A trend towards more organic products to repel bugs may be more of a marketing gimmick than it is science based. Consumer Reports released a report about the effectiveness of mosquito repellent for both children and adults and the results found the most effective products were actually the safest but not necessarily organic, followed by products which used the chemical ingredient DEET.
Consumer Reports used volunteers to spray themselves with various bug repellents before their lab unleashed a swarm of disease free mosquitoes which are typically prone to disease transmission. If the mosquitoes bit the subjects more than once in the areas they were sprayed within 5 minutes, the product failed. Of the 15 spray aerosol repellents tested, the top performers were also the most kid friendly. Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula which contains the active chemical ingredient picaridin and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus which contains the active ingredient lemon eucalyptus repelled bugs significantly longer and better than products containing DEET. Consumer Reports also reported that these two products repelled mosquitoes and deer ticks all day, lasting more than 7 hours in some cases.
While Consumer Reports suggests that picaridin is “a better choice for kids,” the FDA still recommends it not be used for toddlers under 3 years of age. One the advantages of picaridin over DEET, according to Sawyer Products is that picaridin doesn’t ruin equipment. DEET has been shown to break down and destroy plastic although according to Nature.com, DEET is safe to use on skin.
Mosquitoes are not only a nuisance but can spread two viruses, West Nile and chickungunya. Most people suffer mild symptoms from these viruses like joint aches and pains, but in some immune compromised individuals, the West Nile virus can be quite serious and sometimes deadly.
Consumer Reports also found of the DEET products tested, the ones with more DEET chemical weren’t necessarily better. For example, Repel Scented Family with a DEET content of 15% performed significantly better, earning a “Very Good,” over Off! Deepwoods VIII with a DEET content of 25%.
So, which products performed unsatisfactorily? Those which claimed to be made up of natural and/or organic oils. Because these products aren’t government regulated, they also aren’t tested against claims. Consumer Reports found the products in this category to be poor performers with some self proclaimed organic products actually failing to repel bugs at all. Two products, Babyganics Natural and EcoSmart Organic failed to contain any certified organic ingredients according to the report.
Another poor performer came from the synthetic repellent called IR3535, a DEET alternative which failed to make Consumer Reports top sprays.