Mosquitos have always been annoying, but now that they also pose a greater health risk, thanks to things like Zika, it's important to have a trusted bug spray on hand. The best mosquito repellant sprays provide hours of protection, and let you enjoy the great outdoors without having to worry about Chikungunya virus (yes, it's a thing) or one of the many insect-born diseases that have been on the rise in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
When it comes to finding an effective bug spray, it really all does boil down to ingredients. Consumer Reports found that their top-performing bug repellents contained one of these active ingredients: DEET, Picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE). Interestingly, a higher concentration of any of these active ingredient doesn't mean it works better, just that the protection lasts longer, according to the CDC. For example, a lower percentage of DEET would mean that you would simply need to apply the product more frequently than one with a higher concentration.
It's also worth noting that more DEET only promises longer protection up to a certain point. Products with more than 50 percent DEET weren't found to be markedly more effective, reported the CDC. What's more, Consumer Reports found that you could get long-lasting, reliable protection with just 25 to 30 percent DEET.
If you're using a product with Picaridin, which is a synthetic version of a natural repellent found in pepper plants, you'll get maximum protection with approximately 20 percent of the active ingredient, according to REI. Picaridin-based products are good for those with sensitive skin, because it's less likely to irritate or trigger allergies, according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG).
For those interested in a plant-based repellent, products with oil of lemon eucalyptus concentrations of 30 percent, applied topically, were found to provide protection against mosquitos for about four hours, according to a study published in 2011. And Consumer Reports found some products that contained 30 percent OLE to be effective for up to seven hours.
With that in mind, the mosquito repellants below feature the active ingredients proven to be most effective, along with the optimal concentration levels of them. Additionally, all of the products here have racked up high ratings and rave reviews on Amazon.
1. The Best Picaridin-Based Insect Repellent
Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent 20% Picaridin
This hardworking, fragrance-free insect repellent spray has a loyal fan following, having earned more than 3,700 positive reviews on Amazon. Featuring 20 percent Picaridin, it protects against mosquitos and ticks for up to 12 hours, and against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies for up to eight hours, according to the brand.
The same product is also available as a 4-ounce lotion ($8, Amazon) if that's the application method you prefer. The lotion provides a couple extra hours of protection against ticks and mosquitos (14 hours), although it can't be used on clothing and gear like the spray can.
One Amazon reviewer, who's 4-year-old son is extremely allergic to mosquito bites, had this to say about the product: "We tried so many bug sprays, but they just didn't work. My sweet baby is just irresistible. I took him to an allergist and he recommended Sawyer Picaridin. I have been so happy with this bug repellent. Since using this bug spray, we haven't had to deal with a single bug bite."
2. The Best 30 Percent DEET Mosquito Repellent
Ben's 30 DEET Mosquito, Tick, & Insect Repellent
If you're looking for a potent DEET-based insect repellent, you can't go wrong with Ben's 30% DEET Wilderness Formula. It provides up to eight hours of protection against insects and insect-transmitted diseases, like the Zika virus, West Nile virus, Lyme disease, malaria, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), and more, according to the brand. And since it's water-based, the DEET stays on your skin's surface rather than being absorbed.
The spray initially has a strong smell but it evaporates quickly. Amazon reviewers noted that the spray holds up in buggy, tropical locations like Thailand, Nicaragua, and Puerto Rico. One fan had this to say: "We’ve used this repellent all over Africa and recently in a Colombian national park. It works great and lasts all day. We don’t get bit at all. Also a bottle this size will last quite a few trips."
3. The Best DEET Option For Kids
OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII Dry (2 ct)
Any insect repellent containing less than 30 percent DEET is acceptable for use on children, according to the AAP, but some parents feel a little skittish putting something that potent on small children. This 25-percent DEET spray is super effective and still 5 percent under the AAP recommendation. It provides long-lasting protection against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, and chiggers. And thanks to its powder-dry formula, it's thankfully non-greasy too.
While it's a great option for families, it also is powerful enough for even the most active outdoor enthusiast. One Amazon reviewer had this to say: "I used this over 3 days camping in Vermont in late Aug/early Sept. 2018. I applied it twice a day (morning and evening) somewhat liberally and it kept all bugs, mosquitos etc. away from me completely. I was outside almost the entire time."
4. The Best Plant-Based Mosquito Repellant (with OLE)
REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
This non-DEET, plant-based option has more than 4,000 positive reviews on Amazon. It contains 30 percent of oil of eucalyptus, and provides six hours of mosquito protection, according to the brand. It's formulated to create a barrier against mosquitoes that may transmit the Zika, West Nile, Dengue and Chikungunya viruses. The fragrance is a bit strong, but it wards off bugs in a serious way.
Fans love that it's an effective natural mosquito repellent. One Amazon reviewer had this to say: "Works to repel most mosquitoes. We live in Phoenix, Arizona and when I apply this, I don't get mosquito bites. Otherwise I am very sensitive to mosquito bites. ... It does not seem harsh to humans. Even the skin does not get irritated after applying this."
However, it's worth noting the CDC recommends not using any OLE product on children younger than 3 years of age.
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