Mosquitoes are the most deadly animal in the world. With every passing year, they kill hundreds of thousands of human beings around the globe. Hysteria over the diseases they spread has reached a peak in the United States.
It’s very unlikely that you have to worry about malaria and the Zika virus. But if you want an insect repellent that can reduce your chances of contracting a mosquito-borne disease, what ingredients should you look for?
Best Mosquito Repellent For Zika Virus and Malaria Mosquito
|Product||Chemical or Non-Abbreviated Name||Synthetic or Natural|
Our Best Pick
|Oil of lemon eucalyptus||Natural|
DEET is a synthetic chemical that was originally developed by the United States army more than fifty years ago. Since being released to the public, it has become the active ingredient in the bulk of insect repellents on the market. No other chemical or substance has been proven as effective as DEET in preventing mosquito bites and the transmission of disease.
Every year, it’s estimated that one out of three United States residents uses DEET to protect themselves against mosquito bites and infection. The CDC believes that DEET has significantly reduced or stopped the spread of viruses like the Zika virus, the West Nile virus, malaria, and tick-borne sicknesses including Lyme disease.
It’s easy to find products that use DEET. They are available in a multitude of formats from a multitude of different manufacturers. Different insect repellents use different concentrations of DEET and other active ingredients. Some are optimized for certain situations. For example, concentrations of 100 percent DEET are only supposed to be used when you’re entering an extremely dangerously infested area.
Some of the most common forms that DEET repellent takes include sprays, liquids, lotions, wipes, towelettes, and roll-on bars. For a formulation to be safe to apply directly to a human’s skin, it must contain between 5 percent and 99 percent DEET. Some DEET concentrations that claim to be “100 percent” are actually 98 percent so that they can be registered for contact with human skin.
In almost all cases, DEET is registered for consumption by humans and not by animals. It isn’t used in food. The only cases where DEET is used for other purposes are in rare veterinary exceptions.
DEET is a synthetic chemical that has specifically been designed to be applied to human skin to encourage insect repellent. Rather than being a pesticide, DEET confuses the sense of smell of mosquitoes so that they can’t understand where we are to bite us. The compound was registered for general public use in 1957, eleven years after its initial development. Around 120 products that contain DEET have been EPA registered across around 30 companies.
Some people have raised concerns regarding the health and safety of DEET. The FDA has approved DEET products for use in all humans except children under the age of two months. However, studies have indicated that using extremely high levels of DEET on the skin or ingesting the substance can lead to life-threatening central nervous system complications.
With that said, inhaling or placing extremely concentrated amounts of natural essential oils on the skin can also cause life-threatening complications. Every substance is toxic when you use it in toxic amounts. The CDC and FDA have not yet found compelling evidence that DEET is dangerous, and there are more than fifty years of research indicating that the risks are minimal.
DEET does have one documented problem, though. The chemical has been known to eat away at synthetic fibers like fishing line and certain fabrics. It can also leave stains when it’s sprayed on clothes instead of onto a person’s skin.
Picaridin is the most popular active ingredient used for insect repellent after DEET. It has been approved by the CDC and has been in use as an insect repellent in the United States since 2005. Prior to that, it was already being used in the UK and Australia. To this day, Picaridin is the insect repellent that’s come closest to replicating the effects of DEET in terms of mosquito and tick repellent.
Like DEET, Picaridin works by confusing a mosquito’s sense of smell. It is not an insecticide and does not kill mosquitoes. The chemical has been approved for use directly on the skin. Many of the insect repellents that use Picaridin have a 20 percent concentration of the substance, since that’s the concentration recommended by the CDC.
In many ways, Picaridin has been shown to be safer than DEET. There have been no documented adverse health effects from inhaling Picaridin accidentally, though inhaling it on purpose may cause problems. Picaridin can irritate the eyes if it gets into them, but it doesn’t cause visual abnormalities. Because Picaridin is a synthetic chemical, some people experience skin sensitivities and allergies to it. However, these reactions are very uncommon.
Another bonus to Picaridin is that it doesn’t affect synthetic materials the same way DEET does. You can spray Picaridin on your clothes, hunting gear, fishing equipment, and even the inside of your car without worrying about staining or damage. This makes it an ideal insect repellent for hikers, hunters, fishers, and anyone else who uses equipment they don’t want damaged when they go on their adventures.
OLE is the next most commonly cited substance when choosing insect repellent. There are a few lesser-known synthetic chemicals that the CDC has approved as well. But OLE, otherwise known as oil of lemon eucalyptus, is best known because it is the only natural ingredient currently approved for preventing the spread of mosquito-transmitted viruses.
There are a number of essential oils that have been proven to have insect-repelling effects. Many repellents are made up of blends of these oils. However, even though they have documented efficacy, they haven’t been strong enough to rival synthetic chemicals like DEET and Picaridin. OLE is the only essential oil that’s reached this level, which means that if you buy an insect repellent that uses natural ingredients, OLE should be one of them.
Studies of OLE and other essential oils have shown that when natural ingredients are compared to DEET, the only ingredient capable of providing consistent and long-lasting results was OLE. In addition, OLE hasn’t been documented to have many adverse health effects. With that said, the FDA recommends it not be used on children below age three because it can cause eye irritation.
If you have a little one under age three, the safest option for them is DEET.
There are a number of insect repellents that the CDC has specifically approved to help prevent mosquito bites. These are all repellents that have been proven by empirical research to reduce the amount of mosquito bites and disease spread by mosquitoes. The CDC is only concerned with the prevention and control of disease. They don’t approve insect repellents that haven’t been proven effective enough to stop disease from spreading.
When it comes to the repellents that the CDC has approved, there are three that are used more popularly in insect repellents in the United States than others.
DEET is the most popular insect repellent in the US. It has been proven the most effective of all insect repellents on the market when repelling mosquitoes and preventing the further spread of disease. If you care most about the efficacy of the repellent, DEET performs best.
However, DEET does come with a few issues. Some people have raised concerns that it can cause health problems, but researchers have only found health issues when people were exposed to the chemical in significant doses. Similarly, any natural or synthetic substance will become toxic if a person is exposed to it in too-high doses.
The biggest proven problem with DEET is that it can cause staining or damage to things like hunting gear, clothing, and fishing equipment. If you want an insect repellent that you can use without worrying it’ll ruin your fishing line or your clothing, the next best choice is Picaridin.
Picaridin has been proven to be nearly as effective as DEET at preventing mosquito bites. The substance is a synthetic chemical that has been used in bug sprays in the United States since 2005. It’s safe to use with all kinds of clothing and equipment.
If you’re looking for a completely natural option, OLE is the best one. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the only totally natural ingredient that the CDC has deemed potent enough to stop the spread of Zika and malaria. It doesn’t have the same potential issues with allergies or sensitivities that DEET and Picaridin do. With that said, it’s a very powerful substance that should not be used on children under the age of three, and it also shouldn’t be used on or around pets.