Keep the Bugs at Bay With These 8 Best Mosquito Repellents, Tested and Reviewed

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Collage of Best Mosquito Repellents to Keep the Bugs Away, Tested and Reviewed

Collage of Best Mosquito Repellents to Keep the Bugs Away, Tested and Reviewed

Health / Kristin Kempa


It’s happened to us all: a pleasant moment outdoors is dive-bombed by that all-too-familiar high-pitched buzz of mosquitoes. Or worse still, you miss the sound altogether and find your your arms and legs ravaged the next day. To help you enjoy your time outdoors without feeling itchy and full of regret, we’ve rounded up the best mosquito repellents by trying them out ourselves.

The most common health outcomes of mosquito bites range from minor irritation, to blistered welts, depending on your reactions to mosquito saliva (the stuff that makes you itch). Then, there’s the added risk of mosquito-borne illnesses like dengue, chikungunya, zika, and West Nile virus. 

Whether you’re a bona fide mosquito magnet, an outdoors enthusiast, or just after a safe repellent option for your family, the market is flooded with bug repellent options. DEET vs. non-DEET? Spray vs cream application? Essential oils vs synthetic chemicals? Odorless vs scented? 

Lucky for you, we’ve got your back (and neck, and wrists, and ankles). First, we talked to a dermatologist, an entomologist, a mosquito biologist and a hiking enthusiast to get their insights on what works best. Then, after testing 12 popular insect repellents on the road, along the riverside, in the park, in long grass, and at the beach, we rated our top products across a variety of categories.

Our Top Picks

Best Overall:
Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin at Amazon

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Best Spray:
OFF! Active Insect Repellent I (15% DEET) at Walmart

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Best Lotion:
Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent at Amazon

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Best Easy Application:
Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent at Amazon

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Best with SPF:
Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard + SPF at Amazon

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Best Long-Lasting:
Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent at Amazon

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Best without DEET:
EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent at Amazon

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Best with DEET:
Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII at Amazon

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Best Overall

Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin

5

Amazon Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin

Amazon Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin

Amazon


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Our Ratings

  • Effectiveness

    5/5

  • Coverage

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

  • Smell

    5/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

Why We Like It

  • Its smell is barely noticeable smell and we experienced zero bites.

It’s Worth Noting

  • It comes in a 4 oz spray bottle that doesn’t last long if used every day.

From the super-faint odor to the fine spray and easy application, we found a lot to like about OFF!® FamilyCare Insect Repellent II. And after sustaining zero bites through testing, we can vouch for its efficacy in a range of environments.

In terms of functionality and ease of use, we found the small bottle a great size to throw in your bag, and the wide aerosol spray makes for easy and even application, even on clothes. 

When we first tested the spray in the middle of a hot day, it was barely noticeable on our skin—no obvious greasy coating like other repellents we’ve tried. Then, we tested in a grassy parkland and near water with plenty of bugs around and experienced zero bites. Our only gripe: we’d love to see this in a larger at-home pack. Beyond that, this repellent tops our ratings across every category.

Price at time of publication: $8

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: 5% picaridin
  • Size: 4 oz
  • Odor: Very faint
  • Application: Spray
  • Person spraying Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin on their arm

    Person spraying Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin on their arm

    Health / Andrea Lavinthal


  • Person's arm after using Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin

    Person's arm after using Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin

    Health / Andrea Lavinthal


  • Cannister of Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin displayed on a wooden table

    Cannister of Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin displayed on a wooden table

    Health / Andrea Lavinthal


Best Spray

OFF! Active Insect Repellent I (15% DEET)

OFF! Active Insect Repellent I (15% DEET)

OFF! Active Insect Repellent I (15% DEET)

Rite Aid


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Why We Like It

  • It’s an easy-to-apply spray repellent with multi-hour protection.

It’s Worth Noting

  • It has a slightly sweet smell.

During one- to four-hour outdoor bursts throughout testing, we only required a single application of OFF!® Active® Insect Repellent I (15% DEET) for bite-free experiences in mosquito-prone environments.

We loved that by using the spray nozzle it was easy to apply a fine layer of protection with very little over-spray or waste. Even upside-down we were able to evenly cover skin and clothes thoroughly. And, once absorbed, the repellent left very little residue or scent, and zero stains on clothes. As with any repellent, the proof is in the efficacy. And with no bites through testing and beyond, even around stagnant water on daily dog walks, we’d recommend this repellent as the best spray we tested, second only to our best overall pick.

