Whether you’re planning an international trip, going for a hike, or simply enjoying the outdoors, being in nature means sharing space with bugs, insects and nature’s other critters.  With concerns over tick and mosquito borne illnesses growing, it’s important to take the proper precautions when outdoors to minimize your risks. While no one bug repellent is 100% effective, some repellents are better than others.Also, to ensure maximum protection, it is recommended that you chose products made with active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency. See more tips below on preventing bug bits, information on common active ingredients used in repellents, and other helpful tips to help keep you healthy, active and safe this summer.

Lifestyle Tips

  • Cover Up – with long-sleeved shirts and pants when weather permits.
  • Keep The Bugs Out –by using screens on open windows and doors.
  • Use Nets Or Fans – over outdoor eating areas.
  • Use Air Conditioning – over opening windows and doors.
  • Maintain The Outside Of Your Home
    • Once a week empty, scrub, turn over, or throw away any items that may hold water such as tires, buckets, planters, toys, birdbaths, flowerpot saucers or trash containers
    • Repair cracks or gaps on septic tanks if you have one.
  • Avoid Active Times – for mosquitoes such as sunrise, sunset and early in the evening.
  • Use A Mosquito Bed Net – when camping or traveling to disease endemic areas.
  • Wear Insect Repellent ­– whenever possible.

Chemical Repellents

  • DEET
    • DEET is the most common mosquito and tick repellent on the market. According to the EWG, “if used as directed, DEET is considered safe by many public health organizations; however they urge users to use DEET with caution as it is known to irritate the eyes and intense doses may induce neurological damage and in rare cases impair the nervous system.According to the EPA, “it is used to control biting flies, biting midges, black flies, chiggers, deer flies, fleas, gnats, horse flies, mosquitoes, no-see-ums, sand flies, small flying insects, stable flies, and ticks.” In general DEET at a concentration of less than 10% can provide roughly 1-2 hours of protection, while a 20-30% concentration may give you all day protection.
  • Picaridin
    • Picaridin is a synthetic compound first made in the 1980s and was approved for sale in the US in 2005. In efficacy testing,picaridin has been shown to be as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes. According the EWG, “picaridin may have a safer risk profile than DEET, is odorless, does not melt plastic and is non-irritating.”According to the EPA,“target pests for this repellent include biting flies, mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks and fleas.”In general, a 5-10% concentration of picaridin can provide short term (1-4 hours) protection while 20% picardin may provide all-day protection.
  • IR3535
    • Developed by Merk and Co in the mid 1970’s, IR3535 became registered for use in the U.S. in 1999. According to the EPA, “this active ingredient may be used to repel mosquitoes, deer ticks, body lice and biting flies.” It has been used in Europe for the last 20 years with no substantial adverse effects; however, it may be a serious eye irritant. In general, a 20% concentration can provide 8 hours of mosquito protection and 6 to 12 hours of tick protection.

Natural/Botanical Based Repellents

These repellents may be worth trying if bug borne diseases are not known to be a problem in the area you are traveling or exploring.

  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (PMD)
    • This is the common name of one of the natural oils extracted from the leaves and twigs of the lemon-scented eucalyptus plant. This is the only botanically-derived ingredient the CDC recommends for use as a pesticide. It is important to note that PMD is very different than unprocessed eucalyptus tree oil which has not been studied for protection against mosquitoes. Some studies have concluded that 26% oil of lemon eucalyptus has greater protection than 10% DEET and as well as 15-20% DEET.
  • Soybean Oil
    • Soybean oil is a non-EPA registered repellent that may have low toxicity. A comparative study of insect repellents found that a soybean-oil based repellents protected against mosquito bites for an average of 94.6 minutes, similar to the lowest concentration of DEET tested.
  • Citronella
    • Citronella is one of the most commonly used natural repellents on the market today. There have been relatively few studies that have shown products containing citronella to have any significant repellent effect. While generally considered safe, higher concentrations can cause skin sensitivity. In general, a concentration of 4.2% provides around 1 hour of mosquito and tick protection.
  • Other Botanicals
    • There has been limited research conducted on other botanicals formulas commonly seen on the market and the effectiveness of these formulas vary. For instance, select geranium oil and soy bean oil mixtures have shown to provide some lasting bug protection while neem oil research has shown contrasting findings. Because of the contrasting findings, neem oil is not recommended as an effective repellent for individuals who are traveling to disease endemic areas. Commonly used essential oils such as peppermint, lemongrass, geraniol, pine, pennyroyal, cedar, thyme and patchouli, may have some repellent activity, but their results are variable. Other plant based oils that have shown limited repellent efficacy include coconut oil, palm nut oil and andiroba oil.

Some Guidelines To Follow

  • Don’t use Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD on children younger than 3 years of age
  • Avoid using bug repellent on children under 6 months of age.
  • Don’t apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.
  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin, not under clothing.
  • Don’t spray in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid using over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.

Other Important Information To Consider

  • Follow basic guidelines to limit overexposure to chemical repellents and use as instructed.
  • In general, a repellent with a higher concentration of active ingredients does not mean that the product will work better,it means that it will be effective for a longer period of time.
  • When applying sunscreen and repellents together, it is generally recommended to apply sunscreen beforethe repellent.
  • DEET may decrease the sun protection factor (SPF) of your sunscreen so you may need to reapply more often.
  • It is not recommended to use sunscreen that is combined with repellent as sunscreens may need to be reapplied more often and in larger amounts than needed for the repellent.
  • No one repellents works against every insect so you should research the diseases carried by mosquitoes and other insects where you spend your time.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
  • Consult a physician or your health care provider if you are traveling outside of the U.S. or if you have any questions.

“How To Prevent Mosquito Bites” by Dr. Jeremy Wolf was originally published on Lucky Blog.

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