If you spend time outdoors, you face some tough choices. Bug-borne diseases should not be taken lightly. Mosquito and tick bites can transmit life-changing illnesses like West Nile virus and Lyme disease.
As your first line of defense, cover up with pants and long sleeves. If you want or need a bug repellent, here are EWG’s top picks, based on time spent outdoors:
Short Protection Time:
- Picaridin 5-10%
- DEET 7-10%
- PMD 10%
- Other botanical repellants*
*Likely to contain more allergens
Longer Protection Time:
- Picaridin 20%
- IR3535 20%
- DEET 20-30% (time-release products generally work over longer periods)
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 30-40%
Concerned about Lyme disease? Opt for a product with any of the repellents listed under Long Protection Time and check for ticks once indoors. Avoid using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or PMD on kids under 3. Note: Health agencies offer conflicting advice about DEET concentrations for children. Visit our website for more details.
Want to avoid mosquitoes that carry West Nile Virus? Picaridin, IR3535, DEET, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or PMD should work well. Choose a concentration based on the time you expect to spend outdoors. Avoid using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or PMD on kids under 3.
Looking to protect your kids from bug bites? Don’t use bug repellents on infants under 6 months. Fine netting over strollers and baby carriers is the best solution. Visit our website for recommendations for older children.
What about botanicals? If bug-borne diseases are not prevalent where you go, you can try some botanical repellants. Be aware that many contain highly concentrated allergens. Effectiveness varies widely.
DOs and DON’Ts for Protecting Yourself Against Bug Bites
- Wear pants, socks, shoes and long sleeves, especially when venturing into heavy brush with likely bug infestations.
- Take extra precautions to avoid bug bites if you are in a high-risk area for Lyme disease, West Nile virus or other mosquito- and tick- borne illness.
- Use nets and/or fans over outdoor eating areas and nets over strollers and baby carriers.
- Read labels: Labels help ensure safe usage and protection from bug species known to infest your area.
- Choose a repellant concentration rated for the time span you’re outdoors, but not longer.
- Use products with the lowest effective concentration of repellant chemicals, particularly on children.
- Keep repellants away from young children to reduce risk of accidental swallowing.
- Send kids to camp with netting for bunks.
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD on children younger than 3 years old.
- More than 30 percent of DEET on anyone.
- Any bug repellants on children under 6 months.
- Outdoor “fogger” insecticides. They contain more toxic ingredients than repellants applied to skin.
- Candles. They may not be effective. They emit fumes that could trigger respiratory problems.
- Aerosol sprays in pressurized containers. You’ll inhale chemicals, and you could get sprayed in the eyes and face.
- Repellant mixed with sunscreen. When you reapply sunscreen every two hours as advised, you overexpose yourself to repellant.
- Bug zappers and treated wristbands. They’re ineffective. Save your money.
Also consider these additional tips:
- Use products in lotion, pump or towelette form.
- Wash your hands after applying.
- Try repellents on a small patch of exposed skin before slathering all over.
- Consult a physician if you are traveling out of the U.S. or need to use bug repellent daily for prolonged periods.
- Check for ticks thoroughly after returning indoors and remove ticks properly.
- Wash clothing and repellent-coated skin when you come indoors.