Insect Repellents

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an excellent page on Protection against Mosquitoes, Ticks, & Other Insects & Arthropods.

Repellents For Use On Skin And Clothing

CDC has evaluated information published in peer-reviewed scientific literature and data available from EPA to identify several types of EPA-registered products that provide repellent activity sufficient to help people reduce the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Products containing the following active ingredients typically provide reasonably long-lasting protection:

  • DEET (chemical name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide). Products containing  DEET include, but are not limited to, Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon.
  • Picaridin (KBR 3023 [Bayrepel] and icaridin outside the United States; chemical name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester). Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the United States).
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE. Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off! Botanicals. This recommendation refers to EPA-registered repellent products containing the active ingredient OLE (or PMD). “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended; it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy, is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent, and is not covered by this recommendation.
  • IR3535 (chemical name: 3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester). Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.

The following is adapted from the Environmental Protection Administration website. The site includes a search tool to help one find the right product for a particular situation by listing actual product names and their duration of protection for mosquitos and ticks.


Here is what the EPA says:


Preventive actions to avoid getting bitten:


Avoid tick habitats

  • Reduce time spent in potentially tick-infested habitats such as tall grass and shrubs.
  • Reduce leaf litter and mow tall grass or brush that may serve as tick habitat.
  • Walk in the center of trails to avoid contact with adjacent vegetation.

Avoid tick bites

  • Keep ticks away from exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and high boots.
  • Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks to cover gaps in your clothing where ticks can get in.
  • Wear light-colored clothing to be able to see ticks more easily.
  • Check the entire body for ticks; promptly remove attached ticks without squeezing them!

Additional Information on How to Avoid Tick Habitats, Bites and Infection:
Managing Ticks and Preventing Bites  – NPIC
Tick Tactics – CDC
Tick Management Handbook – CDC
Lyme Primer Brochure  – Lyme Disease Association, Inc. (LDA)


Remove mosquito habitats

  • Eliminate standing water in rain gutters, old tires, buckets, plastic covers, toys, or any other container where mosquitoes can breed.
  • Empty and change the water in bird baths, fountains, wading pools, rain barrels, and potted plant trays at least once a week to destroy potential mosquito habitats.
  • Drain or fill temporary pools of water with dirt.
  • Keep swimming pool water treated and circulating.

Use structural barriers

  • Cover all gaps in walls, doors, and windows to prevent mosquitoes from entering.
  • Make sure window and door screens are in good working order.
  • Completely cover baby carriers and beds with netting.

Avoid getting bitten

  • Keep mosquitoes away from exposed skin by wearing long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and socks.
  • Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks to cover gaps in your clothing where mosquitoes can get to your skin.
  • Stay indoors at sunrise, sunset, and early in the evening when mosquitoes are most active.

Additional Information on How to Avoid Mosquito Habitats and Bites:
Methods of Mosquito Control – EPA
Fight the Bite! – CDC
Mosquito Control Methods  – NPIC


Choosing an Insect Repellent: How Do I Know Which Repellent is Right for Me?

Use repellents that give you the length of protection you need, based on the amount of time you will be outdoors. Look for EPA-registered products that provide protection time information on the product label. Shorter protection time does not mean the product is less effective. Key points to remember when selecting an insect repellent include:

Be sure to use a product with a protection time that fits your activity. Keep in mind your results may vary depending on a number of factors:

  • Physical activity/perspiration
  • Water exposure
  • Air temperature
  • How attractive you are to mosquitoes and ticks; every person is different.

Re-apply repellent according to label instructions. The label on the insect repellent product is your guide to using these products safely and effectively.

Using Insect Repellents Safely

For the safe and effective use of pesticide products, always read the product label before using the product. Apply just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Remember these important points to use repellents safely:

  • Follow the label directions to ensure proper use.
  • Repellents should be applied only to exposed skin and/or clothing. Do not use under clothing.
  • Store insect repellents safely out of the reach of children, in a locked utility cabinet or garden shed.
  • Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.
  • When using sprays, do not spray directly into face; spray on hands first and then apply to face.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas. Avoid breathing a spray product, and do not use it near food.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
  • Do not use any product on pets or other animals unless the label clearly states it is for animals.
  • Most insect repellents do not work on lice or fleas.
  • Use other preventive actions to avoid getting bitten .

Insect Repellents and Children

EPA does not recommend any additional precautions for using registered repellents on pregnant or lactating women, or on children, other than those listed on the label. For example, some repellents are eye irritants and those labels would have a specific caution about keeping the product away from your eyes.

Because children frequently put their hands in their eyes and mouths, EPA recommends that all repellent products have the following precautionary statements related to children on their labels:

  • “Do not allow children to handle this product, and do not apply to children’s hands. When using on children, apply to your own hands and then put it on the child.
  • After returning indoors, wash your child’s treated skin and clothes with soap and water or bathe.”

According to the label, oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under the age of three.

Always store insect repellents safely out of the reach of children.

If you are concerned about using repellent products on children you may wish to consult a health care provider for advice or contact the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) through their toll-free number, 1-800-858-7378 or