Worthless Mosquito Repellents…and What Really Works

Date: April 11, 2016      Publication: Health Insider      Source: Joe  Conlon, MS, American Mosquito Control Association      Print:

This season we’re all worried about mosquitoes. While you may not be traveling to a state or country that has the Zika virus, most of the country is susceptible to mosquito-borne West Nile virus. So it’s no surprise that companies are falling over themselves to sell you super-convenient protection. But not all of these products work—or are safe. To learn more, we spoke with medical entomologist and retired US Navy Commander Joe Conlon, MS, currently technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association.

Here’s what he told us…

  • Bracelets. Skip. Protection without the mess! It sounds like a nice idea, but mosquito-repellent bracelets just don’t work. “Bracelets will protect your wrist, but not your entire body,” Conlon explains. Researchers at New Mexico State University are working on creating more effective insect-repellent bracelets, but the products now on the market are essentially worthless.
  • Skin patches. Skip. Here’s another not-ready-for-prime-time product—skin patches that claim to repel bites with vitamin B-1 and other natural ingredients. Regardless of glowing Internet testimonials, says Conlon, these are “notoriously ineffective.”
  • Clip-ons. Skip, even though they work. You can clip these products—which use an EPA-registered pesticide called metofluthrin—onto your pocket, backpack, etc. They’re small, battery-powered fans that circulate the repellent. “These will probably work if there’s no breeze,” Conlon says. “But you’re sitting in the middle of a vapor cloud of pesticide, and I just don’t get a warm, fuzzy feeling with that.”
  • Insect-repellent clothing. Get these duds. The military has been using clothing impregnated with a repellent called permethrin for decades, and now the technology—called Insect Shield—is EPA-registered and available to consumers. Conlon used insect-repellent camouflage fatigues while working in the jungle as a Navy entomologist. “This particular technology works exceptionally well,” he says. “You could actually see mosquitoes land on it, and it’s like they landed on an electric grid. They would pull one leg off, then the next leg and then the rest of the legs, then fly for about six inches before dropping dead.” The consumer version also kills—rather than just repels—insects, lasts for about 70 washings and is also effective against ticks. While Insect Shield sells its clothing (and you can send your own clothing to them to be treated), the technology is also widely available—embedded in other manufacturer’s clothing and as a liquid to treat your own clothing—in stores and on the web. Get pants and shirts—and don’t forget socks. “Aedes aegypti—the mosquitoes that transmit dengue, Zika and chikungunya—like to feed on the lower legs,” Conlon says.
  • Bug spray. Keep using it! Even if you’re wearing insect-repellent clothing, you should protect exposed areas —such as your face—with traditional bug spray. (To avoid your eyes, spray some on your hands and then apply to your face.) “The gold standard is DEET, and the repellents that contain it have been reformulated so they don’t smell bad and aren’t greasy,” Conlon says. A 25% to 35% DEET formulation will last four hours. If you prefer non-DEET repellents, those that contain picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus are practically as effective as DEET, which also repels ticks, but they do need to be reapplied more frequently.
  • Sunscreen with repellent. While they can be effective, you may wind up applying more sunscreen frequently—after swimming, for example. But you don’t want to apply DEET or even natural repellents more often than is recommended. So it’s best to use two different products.

One final piece of advice: Look for an EPA registration number—usually on the back label—on any repellent you’re considering buying. To get it, a product has to undergo testing for safety and effectiveness. “If it hasn’t been EPA-registered,” says Conlon, “I would not use it.” (To learn more ways to protect yourself from mosquitoes and other insects, see the “Bottom Line Guide: Bugged by Bugs?”)

Source: Joe Conlon, MS, retired US Navy Commander, medical entomologist and currently technical adviser to the American Mosquito Control Association (AMCA). He is a retired US Navy medical entomologist with 25 years of extensive worldwide experience in mosquito control and has testified before the US Congress on mosquito-control issues.

  • Ed Jackson

    The best repellent I’ve found is picaridin, a natural, non-toxic plant extract in Cutter’s Advanced. Mosquitoes love to bite me, but not with a little of this on my legs, arms and neck. No smell, no poison, no skeeters. It comes in a Squirt bottle, not pressurized, so it’s easy to apply.

  • Gladis Roundy

    skin-so-soft; is a good mosquito repellent in the summer; I use oil and lotion together, I do not get mosquito bites.

  • Barbara

    A unused Bounty Dryer Sheet. Just stick it in your pocket or hang it on your hat band, belt or somewhere. I used 2 of them, and it did work. I never had a mosquito bite. The young man who told us this, said he had learned about this when he spent some time in Alaska. My sister lived there a few years and she said the mosquito’s were as big as hummingbirds. They tried the Bounty sheets and said they were the best they had found. Like me she said they used more than one sheet(3 of them) at first, but then went to 1.

  • John Reeder Dryer sheets and Skin So Soft called out in particular. DEET works. Skin So Soft only smells like bug repellent.

    • Cindy

      I can only speak for myself and I can tell you that as a magnet for mosquitos, using Skin So Soft helped me a lot. Didn’t make it stop 100% but I would say made a 90% difference in me not using anything (occasionally the bracelets while working outdoors) while in Miami, Florida. My parents live on one of the islands there and I take care of them and the house with a pool and lots of planters that fill with water etc. … many places mosquitos love to breed. And with elderly, it takes them extra long to get into and out of cars as well as homes so that the doors are open a little longer where I would find myself being bitten in my bedroom or while driving . . . it was horrible. The Skin so soft did make a difference for me.