Price at time of publication: $6 – $12

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: 15% DEET
  • Size: 6 oz, 7.5 oz, 9 oz
  • Odor: Very faint
  • Application: Spray

Person holding a can of OFF! Active Insect Repellent I (15% DEET)

Person holding a can of OFF! Active Insect Repellent I (15% DEET)

Health / Surfina Adams


Best Lotion

Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent

sawyer-products-20-picaridin-insect-repellent

sawyer-products-20-picaridin-insect-repellent

Amazon


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Why We Like It

  • It’s a slap-on repellent with a whopping 12-hour protection window.

It’s Worth Noting

  • It feels a little greasy until absorbed.

Whether for gardening, mowing or warm evenings outside, we found Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent an excellent choice in every setting.

The white color of the lotion makes application easy, as you can see where you’ve been and where you’ve missed. We first tested this repellent in close-to-home environments known to harbor mosquitos, over a couple of hours per test, and recorded zero bites. From there, we tested at an outside concert near a river in thick grass, and over several hours we recorded no irritation or bites—from full daylight to well beyond dusk.

Though we found the bottle difficult to shake, as per the instructions, the lotion itself was smooth and not too thick, though a little greasy until it fully soaks in (around five minutes). The faint citrusy smell was pleasant. And though this repellent retails for slightly more than others we tried, if it lives up to its 12-hour protection promise we’d have no problem forking out a little extra for this long-lasting alternative to DEET. Plus, it gets the tick of approval from our consultant dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital, NYC.

Price at time of publication: $10

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: 20% picaridin
  • Size: 4 oz
  • Odor: Very faint citrus
  • Application: Lotion

Dollop of Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent on a person's arm

Dollop of Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent on a person's arm

Health / Renee Scott


Best Easy Application

Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray

4.6

Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray

Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray

Amazon


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Our Ratings

  • Effectiveness

    3/5

  • Coverage

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

  • Smell

    5/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

Why We Like It

  • The size of the nozzle and the pump mechanism makes application easy.

It’s Worth Noting

  • We found reapplication necessary to prevent bites in some environments.

We think the Coleman IR3535 SkinSmart DEET-Free Insect Repellent Spray is a solid choice for picnics, long walks, running, park time, even at the beach—and in high-humidity environments. The large nozzle meant that just a couple of sprays on each limb provided even coverage, and the repellent was simple to spread around with our hands to ensure we didn’t miss spots. It’s not sticky or greasy, and has a short-lived and non-offensive odor. And we found the locking mechanism super useful for when we tossed the bottle in a tote bag (though the bottle itself could be a little cumbersome if carried in something smaller).

In terms of efficacy, we recorded six-hour periods of protection during testing, though on occasion we noticed a few bites a couple of hours after application. We’d recommend reapplying semi-regularly in mosquito-prone areas. But given the ease of application, a little extra spray now and then is hardly a chore.

Price at time of publication: $10

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: IR3535
  • Size: 6 oz
  • Odor: Very faint 
  • Application: Spray
  • Person spraying Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray onto their leg

    Person spraying Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray onto their leg

    Health / Sharon Essien


  • Person rubbing Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray into their leg

    Person rubbing Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray into their leg

    Health / Sharon Essien


  • Bottle of Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray displayed on a table

    Bottle of Coleman SkinSmart Insect Repellent Spray displayed on a table

    Health / Sharon Essien


Best with SPF

Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Lotion

4.4

Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Lotion

Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Lotion

Avon


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Our Ratings

  • Effectiveness

    5/5

  • Coverage

    5/5

  • Value

    4/5

  • Smell

    3/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

Why We Like It

  • You only need one application for both sunscreen and bug repellent.

It’s Worth Noting

  • The smell is strong, and you need to reapply every couple of hours.

Rubbing this lotion into our skin, we discovered a little goes a long way, which is good because (with recommended reapplication every two hours) you chew through a lot of it. We noticed a slight separation in the solution when it hit our skin, though it’s not greasy and rubbed in easily to provide great coverage. The added SPF 30 protection is a bonus if you’re out in the sun or on high UV days. And we recorded zero bites during testing.

Unfortunately, the smell is a chemically mix of sunscreen and repellent. It’s not nausea or headache inducing, but fairly unpleasant, though it definitely dissipated over time. And it’s worth noting that the smell seeped into our clothing, too—though not in any permanent kind of way. Still, it’s waterproof for 80 minutes, and the two-in-one factor makes it a great option for traveling or shorter outings close to home. 

