If the warm temperatures and sunshine beckon you outdoors this summer, don’t let biting bugs drive you back inside. Wearing insect repellent is one way to help protect you and your loved ones from the bite of pesky – and sometimes dangerous – bugs.
Some mosquitoes and ticks transmit viruses or bacteria that may cause diseases like Lyme disease, West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis when they bite you. In addition to wearing long sleeves and long pants and avoiding bug-friendly habitats like tall grass and standing water, applying insect repellent to skin can keep bugs from landing on you. To choose the best repellent for you, consider the insects you’ll be exposed to, the length of protection you need and the active ingredient. The higher the concentration of the active ingredient, the longer the protection.
The most common and effective active ingredient is DEET. An EPA data review in 1998 confirmed that when users follow product label instructions, DEET poses no health concerns to humans. Many products promise protection of about two and a half hours, depending on concentration. Experts suggest that a concentration higher than 30 percent offers no additional protection.
Other EPA-approved active ingredients include picaridin and several plant-based oils. Picaridin may be as effective as DEET according to recent studies, but there is no data showing long-term safety results. Further research is needed to understand how well the active ingredient repels ticks, as well. Plant-based insect repellents are made from the essential oils of citronella, cedar, eucalyptus and soybeans, with oil of lemon eucalyptus being the most effective. These products may offer protection for up to two hours. There are also citronella-scented candles that you can put outside of your home to make sitting outdoors more enjoyable.
- Always read the product label and follow the directions.
- Use just enough to cover exposed skin. Do not apply under clothing.
- Avoid applying on or near eyes, mouth, ears and open sores.
- Do not spray directly to face or in an enclosed area.
- Wash skin and clothing with soap and water once you return indoors.