Real Life

Do natural insect repellents work?

Our most recent test of insect repellents shows DEET-based products are still the gold standard. Some people don’t like its smell or how it feels – but the products work. DEET-based (N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) products are the most commonly used repellents and have a long history of safe use.

The US organisation Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists DEET, picaridin and lemon eucalyptus oil as effective insect repellents but recommends not using DEET on babies under the age of two months. Concentrations in DEET products can go up to 80% but anything above 50% provides no extra protection.

Picaridin is newer and is less aggressive than DEET, has little odour, doesn’t feel sticky or greasy and is less likely to irritate skin. In tests we’ve found natural repellents (plant oils with known or suspected insect repelling capabilities) such as citronella, melaleuca, lemongrass, eucalyptus or lavender, have an initial effect but diminish rapidly, so they need to be reapplied regularly.

And never rely on natural products where there’s a risk of malaria or dengue fever. Don’t spray DEET-based products directly on the face. Instead, spray hands and wipe the lotion on your face. And don’t apply to broken skin.

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