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Insect Repellent Basics

Learn about the best insect and mosquito repellents

Written by Olivia, General Genius and Analog Watch Wearer
Updated October 6, 2017

What's the best insect repellent?

We know how important it is to take your health and safety seriously, and when it comes to protection from insects and bugs and the diseases they can carry with them, such as Zika and the West Nile virus, it's no small task. There are so many options and different types of repellents, from homemade mosquito repellent and natural insect repellent to highly-tested, lab-developed bug repellents and insecticides, that it can be hard to know where to start.

You probably have a lot of questions about what the best insect repellents are, how much to take on your trip, and how to use them. The great news is, we're here to help!

General Advice on How to Use Insect Repellent

  • Apply insect repellent directly to exposed skin as directed on label instructions.
  • Products with active ingredients such as DEET and Picaridin are the longest-lasting, most effective insect repellents. They can last from 4 to even 14 hours! If you're looking for a repellent to go the distance, get a lotion, not a spray, as lotions slow the evaporation of the active ingredient and therefore stay effective much longer.
  • Citronella and other plant-based, natural insect repellents are generally most effective immediately after application, but tend to evaporate quickly, so they require more frequent re-application to repel insects for a longer period of time.

DEET

Is Deet safe?

Yes! According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, which conducted a comprehensive re-assessment of DEET in 1998 and an interim review in 2014, "the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children." Always consult the label instructions on proper use. DEET can, however, deteriorate synthetic materials and fabrics in technical outdoor clothing like rain shells and synthetic shirts, so be sure to only use as directed on exposed skin, not under clothing. DEET is especially effective at repelling mosquitos and ticks that can carry all sorts of nasty diseases. For travelers that could come in contact with mosquitos carrying Zika or West Nile virus, we almost always recommend a DEET-based lotion formula. If you're looking for protection from ticks, combine DEET on exposed skin with Permethrin-treated clothing for the most protection.

Do I need the highest percentage DEET formula possible for the best protection?

Not necessarily. 30-34% DEET is about as effective as it gets. Some formulas, especially sprays, will have a higher percentage to help it last longer. But if you use a lotion, you can get a formula with a much lower percentage, like 20-30%, that will last up to 12 hours, such as 3M's Ultrathon DEET lotion.

For more information on DEET:

Picaridin

Picaridin vs DEET - Is Picaridin as effective?

The World Health Organization recommends Picaridin instect repellents, as well as DEET, for protection against mosquitos that carry diseases like Zika and the West Nile virus. It is a great DEET alternative and will not damage technical fabrics or gear. Besides repelling mosquitos, Picaridin is excellent for use against biting flies and is therefore sometimes referred to as "Fisherman's formula." Like DEET products, a lotion like Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion lasts longer than a spray, and maintains efficacy up to 14 hours in a 20% formula.

For more information on Picaridin insect repellent:

Permethrin

What is Permethrin?

Permethrin is an insecticide that is registered and approved by the EPA for a variety of settings, including the treatment of clothing to repel and kill insects. In clothing treatments, the amount of permethrin in the formula is very low, but it is very effective at repelling and killing mosquitos and ticks, especially in combination with insect repellent such as DEET or Picardin applied on any exposed skin. It is safe to use on all clothing materials and fabrics and lasts for about 6 weeks and 6 laundry cycles. Permethrin is not harmful to skin, simply ineffective.

If I can treat clothing myself, why should I get factory-treated clothing?

Factory Permethrin treated clothing such as Insect Shield last much longer than treatments you can apply yourself: 70 washings (the lifetime of most garments) vs. 6 washings. We carry many Insect Shield products by brands like Exofficio, White Sierra, Craghoppers, and Buff.

For more information about Permethrin clothing:


For more information on insect repellent, visit these links: