3 Top-Rated Insect Repellents That Don’t Contain DEET

adult using bug spray on child's arm


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If you're worried about mosquitos or ticks but don’t want to drown in DEET, Consumer Reports gives these DEET-free sprays top marks for shunning the loathsome disease-delivering monsters.

When faced with the choice of a potentially irritating chemical or suffering the bite of an insect that may harbor disease, or at least an irksomely itchy welt, what do you choose? Depending on your degree of risk, you may opt for a strong knock-out spray containing DEET. But there’s good news; you don’t have to.

Used as directed, DEET is considered safe by many public health agencies, and it is super effective against mosquitoes and ticks – but science-backed consumer watchdog Environmental Working Group (EWG), and others, are not so convinced about its safety. From EWG:

When we started our research, we were particularly concerned about the potential downsides of DEET. We still are. We urge consumers to handle DEET with caution. It is known to irritate the eyes and in intense doses may induce neurological damage. In very rare cases DEET has been reported to impair the nervous system, with symptoms including seizures, tremors and slurred speech, most often after exposure to high concentrations of the chemical. In addition, DEET gives off a distinct odor and can damage plastic, rubber and vinyl on a variety of gear including clothing, backpacks, glasses, watches and cameras.

But there’s a new sheriff in town that goes by the name of Picaridin – and it actually gets EWG’s blessing, which is no simple task. The synthetic compound was developed by Bayer AG and is a derivative of compounds found in black pepper. Studies show that it performs as well as DEET; EPA data notes that Picaridin at a concentration of 20 percent is effective against mosquitoes and ticks for 8 to 14 hours. The World Health Organization recommends it. According to EWG:

Picaridin does not carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET but has not been tested as much over the long term. Overall, EWG’s assessment is that Picaridin is a good DEET alternative with many of the same advantages and without the same disadvantages.

Meanwhile, as an expanding array of diseases delivered courtesy of biting insects continues to creep across the planet, Consumer Reports has gone and done what they do best; apply rigorous testing, this time to insect repellents, to ferret out which products deliver. In their newly released insect repellent product guide, they tackle which products work best against:

  • Aedes mosquitoes (the aggressive mosquitoes that tend to bite during the day and that can spread Zika)
  • Culex mosquitoes (night-time biters that can spread West Nile)
  • Deer ticks (which can carry Lyme and other diseases)

And guess what? Of their top five recommended picks, three of them do not contain DEET. Woot! And in fact, their number one pick, scoring 96 out of 100, is DEET-free. So here they are:

1. Sawyer Fisherman's Formula Picaridin

Score: 96
Overall rank: Number 1
Active ingredients: Picaridin 20%
Effectiveness Aedes mosquitoes: 8 hours
Effectiveness Culex mosquitoes: 8 hours
Effectiveness deer ticks: 8.5 hours
Price: $8.25

2. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus

Score: 87
Overall rank: Number 2
Active ingredients: Oil of lemon eucalyptus 30% [Approximately 65% p-menthane-3,8-diol]
Effectiveness Aedes mosquitoes: 7 hours
Effectiveness Culex mosquitoes: 8 hours
Effectiveness deer ticks: 7.3 hours
Price: $7.00

3. Natrapel 8 Hour

Score: 81
Overall rank: Number 4
Active ingredients: Picaridin 20%
Effectiveness Aedes mosquitoes: 7.8 hours
Effectiveness Culex mosquitoes: 8 hours
Effectiveness deer ticks: 6 hours
Price: $8.00

You can see the complete ratings at Consumer Reports.

And next, read this: What to know about applying insect repellent.