Mosquitos! I hate them, you hate them, we all hate them. They make you slap yourself in the side of the head at night when they dive bomb your ears just as you are drifting off to sleep. Mosquitos are at best just bloody annoying and at worst spreaders of life threatening disease like Malaria, Zika, Dengue Fever and West Nile Virus.
So depending on what part of the world you live in your reasons for buying mosquito repellent may vary. But whatever your reasons for buying repellent it’s important to ask and answer the question what is the best mosquito repellent?
DEET – The Most Well Known Repellent
The most well-known repellent was originally developed by the US Military to protect soldiers from biting insects and has been used by the general public since 1957. If there is one certainty about DEET it’s that it is incredibly effective. At concentrations of 15-30% its effects last for up to 8 hours. It doesn’t kill mosquitos however but prevents them from landing on your skin. Exactly how it does that is a mystery. All that scientists can tell you is that it works, not how it works. ‘It just works!’ is the best we have for now.
It’s not all rosy for DEET though. The world-famous repellent has developed a bit of a bad reputation when it comes to toxicity. Whether this reputation is justified is up for debate but there have been some serious issues connected with DEET use. In the 1980s there were 6 reported cases of encephalopathy (all girls aged 1-8) with three deaths. It is unclear whether DEET was the cause of these cases but it is understandable that some people would remain concerned.
With an estimated 200 million applications a year of DEET and given its role in the prevention of diseases like Malaria and Zika you could say that the benefits far outweigh the risks. I would however caution anyone to do their own careful research before purchasing or using the product.
Another knock against DEET is that it is a plasticizer. When applied to rubber, Gore-Tex, leather, spandex or elastic it can damage and even eat through the material. This could mean costly damage to expensive gear if you are not careful.
Overall it seems that DEET is an extremely effective repellent when used correctly. Just make sure that you are comfortable with the potential risk to health and clothing before purchasing and using a DEET based repellent. Does it get a thumbs up? Based purely on its effectiveness it’s a yes.
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil – A Natural Alternative to DEET?
One of the main reasons that people don’t use DEET is because it’s a man made chemical. Some people are just uncomfortable using anything but natural products when it comes to their health. Who can blame them? And when we factor in the reports of encephalopathy and deaths connected to DEET use it’s an absolute no no for many.
Luckily there is a natural alternative that has been demonstrated to be just as effective as DEET. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil contains PMD or para-Menthane-3,8-diol which is a highly effective and long-lasting repellent. A concentration of 30% PMD lasts for up to 6 hours. Unfortunately oil that is steam extracted from the twigs and leaves of the Lemon Eucalyptus plant contains only trace amounts of PMD and is therefore not very effective when applied.
To get higher concentrations of PMD many repellents use a chemically synthesized version of the oil. So in reality it’s not ‘natural’. Still, it certainly has a better track record than DEET with no reports of serious health issues stemming from its use.
So, it’s highly effective, long-lasting, kind of natural, and safe to use. That has to get a thumbs up!
Picaridin – Europe’s Answer to DEET
We’ve all heard of DEET but how many have heard of Picaridin? Picaradin (also known as Icaridin) or 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester if you want to get fancy, was developed in Europe in 1998. So when compared to DEET it’s a newcomer to the market.
But does it work? Apparently so. An application of 20% Picaradin lasts up to 8 hours and in tests has been shown to be very effective at keeping mosquitos from landing on skin. A big plus for Picaridin is that it is not a plasticizer and can be applied to you and your clothes without worrying about damaging expensive synthetic gear. Knowing that your clothes and gear are safe has to be a big plus for Picaridin. As with Lemon Eucalyptus oil it has no track record of negative side effects. It’s also odorless and non-greasy.
Unlike other repellents Picaridin repellents are currently restricted to a maximum concentration of 20% however, it is possible that higher concentrations may be available in the future.
Should you buy Picaridin? It’s hard not to recommend it. Highly effective for up to 8 hours, appears to be very safe, doesn’t damage your clothes and is odorless and non-greasy. It has to be a thumbs up!
Permethrin – Treat Your Clothes Not Your Skin
While it is possible to apply Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and Picaridin to your clothes the effect isn’t very long-lasting and washing your clothes takes away the effect altogether. So what if you want a repellent treatment for your clothes and gear that lasts more than just a few hours? Maybe Permethrin is for you.
Permethrin is a more permanent solution that is applied to your clothing or gear as a treatment that last up 6 washes or 42 days. As with DEET, Permethrin has also been used by the US military to protect soldiers from biting insect and the diseases that they may carry. Initially used as a pesticide on vegetable and fruit crops because of it’s high toxicity to insects it is one of the least toxic insecticides to mammals.
In a similar vein to Picaridin it’s a synthesized version of a naturally occurring substance. This substance is Pyrethrin, a highly effective repellent that kills mosquitos and occurs naturally in chrysanthemums.
If you class one outfit as a shirt, a pair of pants/trousers, and socks then you need 3oz of Permethrin to treat the whole outfit. This should help you to decide what size product to buy. Again, unlike DEET it is safe to apply to any fabric although it will bind more easily to soft fabrics like cotton. If you’re going camping or backpacking it can easily be applied to your tent, backpacks, sleeping bags and hats for complete protection. And if you do these activities regularly you won’t have to reapply each time you go.
So, safe to use, long-lasting (up to 42 days) from just one treatment, and it can be used to protect much more than just your clothes. If you are regularly in mosquito infested areas then this has to get a thumbs up!
Alternative Repellents – Do they work?
While researching for this article I came across many other types of repellent: wristbands, citronella candles, clip on fans, ultrasound repellents and smartphone apps. I understand why people are drawn to these alternatives as not everyone is comfortable spraying chemicals (natural or not) directly onto their skin.
Other people may also have concerns about the environmental impact of certain repellents. That said, the effectiveness of these alternative repellents is nowhere close to that of the ones mentioned above. And when we are talking about potentially life-threatening diseases being transmitted through mosquito bites I cannot in good faith recommend a product that isn’t shown to be overwhelmingly effective.
If you are traveling to areas where there are no deadly diseases spread by mosquitos and you are simply dealing with an annoyance then give these a go but if you are in or traveling to an area with potentially deadly diseases then do not take the risk. If anyone has experience of using some of the above mentioned alternative repellents and has had a positive experience then please let me know in the comments below and I will be happy to look into it.
So what is the best mosquito repellent?
As you can see from the article above it isn’t that simple to just recommend one repellent. DEET is incredibly effective but is the only repellent to have a dark cloud hanging over it regarding toxicity to humans and can also damage your clothing.
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil and Picaridin are as effective as DEET, don’t damage clothing, are long-lasting and appear to be extremely safe to use.
Permethrin is a highly effective treatment for your clothing and isn’t applied to your skin. It is also extremely long-lasting and great if you make or plan to make regular trips into mosquito infested areas.
All of the above get a thumbs up but it will vary for you depending on how you feel about chemicals and what you need the repellent for. As always the final decision is yours and it is vital that you do your research before making a purchase.