Natural Mosquito Repellents: Which Ones Work?
If you're mosquito bait, learn which non-DEET repellents will fend them off and save you from annoying bites
Do mosquitoes love you? It’s probably not your imagination, but rather, your genes. Turns out, some people are genetically prone to be good mosquito bait. If you’re one of them and you’re looking for alternatives to DEET this season, find out which non-DEET and natural mosquito repellents actually work — and which will just leave you with itchy bites.
Picaridin. This synthetic chemical mimics piperine, a natural plant compound responsible for making black pepper spicy. Consumer Reports recently tested both spray and aerosol insect repellents and found that products containing 20 percent picaridin (such as Sawyer Fisherman's Formula Picaridin) were effective. They kept away bites for 8 hours.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) also considers picardin repellents among the most effective. Other common picaridin-containing brands include Cutter Advanced, OFF! Active and OFF! Family Care.
Consumer Reports favors picaridin (as well as oil of lemon eucalyptus) over DEET-based products, believing the safety profile is better.
PMD. This potent repellent is extracted from the leaves of lemon eucalyptus trees. It, too, makes EWG’s effective list. It's found in OFF! Botanical products.
PMD has a good safety record according to a review of plant-based repellents published in 2011 in the Malaria Journal.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus. In Consumer Reports’ testing, products containing 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus (such as Repel Lemon Eucalyptus) kept insects away for 7 or 8 hours. EWG considers oil of lemon eucalyptus to be effective as well.
Products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus with enhanced PMD concentration include Fite Bite, Repel Essential, Coleman Botanicals and Citrapel.
IR3535. Developed by the drug company Merck, this chemical is structurally similar to the naturally occurring amino acid B-alanine. It's found in Coleman SkinSmart and BullFrog Mosquito Coast, among other products. Neither got recommended ratings from the Consumer Reports testers. But EWG views IR3535 repellents as good alternatives to DEET.
Essential oils. Repellents that contain natural plant oils (citronella, lemon-grass, rosemary and others) are exempt from the EPA's scrutiny: The agency views these ingredients as minimum risk products. In the Consumer Reports testing, none of the essential oil repellents held up more than an hour against the aedes (a common mosquito type that bites all day long), and some lasted much less time.
According to EWG, the unregistered botanically based repellents are ''not often the best choice."
Keeping the backyard bug free
If you don't want skeeters to spoil your barbecue, get out the fan. That's right. Consumer Reports research found a simple pedestal fan, set at top speed, sends the critters to the neighbors. If you sit close to the fan, you can expect many fewer mosquito landings. The fan beat out a citronella candle bucket and a geraniol diffuser.
"Citronella candles can have some effect," says Grayson Brown, PhD, director of the public health entomology lab at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. "They do reduce mosquito bites a little bit. And they create a really nice atmosphere."
According to the review in the Malaria Journal , the candles reduce biting by 50 percent — not viewed as significant protection.
Forget the bug zappers for mosquitoes, Brown says. They are mostly good for killing moths and beetles.
Starting in 2016, the EPA will start allowing makers of insect repellents who prove how long their products last against mosquitos to put that information in a graphic on the label. Look for these labels next year.
Related: Natural Ways to Bug-Proof Your Home