Mosquito Repellent Has Become a Summer Essential

By on June 12, 2018

By Pauline Okeeffe—

Picnics and parties on the patio; that is what summer is all about! But first slather on sun screen and then what about all those biting bugs? What is the best way to keep them at bay? Perhaps a citronella candle will do the trick—or will it? How about trying something natural like peppermint to avoid dousing yourself in DEET? 

New warnings from the CDC strongly suggest being proactive to protect against mosquito-borne illnesses. The Vital Signs report published by the CDC last month states recorded cases of vector-borne diseases have more than tripled nationwide, citing worldwide travel becoming more commonplace as a contributing factor. Cases of Triple E and West Nile are already being reported this season. Thankfully there are many repellent options to select from for protection. 

DEET, undoubtedly an effective solution, can be sticky, have an unpleasant odor and must be reapplied regularly to maintain effectiveness. There are many botanicals repellents to consider that include “natural” ingredients. Commonly known options such as lemon grass, peppermint, rosemany and geraniol would fall into this category but these items are not registered with the EPA as they are deemed natural. Also, “Consumer Reports testing has repeatedly found that they don’t work well*.” Consumer Reports also found that citronella candles, sonic repellents and wristbands are ineffective at keeping mosquitoes away.

Read the label … for active ingredients

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the use of products containing active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These products have brand names that consumers recognize such as OFF, Cutter, and Thermacell — an area repellent that is quite effective and gaining popularity. Area repellents are a good solution for those who prefer not to use topical repellents. When the EPA registers a repellent, it evaluates the product for efficacy as well as potential effects on human beings and the environment. Repellents registered with the EPA have demonstrated a high degree of efficacy and contain active ingredients such as: 

  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus [p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD)]: is a plant-based repellent. In two recent scientific publications, when oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the US, it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.
  • Picaridin: (KBR 3023) forms a barrier on your skin, which blocks an insect’s ability to locate humans. Picaridin was tested against mosquitoes, flies and ticks in both field studies and in laboratory cage tests. Picaridin provides equal or longer protection than identical concentrations of DEET.  
  • Pyrethroids: a synthetic analog of a natural insecticide found in chrysanthemum flowers that is odor-free and is an alternative to lotions and sprays that must be applied to skin. Pyrethroids are area repellents that are dispersed into the air and effectively ward-off  mosquitoes, black flies, and no-see-ums, used in products such as Thermacell. 
  • DEET: (N-diethyl-m-toluamide). Repellents containing DEET are safe for adults and children when used according to directions. Don’t put repellents with DEET on kids’ hands because it may get in their eyes or mouth. The CDC warns: Use these repellents carefully as DEET in high concentrations may be harmful.
  • Permethrin: a cousin to Pyrethroids, is recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other arthropods and retains this effect after repeated laundering. Permethrin is not to be used directly on the skin. 

What repellent should be used when?

Hiking, biking or walking in cooler weather

Applying permethrin to your clothing ahead of time will provide protection.

Enjoying the patio, at a campsite or spectator sport; gardening at dusk or dawn

Area repellents, such as Thermacell products, provide hours of protection, are highly portable and create a 15 x 15 ft zone of protection. Product options found at

Playing a sport at dusk or dawn

For many hours outside (over 3-4 hours) and/or when biting is very intense—look for a repellent containing more than 20% DEET. 

Helpful Tips

  • Even if you’re going outside for only 10 minutes, use a repellent —that’s long enough to get bitten.
  • Products with more than 50% DEET DO NOT offer additional protection.
  • For shorter periods of time, repellents containing less than 20% DEET, a repellent with 7% picaridin, or a product containing oil of lemon eucalyptus may provide adequate protection.

*Consumer Reports May 2018


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Mosquito Repellent Has Become a Summer Essential