5 On Your Side

Three key ingredients prove best at keeping bugs at bay

Posted July 18

Every year, Consumer Reports tests insect repellents to see how well key ingredients work. They compare compounds made with everything from DEET to natural ingredients like citronella, lemongrass and cedar oils. A good repellent will protect from both mosquitoes and ticks, which can carry West Nile or Lyme disease.

The bottom line: Consumer Reports says it’s best to avoid plant-based, natural products.

"The thing about 'natural repellents' is that these products are not registered with the EPA," said Jeneen Interlandi Consumer Reports health editor. "Because the agency deems the chemicals they contain to be of minimal safety risk, they don’t bother to evaluate them for safety or effectiveness. What that means is that the companies that make these products are not required to prove to federal regulators that they work."

The best repellents worked for at least six and a half hours. The lowest scoring ones lasted two hours or less.

Two products with DEET earned top scores: Total Home Woodland Scent Insect Repellent with 30 percent DEET from CVS and OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent.

For those who prefer to skip the DEET, a $5 bottle of Repel oil of lemon eucalyptus formula performed almost as well. Or, consider Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent with 20 percent picaridin.

"Out of a total of 25 products that we’ve tested, all of the ones that earned our recommendation contained one of just three different active ingredients and each one at a limited range of concentrations: so 20 percent picaridin, between 15 and 30 percent DEET, or 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus," Interlandi said.

Health experts say DEET products are safe for everyone including children. They recommend using products with no more than 30 percent DEET, and it should not be used on the face, hands, on cuts or under clothing.

Even if you use insect repellent, it is a good habit to check for ticks after being outdoors.

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