Mosquito repellents help protect people from the dangers of mosquito bites by setting up a protective barrier between skin and insect. The idea is that if the mosquito can’t find its prey, it can’t bite.
Despite rumors and anecdotes of everything from banana peels to garlic tablets warding off mosquitoes, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend only three types of repellents for safe and effective use.
It was developed by the U.S. Army more than 50 years ago and is still considered the best chemical repellent on the market. Scientists initially believed that DEET worked by inhibiting signals from the mosquitoes’ antennae making it hard for them to find their target. However researchers at the UC Davis discovered that mosquitoes actually smell DEET and stay away from it. They simply don’t like it because it smells bad to them.
The repellent is sold in sprays, lotions, sunscreens and accessories such as wristbands. It works best when applied lightly to the skin in a 25 to 30 percent solution. In a University of Florida study, Deep Woods OFF! with 23.8 percent DEET repelled mosquitoes for five hours.
Generally, DEET should not be applied around the eyes or mouth, or to the hands of children.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus
This biopesticide developed from lemon eucalyptus trees was initially discovered in China and recently earned a recommendation from the CDC. The oil is synthesized from the tree’s twigs and leaves.
OLE works by blocking mosquitoes’ chemical receptors. OLE is available in both sprays and lotions, and it has performed well in tests, with the Repel brand providing about two hours of protection in the UF study.
It is not recommended for children under 3.
Marketed as an alternative to DEET, Picaridin, created by the German company Bayer AG in the late ’80s, became popular in Australia and gained approval in the U.S. in 2003. Another receptor blocker, it doesn’t actually repel mosquitoes, but keeps them from locating prey.
In two Australian army studies, soldiers reported that picaridin performed nearly as well as DEET, but caused less skin irritation. Picaridin comes in lotions, sprays and wipes in 5 to 10 percent solutions and is sold in the U.S. as Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent.
It is considered safe for children, except for those 2 months and under.