When you’re shopping for an insect repellent, it can be hard to know which ones do the job and do it safely. So researchers at Environmental Working Group spent 18 months reviewing the data on chemicals in most every bug repellent for sale in the United States.
While they found that nothing is completely safe, four repellents were found to be effective and relatively low in toxicity, provided you take precautions, particularly with children. Use products in lotion, pump or towelette form:
Though deet has been much maligned, and in rare cases, intense doses have been linked to nervous system impairment, an extensive review found few reports of serious health hazards when the chemical was used sparingly, as the maker’s instructions specify, the group said. Avoid anything stronger than 30 percent deet.
Insect repellents shouldn’t be used on children younger than 2 months, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
The environmental group was able to recommend only one botanical bug repellent — oil of lemon eucalyptus/PMD. The EPA does not require most other botanicals to undergo registration and testing, so it’s hard to evaluate them. Bill Jordan of the EPA says that oil of lemon eucalyptus carries some possibility of skin irritation in children 3 years old and younger.
You can get a customized recommendation for a mosquito repellent based on factors such as how long you'll be outside from the EPA’s online search tool at www.epa.gov/repellentfinder. For more general purposes, we’ve assembled a list of four good options for four types of people:
The great-outdoors enthusiast
The weekend gardener
The concerned parent
Repellents should be a last choice, the environmental group advises. Give bugs a smaller target by covering up with light-colored clothing, long-sleeved shirts and bandannas. When walking in tall grass or brush, tuck pants into socks.
Use nets or fans over outdoor eating areas and place nets over strollers and baby carriers.
Drain standing water around the house that collects in flower pots or other items.
Avoid bug zappers, which the group says may kill beneficial insects.
The group also advises against using outdoor fogger insecticides because they are more toxic than skin repellents.
To read the group’s report, visit www.ewg.org/research/ewgs-guide-bug-repellents.