If you've ever emerged from a long (or even short) amount of time outdoors with those dreaded red, round, and super itchy bug bites all over your body, you're probably on the hunt for a better mosquito repellent. Typically, deterring those pesky insects has meant relying on products with that token — and very pungent— chemical DEET, but there are other viable options. Luckily, the
best non-DEET mosquito repellents work just as well at keeping the bugs from feasting on your blood.
When shopping for a non-DEET formula, here's what to look for in the ingredient list:
Picaridin: This is a synthetic molecule that mimics a compound that's found in black pepper plants. It's odorless and essentially works by disguising your smell, making you unrecognizable to mosquitoes as potential prey. Studies have shown that it's just as effective against mosquitos as DEET when used in a concentration of 20%, so it's one of the most proven swaps you'll find. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE): Though it sounds like an essential oil, it's not. OLE is actually a naturally occurring compound extracted from the eucalyptus tree. It can be found in repellents in both natural and synthetic forms (where it's referred to as PMD) and is the only plant-based ingredient registered as a safe and effective repellent by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Allethrin and Permethrin: Both of these are synthetic versions of chrysanthemum extracts and are often found in repellents that are not absorbed directly onto the skin. Allethrin is especially good for using in lanterns in patios and outdoor spaces, while permethrin-treated garments will keep you mosquito-free through dozens of washes. Essential oils: In terms of all-natural repellents, you'll find that essential oils like citronella or geranium are popular choices. Some studies have shown citronella " is as effective dose for dose as DEET," but because of its rapid rate of evaporation, it's not nearly as long-lasting. In addition, when applied directly to the skin, essential oils may cause allergic reactions. So it's best to use this form of bug protection for shorter times outdoors and in a less direct way, like with a bracelet.
Whether you're looking for a spray, lotion, or a colorful, fun cuff your kiddos will love, one of the
best non-DEET mosquito repellents below will keep you happily bite-free without the stink. We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was written by our Commerce team.
The Best Picaridin Repellent Lotion
Offering the longest-lasting protection on the list, the
Sawyer mosquito repellent lotion will keep pesky insects away for up to 14 hours. Made with a 20% concentration of picaridin, this cream is effective against mosquitoes, as well as ticks and sand flies. Though it's a potent formula, the repellent has a pleasant and light citrus smell that won't offend your nose. Opting for a lotion over a spray will give you fuller coverage with a smoother, less sticky consistency. With more than 3,700 5-star reviews, the Amazon user praise is high— fans report that it's "nothing short of amazing." and that trips to even the most mosquito laden places (like Costa Rica and Africa) were a success.
Note: Sawyer also makes
a spray version for those who do prefer that type of application. Success story: "We just completed a 5-day camping trip throughout the Redwoods and Lost Coast region of Northern California. The mosquitoes were absolutely insane, to the point where you could see massive swarms of them at each of our campsites. As soon as we put this repellent on, though, we wouldn't see a single other mosquito for the rest of that evening. I'm honestly shocked at how effective it is. Holy grail product, for sure!"
The Best OLE Repellent Spray
Lemon eucalyptus is the only plant-based active ingredient recommended by the EPA against mosquito bites and
this Repel spray in particular also has high scores with Consumer Reports. Made with a 30% concentration of the oil, the repellent is effective against mosquitoes that carry the Zika, West Nile, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses. Though you'll need to reapply the spray every six hours, the non-greasy formula has an herbal, eucalyptus scent that's not as overpowering as many DEET products. Before applying to fabrics and leather, do a spot test to make sure the oil doesn't warp or damage the material. This formula, with more than 4,540 five-star reviews is a winner with families, though just keep in mind that OLE products should not be used on children under age 3. Success story: "I live on the coast of Southeast North Carolina. After a good rain storm in the summer, every puddle becomes a nightmare, breeding ground for mosquitoes. I am also in the military and while working outside this weekend I covered myself in this spray. In a group of 10 that walked into a field, I was the only person that was not IMMEDIATELY swarmed and bitten. Not only that but I didn't get a single bite while out for several hours. I cannot say enough about how impressed I am with the effectiveness of this product."