Price at time of publication: $15

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: IR3535 + SPF30 sunscreen
  • Size: 4 oz
  • Odor: Strong 
  • Application: Lotion

Person holding a bottle of Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Lotion

Person holding a bottle of Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF 30 Lotion

Health / Stella Yu


Best Long-Lasting

Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent

4.3

Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent

Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent

Walmart


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Our Ratings

  • Effectiveness

    5/5

  • Coverage

    4.6/5

  • Value

    5/5

  • Smell

    3/5

  • Ease of Use

    4.2/5

Why We Like It

  • The slow-release formula gives all-day protection.

It’s Worth Noting

  • It’s not odorless, as it claims on the bottle.

Applying a pea-sized squeeze on each limb, we found the Sawyer Products Controlled Release Insect Repellent was smooth and easy to rub in, though it left a greasy layer for the first hour or so. Being a lotion, not a spray, meant we couldn’t get the clothing coverage we got with other repellents. But even after eight hours straight of sweaty yard work in a bug-infested environment we recorded zero bites through testing.

The mild but noticeable odor was off-putting, however—though it dissipated over time and left no lasting residue or smell on our clothes. Overall, we’d recommend this an effective heavy-duty slow-release repellent for long periods outdoors, and great value for the price. But be aware, its smell and feel are not nearly as subtle or refined as others we tried.

Price at time of publication: $8

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: 20% DEET
  • Size: 4 oz
  • Odor: Noticeable
  • Application: Lotion

Person crouched in the grass while testing Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent

Person crouched in the grass while testing Sawyer Controlled Release Insect Repellent

Health / Henry Yung


Best without DEET

EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent

5

Amazon EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent

Amazon EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent

Amazon


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Our Ratings

  • Effectiveness

    4.9/5

  • Coverage

    5/5

  • Value

    5/5

  • Smell

    5/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

Why We Like It

  • It has an effective ingredient list we were happy to apply on our kids and the most sensitive skins.

It’s Worth Noting

  • It’s not waterproof or sweatproof, so you need to reapply in wet environments.

Whether on trail runs, outside play sessions, Zoo outings, even a bug-infested plant and garden sale, the efficacy of this repellent was impressive. With only one bite recorded (albeit between the toes, so likely an application error) across several test subjects during multi-hour outdoor stints in mosquito-prone environments, we rate this picaridin-based product as an effective DEET-free choice.

The spray nozzle distributed wide, even coverage, which—followed by a decent rub-in—meant a little went a long way. On children, we opted to spray into the palm first before applying to skin, in order to prevent any unwanted inhalation. (If a future lotion version were available, that’d be great for parents.) The solution felt pleasant, even moisturizing on the skin, and we loved that it’s fragrance-free—although it does have a very faint and slightly sweet smell—especially for the little ones. 

All-in-all, barring a little gunky residue on the bottle after use, and the fact it’s not waterproof, we found this repellent hard to fault as a DEET-free option.

Price at time of publication: $13

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: 20% picaridin
  • Size: 4 oz
  • Odor: Very faint
  • Application: Spray nozzle

Person rubbing EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent into their leg

Person rubbing EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent into their leg

Health / Kimberly Souza


Best with DEET

Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII

4.5

Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII

Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII

Amazon


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Our Ratings

  • Effectiveness

    4/5

  • Coverage

    4.5/5

  • Value

    4.5/5

  • Smell

    4.5/5

  • Ease of Use

    5/5

Why We Like It

  • We saw a massive reduction in bites in known mosquito hotspots.

It’s Worth Noting

  • Once applied and absorbed, it felt like it dried out our skin.

A quick spray of OFF!® Deep Woods® Insect Repellent VIII allowed for easy application over large areas, with no noticeable residue on our skin. Though it did feel a little dry, almost powdery, once absorbed. We loved that the bottle size is easily thrown into a bag for a day out. And it’s sweet though chemically fragrance is in no way offensive, with no lingering smell left on clothes. 

Testing in known mosquito zones—balconies, grassy backyards, and while walking—and on known mosquito magnets, we recorded very few bites. Which, given the severity of our editors’ previous reactions, and the prevalence of biting insects encountered, is a massive thumbs up from us in terms of efficacy. And at $4 for a 2.5 ounce can, you get heavy-duty protection for high-mosquito environments at a super-low price-point.

