The 9 Best Bug Sprays for a Bite-free Outdoor Adventure
Whether you are a mountain type of person who likes nothing more than to completely disconnect from civilization in nature or a beach bum who can’t wait to slide into a bathing suit and work on your tan on a faraway island, don’t forget that bug spray is just as important to pack as your sunglasses and sunscreen.
While Zika may not be in the news anymore, it doesn’t mean that the danger from the mosquito-borne disease is over. The Center for Disease Control’s list of affected countries still includes all of the Caribbean plus most of South America and Africa. Yellow fever, dengue fever, and Lyme disease are just three more extremely dangerous bug-transmitted diseases that are common and cannot be treated with a vaccine. And while clothing should always be your first line of defense — bugs can't bite through two layers — an effective insect repellent is a must-have, as well.
Just like you choose your face moisturizer according to your skin’s needs, you should always consider two factors when picking the most appropriate bug repellent for you and your family: your skin’s sensitivity and how dangerous the insect situation is where you’re going.
The CDC, Environmental Protection Agency, World Health Organization, and Environmental Working Group all recommend DEET-based products for heavy-duty protection against a wide range of pests. While the chemical concentration may vary by product (usually between 10 and 98 percent), formulas that contain at least 30 percent DEET are the most effective. A higher DEET concentration doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll get better protection, it just means you’ll be protected for a longer period of time.
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Picaridin- and IR3535-based products are also EPA-approved options that provide long-lasting protection against bugs. Picaridin is actually considered more effective against flies than DEET.
And finally, there are natural and organic bug sprays that are made with synthesized plant oils such as oil of lemon eucalyptus and natural plant oils such as soybean, lemongrass, citronella, and cedar that are good for people with sensitive skin. It’s also important to note that, of all of the options we just mentioned, only natural plant oils are not registered with the EPA, which means that they are safe to use, but are not as effective as the other three ingredients.
Here we rounded up the nine best insect repellents that will keep the bugs away this summer.
Repel 100 Insect Repellent
This heavy-duty insect repellent contains 98 percent DEET and is extremely efficient on mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, biting flies, chiggers, no-see-ums, and fleas. It is very strong so use it if you’re heading to countries with severe insect conditions.
To buy: amazon.com, $8
Sawyer Products Premium Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent
Spray the outer layer of your clothing, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear with this bug repellent spray and allow it to dry before contact with skin. Permethrin kills ticks, chiggers, mites, mosquitoes, and 55 more types of bugs. Your gear’s protection will last up to six washings or 42 days of sun exposure with a single application.
To buy: amazon.com, $10
Ben's 30 DEET Tick and Insect Repellent
This DEET-based spray contains 30 percent of the bug-repellent chemical, which provides maximum efficacy. It protects against mosquitoes and ticks and is the perfect choice if you’re camping or hiking in the mountains. For maximum protection, use it in combination with permethrin-treated clothing.
To buy: amazon.com, $39/pack of 4
Coleman DEET-free Skin Smart Insect Repellent
This IR3535-based spray protects against mosquitoes and ticks for up to eight hours. It has an odorless, fast-drying formula that doesn’t leave your skin greasy.
To buy: walmart.com, $6
California Baby Bug Repellent Spray
This baby-friendly non-toxic bug spray is an effective alternative to other chemical-based products. It is made with citronella, cedar, and lemongrass oils and is free of synthetic fragrances.
To buy: walmart.com, $13
Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellent
This DEET-free, lemon eucalyptus–based spray repels mosquitoes — which may transmit Chikungunya, Zika, Dengue, and West Nile viruses — and deer ticks for up to six hours. Just bear in mind that while its active ingredient is plant-derived, the FDA doesn’t recommend it for children under three, because it may cause skin irritation.
To buy: amazon.com, $5
Natrapel 12-hour Mosquito, Tick, and Insect Repellent
Natrapel’s active ingredient is picaridin which is relatively new to the U.S. but has been used for two decades in Europe as a bug repellent. It is considered especially effective against flies and its 20 percent concentration (the maximum allowed) protects for up to 12 hours.
To buy: amazon.com, $7
All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent
This natural insect repellent contains soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass, and geranium oil that repel insects and other bugs. It is the ideal solution for short-term exposure as it should be reapplied every two to three hours. It is DEET and GMO-free and won’t damage your clothing or gear.
To buy: amazon.com, $13
Proven Insect Repellent
This DEET-free Picaridin spray offers long-lasting protection for up to 14 hours. The brand's repellents have been tested to effectively repel mosquitos, ticks, black flies, biting flies, stable flies, ants, gnats, chiggers, sand flies, and no-see-ums.
To buy: amazon.com, $13