The Best Insect Repellent Wipes With Picaridin
If you are hiking, traveling light, or going to an outdoor party, these
Natrapel wipes are a portable and compact alternative to lugging around a can of bug spray. Each towelette is soaked in a completely DEET-free formula with 20% picaridin, and just one wipe is enough to cover most adults. The wipes are effective against mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, and sand flies, with one application lasting up to 12 hours. The wipes are TSA-friendly and won't be counted as a liquid when you're passing through security. Success story: "I have to say I was really skeptical of these but I tried it when out in Puerto Rico, and for anyone who's ever been out there, the mosquito's are nasty!, and it really worked. The mosquito's love to devour me when I go out there to visit family and they stayed away. I was really impressed. [...] Even if you're wearing long pants (since mosquito's can get through those too), wipe your skin before putting your clothes and they will stay away. Love these!!"
The Best Mosquito Repellent Bracelets
bracelets are infused with oils that all have repellent properties, including citronella, lemongrass, and geraniol. These stretchy bands are labeled as being for kids, but several Amazon users report that they are stretchy enough to be worn on adult-sized wrists too. `Each single-use band comes individually wrapped, giving you the option to take a handful with you for outdoor picnics or even leaving some in the car for unexpected outdoor events. They are also TSA-friendly, making them perfect to bring on a trip. Just keep in mind that while this accessory offers a very quick and easy solution, the protection is much more minimal when compared to lotions and sprays. Success story: "These always come in handy for our vacations to Hill Country in Texas. The mosquitoes get pretty bad and both my girls are allergic to the bites. These helped them so much! No more bites and they can enjoy their time!"
Also Great: These Reusable Bracelets Available In A Rainbow Of Colors
The refillable pellets inside the
Para'Kito wristband are saturated with a bouquet of mosquito-combating essential oils, including citronella, geranium, lavender, and peppermint. A pellet lasts 15 days and two are included with each band. The adjustable bracelets can be wrapped around most adult-sized wrists or ankles. They are also waterproof, so you can take them to the beach or pool. `They're also pretty stylish as far as a wearable repellents goes, and available in 36 colors and vibrant prints. Success story: "Loved it. I am allergic to DEET and therefore avoid the outdoors as much as possible during mosquito months. Para Kito band brought much relief and after working in the garage for an hour (high mosquito traffic area) I had zero bug bites. For comparison, normally 10 mins in the garage would yield 3 or 4 bites. Highly recommend."
A Lantern With Allethrin That’s Perfect For Outdoor Spaces
The insect repellent cards in this
lantern are made with allethrin, a synthetic version of the repellent found in chrysanthemum flowers. The lantern works with a single fuel cartridge, and when turned on, it creates a 15 x 15 foot zone of protection around you. Odorless, and flameless this mosquito nemesis also emits a warm glow powered by LED lights. The lantern comes with three cards, each offering up four hours of defense and a fuel cartridge that will last you twelve hours. Success story: "love this product!!! We have a serious mosquito problem, until we received this product we couldn't even sit on our back deck in the evening. Therma cell keeps all bugs away for hours!."
A Mosquito Repellent Hoodie Infused With Permethrin
Made with permethrin, another synthesized chrysanthemum extract, this
ExOfficio hoodie provides a comfy way to protect yourself from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other bugs. The knitted hoodie's repellent property will last you through 70 washes (it's machine washable). Ultra-lightweight, quick-drying, and breathable, the pull-over will be a welcome addition to your casual wear. It's also available in 10 colors and sizes XXS - XL. Note: Permethrin is known to be highly toxic to felines, so if you are a cat owner, you'll want to avoid this pick. Success story: "I bought this for a trip to Costa Rica where we camped along a river and expected tons of bugs. The shirt worked great at preventing bites. [...] It was also breathable which was great in the heat." Studies referenced: Maia, M. F., & Moore, S. J. (2011). Plant-based insect repellents: a review of their efficacy, development and testing. Malaria journal, 10 Suppl 1(Suppl 1), S11. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2875-10-S1-S11