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The 6 Best No-See-Um Repellents

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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 of 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.

Non-Topical Repellents

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 affects 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.

Shop The Best No-See-Um Repellants

In a hurry? Here are the best no-see-um repellents:

1. The Best DEET Repellent Lotion: Sawyer Products Ultra 30% Insect Repellent Lotion

2. The Best Picaridin Repellent Lotion: Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Repellent Lotion

3. The Best Plant-Based Repellent Spray: Repel Plant-Based Insect Repellent

4. The Best Travel-Friendly DEET Wipes: Repel Insect Repellent Wipes

5. The Best Permethrin Repellent For Fabrics: Sawyer Products Permethrin Insect Repellent

6. The Best Repellent Device For Backyards: Thermacell Patio Shield Mosquito Repeller

Read on for the best no-see-um repellents that’ll help prevent pesky insects from biting.

Topical Repellents

1. The Best DEET Repellent Lotion

Pros

  • Long-lasting DEET repellent
  • Controlled release formula

Cons

  • Some reviewers say it has a slight smell

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: “Used in Jamaica where I was eaten alive the last time I went. I used this under my sunscreen during the day and alone in the evening. Barely got a bite. Used sparingly and have plenty left over.”

Active Ingredient: DEET | Protection time: Up to 11 hours

2. The Best Picaridin Repellent Lotion

Pros

  • Protects against no-see-ums for up to eight hours
  • Available in a variety of sizes

Cons

  • Some reviewers find it’s less effective than DEET

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 7,000 five-star ratings.

One helpful review: “I bought this stuff on a whim. Well, it's incredible! It goes on easily, a little bit goes a long way, it has no scent, it lasts all day and night and best of all, it really works. I've been trying this for a few days and I've gotten zero mosquito bites. We live in Louisiana. We have serious mosquitoes in summer. This stuff seems to make me invisible to them.”

Active Ingredient: Picaridin | Protection time: Up to 8 hours for no-see-ums, up to 14 hours for mosquitoes

3. The Best Plant-Based Repellent Spray

Pros

  • Uses EPA-registered plant-based repellents
  • Non-greasy formula

Cons

  • Needs to be reapplied every six hours
  • Not for use on children under the age of three

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 22,000 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.”

Active Ingredient: Oil of lemon eucalyptus | Protection time: Up to 6 hours

4. The Best Travel-Friendly DEET Wipes

Pros

  • Resealable wipe packs are convenient for use away from home

Cons

  • Leftover sheen on skin may be undesirable

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 live at the beach in Texas and mosquitos can be terrible. I also fish all the time and the repel wipes are easy to apply where you need protection. [...] A great product, and a handy package for carrying in the boat, golf cart, a pocket or purse.”

Active Ingredient: DEET | Protection time: Up to 10 hours

Spatial Devices & Fabric-Treating Repellents

5. The Best Permethrin Repellent For Fabrics

Pros

  • Lasts through six washes
  • Non-staining formula

Cons

  • Not for use on skin

The permethrin in this popular repellent spray for clothing (with more than 15,000 five-star 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 a 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.”

Active Ingredient: Permethrin | Protection time: Up to 6 weeks or through 6 washings

6. The Best Repellent Device For Backyards

Pros

  • Creates a 15-foot bubble of protection
  • Doesn’t require applying any sprays or lotions on your skin

Cons

  • Not practical for use on hikes or excursions

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, three mats that last four hours each, and boasts over 27,000 five-star ratings.

One helpful review: “Summertime in the lowcountry of South Carolina is synonymous with mosquitos and biting gnats (otherwise known as no-see-ums). The Thermacell Patio Shield does a great job keeping them away and it looks very stylish and unobtrusive.”

Active ingredient: Allethrin | Protection time: Up to 12 hours

Also Great: This Head Net That’s Made With Very Fine Mesh

Pros

  • Super tiny holes filter the smallest insects
  • Fine mesh is easy to see through
  • Machine washable

Cons

  • Only covers your face and head

With more than 620 holes per square inch, this insect head net will keep out even the tiniest flying pests. It’s earned a 4.6-star overall rating after more than 5,000 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.”

Studies referenced:

Van Roey, K., Sokny, M., Denis, L., Van den Broeck, N., Heng, S., Siv, S., Sluydts, V., Sochantha, T., Coosemans, M., & Durnez, L. (2014). Field evaluation of picaridin repellents reveals differences in repellent sensitivity between Southeast Asian vectors of malaria and arboviruses. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 8(12), e3326. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pntd.0003326

Lee M. Y. (2018). Essential Oils as Repellents against Arthropods. BioMed research international, 2018, 6860271. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/6860271

Bibbs, C. S., Fulcher, A., & Xue, R.-D. (2015). Allethrin-Based Mosquito Control Device Causing Knockdown, Morbidity, and Mortality in Four Species of Field-Caught Mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae). Journal of Medical Entomology, 52(4), 739–742. https://doi.org/10.1093/jme/tjv065

Colucci, B., & Müller, P. (2018). Evaluation of standard field and laboratory methods to compare protection times of the topical repellents PMD and DEET. Scientific Reports, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-30998-2

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