If you’ve been left with itchy welts after being bitten by no-see-ums, you know a good insect repellent is crucial. While the best no-see-um repellents contain ingredients that are effective against biting midges (and mosquitoes), some are more effective and work longer than others. Whether you want chemical or plant-based repellents, here you’ll find both topical options as well as repellents that can be worn on clothing or used as a device.
Repellents Applied To Skin
Most topical repellents interfere with an insect’s senses to help prevent it from finding humans, and certain ingredients are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as safe and effective. According to Consumer Reports, DEET is the most widely used topical repellent, and a controlled-release formula with a concentration around 30% can offer up to 12 hours of protection. The EPA has found DEET safe, but some people don’t like its scent and it may damage plastic, like your sunglasses.
Similarly, studies have shown that a 20% concentration of picaridin (a synthetic version of a repellent in pepper plants) is just as effective as DEET and offers eight to 14 hours of protection at that concentration. Also, picaridin has minimal odor, won’t damage plastics, and is not known to cause skin irritation.
If you’re looking for a plant-based repellent, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and its active ingredient (PMD) are the only ones registered with the EPA. When used at 15% concentration, PMD and DEET have shown similar efficacy over six hours.
Other protective measures against bugs are also recommended by the CDC, including repellent devices with allethrin (a synthetic version of a chrysanthemum extract) that create a perimeter of protection outdoors. You can also treat clothing with permethrin (another synthetic chrysanthemum-based ingredient), which kills insects after they land on you.
A note about safety: Most repellents (including permethrin) are safe for children two months and up, according to the CDC. However, some products containing OLE and PMD shouldn’t be used for children under the age of three.
Read on for the best no-see-um repellents that’ll help prevent pesky insects from biting.
1. The Best DEET Repellent Lotion
- Protection time: Up to 11 hours
Nothing beats DEET for longevity, and this insect repellent lotion uses a controlled release formula to help protect you from bites for up to 11 hours. The EPA-registered repellent is made with 30% DEET and is non-greasy, non-staining, and sweatproof. It’s also marketed as odorless, though several reviewers report it does have a slight smell.
One helpful review: “[...] This is by far the best stuff! It goes on smoothly, does not leave a strong smell or oily feeling residue, and it really works and keeps working [...]”
2. The Best Picaridin Repellent Lotion
- Protection time: Up to 8 hours for flies, up to 14 hours for mosquitoes
This lotion repellent with a 20% picaridin concentration will protect you against no-see-ums for up to eight hours with one application, and it also protects against mosquitoes for up to 14 hours. The lotion is non-greasy, quick-absorbing, and fragrance-free. It’s EPA-registered for efficacy and also comes in additional sizes, as well as in a spray-on formula and single-use packets for travel. A popular choice with Amazon customers, the lotion has earned more than 3,900 five-star ratings.
One helpful review: “This is the best repellent I've ever used. I usually get eaten up by mosquitoes, flies, no-see-ums but not with this. Basically no fragrance and it's not oily. Lasts for hours. So glad I found this!”
3. The Best Plant-Based Repellent Spray
- Protection time: Up to 6 hours
This insect repellent spray contains oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and PMD, which are the only plant-based ingredients registered by the EPA. The formula will protect you for up to six hours and features a strong herbal-citrus scent and a non-greasy finish. It also has more than 2,600 five-star ratings from enthusiastic reviewers. One thing to note: This product should not be used on children under the age of three.
One helpful review: “We use jugs of this in Florida. It works for mosquitoes and’ no-see-ums.’ My husband, daughter get huge welts from bites and best product we have found to prevent so far. We use with grandchildren as well.”
4. The Best Travel-Friendly DEET Wipes
- Protection time: Up to 10 hours
These insect repellent wipes are formulated with 30% DEET and offer up to 10 hours of protection. Each order contains six packs with 15 wipes in each, giving you a total of 90 wipes. Plus, each pack is resealable and perfect for taking on day hikes or long camping trips. The wipes have a peppermint-citronella scent and reviewers note they leave behind a slight sheen on the skin.
One helpful review: “[...] I am a full-course-meal from mosquitos, no-see-ums, and other flying critters. On some days of hard work outdoors, I have used more than one wipe. They are easier for me to apply than my klutzy spraying of an aerosol, where I get some in my eyes, nose and on my lips [...]”
Spatial Devices & Fabric-Treating Repellents
5. The Best Permethrin Repellent For Fabrics
- Protection time: Up to 6 weeks or through 6 washings
The permethrin in this popular repellent spray for clothing (with more than 11,000 positive ratings) bonds to fabric fibers for up to six weeks or through six washings, whichever comes first. It won’t stain clothes, packs, or tents and one 24-ounce bottle is enough to treat five outfits consisting of a shirt, pants, and socks. The spray has 0.5% permethrin concentration, which is recommended by the CDC for treating clothes and gear.
One helpful review: “Having treated my clothing (following directions) and allowing them to dry before my trip to Costa Rica, I was not bothered one bit by any insects - mosquitoes, flies, no-see-ums. I'll be using it on all my garden clothes this coming season.”
6. The Best Repellent Device For Backyards
- Protection time: Up to 12 hours
When it’s turned on, this Thermacell repeller creates 15 feet of protection from no-see-ums and other flying pests. The EPA-evaluated device has a butane fuel cartridge that heats up a small mat treated with allethrin, dispersing the repellent without creating any scent. The flame-free device comes with one fuel cartridge that lasts 12 hours and three mats that last four hours each. Plus, it’s available in 11 colors and boasts over 21,000 positive ratings.
One helpful review: “[...] I live in the mountains near a lake and have not been able to find a product that will tackle the crazy amount of mosquitoes and “no see ums” we have during the hot humid summer days. We love sitting outside now that we have this! It takes about 10 minutes after turning the unit on to clear the area of biting bugs [...]”
Also Great: This Head Net That’s Made With Very Fine Mesh
With more than 620 holes per square inch, this insect head net will keep out even the tiniest flying pests. It’s earned a 4.7-star overall rating after more than 3,300 reviewers weighed in, with many commenting on its breathability and how easy it is to see through. The protective net has an elastic drawstring with a toggle for the best fit and it’s machine-washable — just place it over your favorite hat for instant protection.
One helpful review: “Before this head net, I received 20 bug bites on my scalp. Those nasty no-see-ums landed on my hair and crawled around biting me. Not so with this head net. I finally feel safe to be in the garden during the spring infestation.”
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