Price at time of publication: $4

Product Details:

  • Active Ingredients: 25% DEET
  • Size: 2.5 oz
  • Odor: Sweet though chemically
  • Application: Spray

Person spraying Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII on their arm

Person spraying Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII on their arm

Health / Kelly Meehan Brown


Our Testing Process

To determine the best insect repellents, we first spoke with some experts, including:

  • Joshua Zeichner, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology at The Mount Sinai Hospital, NYC
  • Immo A. Hansen, PhD, Associate Professor of Biology at New Mexico State University, specialist in in molecular biology and the physiology of mosquitoes
  • Wizzie Brown, BCE, entomologist at Texas A&M AgriLife
  • Wesley Trimble, Communications and Creative Director at the American Hiking Society

Based on expert recommendations, our team of editors subjected 12 popular repellents to a field testing process. The testing approach included duration spent in known high-density mosquito environments, as well as everyday scenarios (patios, barbecues, parks etc.) where our editors have experienced insect bites previously. Our editors followed box instructions for application techniques and protection timeframes.

Throughout testing, key considerations included: effectiveness and bite count, ease of application and coverage, skin feel, odor, value for money, and whether or not each product measured up to manufacturer claims.  

What to Know About Mosquito Repellents

EPA Approval

Our experts agree, the first rule of thumb when choosing an insect repellent: look for active ingredients approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). EPA-registered insect repellents are proven to be safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women. The EPA website contains a bunch of handy tips on where to start.

DEET vs. DEET-Free

Let’s bust a widely-held misconception here: DEET is safe. It has been studied thoroughly and is approved as safe to use by the EPA and CDC. Not only that, but each of the dermatologists, biologists and entomologists we spoke to highly recommend DEET as one of the top two active ingredients to look for in a repellent. And it remains the standard by which all other active ingredients are measured. All professionals we consulted also agree that it’s important to apply DEET-based products carefully, and in line with the instructions on the box. Avoid getting DEET in your eyes or mouth, and if you apply it with your hands, wash them thoroughly and immediately afterwards. 

If you’d still prefer not to use DEET, or you don’t like the feel or smell, there are several other EPA/CDC approved options, which range in efficacy. The experts we consulted highly rate picaridin and IR3535 as DEET alternatives. And for an “all natural” choice, recent research also found a product containing lemon eucalyptus oil was almost as effective and long lasting as others containing DEET.

Active Ingredients

Look for the active ingredients below. When used as directed, these EPA-registered insect repellents are proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

  • DEET
  • Picaridin (aka KBR3023 and icaridin outside the US)
  • IR3535
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)
  • Para-menthane-diol (PMD)
  • 2-undecanone

A footnote on essential oils as insect repellents: as Dr. Zeichner notes in the Your Questions Answered section below, there is evidence some essential oils work to repel biting insects, but the efficacy and longevity of protection can be limited. He recommends any essential oils you use should be diluted in a carrier solution like coconut oil before being applied to the skin to avoid burns or irritation. 

Application 

When used as directed, all EPA and CDC approved repellents are proven to be safe and effective. But the devil is in the detail of how you apply them. Always start with a 1×1 inch test patch on a small area of skin to gauge reaction before applying a new product to larger areas. Following the box instructions is the best way not only to ensure effective coverage, but also to avoid painful overspray in eyes or unwanted inhalation. 

If you’re using DEET products, Dr. Zeichler says to avoid contact with the fingertips, because you may inadvertently touch your mouth or your eyes. If you are rubbing DEET-based repellents into you skin with your hands, be sure to wash them thoroughly and immediately after application.

Dr. Zeichler also says to be careful not to mix your bug spray and sunscreen. Sunscreens have been shown to act as penetration enhancers, which means that they allow bug spray ingredients to penetrate more deeply into the skin than they normally would. He recommends applying your sunscreen first and then waiting at least 20 minutes before applying your bug spray. Or you can try a two-in-one like Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard + IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF Lotion, reviewed above.

More Mosquito Repellents to Consider

While these mosquito repellents didn’t top any of our categories, they may still be of interest to you.

  • Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent (20% Picaridin): Zero bites recorded in notoriously mosquito-prone areas is a big tick of approval from us on efficacy. But the spray nozzle administered the repellent so fast that we ended up with wet skin, and a lot of wastage. Plus, the odor lingered for many hours on skin and clothes. 
  • OFF!® Sportsmen Deep Woods® Insect Repellent 3 (30% DEET): The rapid speed of distribution from the nozzle meant we had to spray a line before applying with our hands, negating the convenience of using a spray repellent. We also noticed this product left a greasy layer that took some time to be absorbed. And we found the strong DEET odor unpleasant (as did mosquitos, apparently, with zero bites recorded through testing).
  • 3M Ultrathon™ Insect Repellent Aerosol (25% DEET): Although we recorded no bites on a camping trip with multiple people in a gnat- and high-mosquito environment, we were still swarmed by bugs. The mist spray meant a lot of over-spray—not ideal given the repellent’s unpleasant smell.
  • Ben’s 30% DEET Tick & Insect Repellent Wipes: A mosquito bite within ten minutes of application wasn’t a good start for this product. And the very wet wipes were unpleasant to touch, leaving an odorous residue on fingers, and a shimmery gloss on our skin.

Your Questions, Answered

What’s the most effective mosquito repellent?

The experts we consulted agree, look for the DEET, picaridin and IR3535 for the most effective repellents. They also note that the dilution is important, and for high-concentration mosquito areas, you should look for 10% to 30% active ingredients. For a short stint outdoors, try lower concentrations.

Hiking specialist Wesley Trimble recommends DEET and picaridin as the two most effective insect repellents that can be applied to the skin. He notes that both are effective for mosquitos and ticks. But he also cautions that you should avoid using DEET products on some waterproof-breathable membranes such as GORE-TEX and similar plastic and synthetic fabrics, as it can harm some fabrics. 

In terms of our testing, the products that scored the highest in effectiveness (with near-perfect scores) were:

  • EarthKind Stay Away® Mosquitoes Insect Repellent (20% picaridin)
  • OFF!® FamilyCare Insect Repellent II (5% picaridin)
  • Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent (20% picaridin)
  • Sawyer Products Controlled Release Insect Repellent (20% DEET)
  • OFF!® Sportsmen Deep Woods® Insect Repellent 3 (30% DEET)
  • OFF!® Active® Insect Repellent I (15% DEET)
  • Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard + IR3535 Gentle Breeze SPF Lotion

And out of the products we tested, Dr. Zeichner highly recommends Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent. 

Is there anything that actually repels mosquitoes?

Our experts highly recommend DEET, picaridin and IR3535 as the most effective active ingredients for repelling mosquitoes. Dermatologist Dr. Zeichner also notes that there is evidence some essential oils repel biting insects due to their scents. He recommends oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, rose geranium, soybean oil, cedar oil and clove oil. But he adds a caution: “Many essential oils can lead to chemical burns in the skin when exposed to UV light, and direct application of essential oils on the skin can cause irritation-type reactions. Essential oils should be diluted out in a carrier oil like coconut oil before being applied to the skin.” 

How do I keep mosquitoes from biting me?

If you’re heading to an area of high mosquito concentrations, hiking specialist Wesley Trimble suggests a combination of appropriate repellent for the setting and wearing loose-fitting, long-sleeved clothes treated with permethrin. When applied to clothing, permethrin can last for days or even weeks, depending on the brand, how it's applied, and how often the clothes are washed. “It's very convenient to treat clothes before a trip, so it's one less thing to remember,” he says. “I also pack a headnet to keep bugs at bay even though it's a funny look, as well as a small container of picaridin to protect any exposed skin such as the tops of hands and arms.” 

What smell do mosquitoes hate? 

In a recent New Mexico State University study, researchers compared the efficacy of 20 essential oils at repelling mosquitoes and ticks, using various methods including bug-on-arm assays. Contrary to popular beliefs that essential oils don’t work in repelling biting insects, this study showed that several provided lengthy protection times (although, as co-author and Associate Professor of Biology at NMSU, Dr. Hansen notes, these results vary). During testing, they found clove oil offers about two hours’ protection, cinnamon around 90 minutes, and geranium, around the hour mark. But Dr. Hansen also notes that when you take into account that 10% DEET solution offers around six hours’ protection, if you can deal with the DEET feel and odor, ticks and mosquitoes are less likely to love you over time. 

Who We Are

Samson McDougall is a journalist, copywriter, editor and biology graduate. His work encompasses everything from web copy for science museums to writing sexual health articles for universities, info sheets for first-in-category pharmaceuticals to brand messaging for wearable touch therapy by neuroscientists. Samson is a walker, hiker, surfer, and all-round nature lover. He has spent large periods of time in mosquito-prone areas of the Pacific Islands, Mexico and Australia.