which is the peak feeding time for mosquitoes.
  • Remove areas of standing water near your house as they can be breeding areas for mosquitoes.
  • Wear closed shoes and a hat to avoid ticks. Tuck pants into socks.
  • Inspect your body after exploring wooded or grassy areas.

Consumer Reports points out that the CDC recommends that people avoid products that mix sunscreen with DEET insect repellent; sunscreens are meant to be used in plentiful amounts, which could expose people to high amounts of DEET.