Which family-friendly repellents work best to ward off pesky mosquitoes?
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
As temperatures rise and families rediscover the outdoors, they might find themselves swatting away pesky insects, including mosquitoes, far more often. It can be tough to choose the safest, most effective and family friendly products from the wide range of mosquito repellents available.
A bit of research can help parents select high-quality products that repel mosquitoes safely for both adults and children.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using insect repellents with EPA-approved labeling that specifies protection against mosquitoes in general or Aedes mosquitoes in particular. The EPA’s website also offers a guide to finding the repellent that suits individual needs.
How mosquito repellents are tested
Consumer Reports annually conducts thorough testing of insect and mosquito repellents, checking their effectiveness at warding off the aggressive daytime-biting, Zika-spreading Aedes mosquitoes, as well as the nighttime-biting, West Nile-spreading Culex variety.
Based on previous testing and advice from independent experts, Consumer Reports states that mosquito-repelling products should also ward off other arthropods, like deer ticks.
“[Products are given an Overall Score] based on a combination of its effectiveness against Aedes and Culex mosquitoes,” Consumer Reports’ Health and Food Deputy Editor, Trisha Calvo, told AccuWeather.
“[We] also factor in damage the product can do to materials that people wearing insect repellent might come into contact with, such as fabric, nail polish and paint, such as on a car,” Calvo said.
To test a repellent’s ability to prevent mosquito bites, a lab technician applies the repellent to a tester’s arm, which is then inserted into a cage full of disease-free mosquitoes, according to Calvo.
The technician then checks how often a person is bitten within the span of five minutes every hour, Calvo said. “A repellent failed if a tester was bitten two or more times in one five-minute session or once in two consecutive sessions,” she explained.
3 most effective ingredients
Consumer Reports’ highest-rated products kept mosquitoes away for 6.5 hours or longer, while the lowest-rated products offered protection for two hours or fewer.
When choosing the best repellent, shoppers may want to consider products that contain 15-30 percent DEET, 20 percent picaridin or 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus, as these ingredients proved most effective in Consumer Reports’ testing.
“All of the products [on our list] are safe for adults, even for pregnant women when used correctly,” Calvo said.
“[We] recommend avoiding products with over 30 percent DEET because some research suggests that higher concentrations and excessive doses can pose risks, including rashes and possibly even disorientation and seizures,” she added.
When applying products containing DEET or any other chemical, experts advise taking care to avoid contact with eyes.
“When you’re working with children, you don’t want to let them put it on their hands; you want to make sure that you're the one putting it on their face and around their eyes,” said University of Alabama at Birmingham Associate Professor Dr. Michelle Fanucchi.
“If they get it on their hands, they’re likely to rub their eyes [or touch their mouths],” Fanucchi added.
Consumer Reports recommends keeping DEET repellents away from children younger than 2 months old. Products containing picaridin at 20 percent are also effective, according to Fanucchi. “Picaridin has fewer toxic effects at higher doses than DEET,” she said.
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Although picaridin appears to be safe for a family with kids of different ages, including infants, it can irritate the eyes, Calvo warned, so products containing it should be used carefully.
Many experts advise against using so-called natural mosquito repellents, including those with cedar, cinnamon, geranium, rosemary and peppermint, as they have shown not to be as effective as other ingredients.
“In Consumer Reports testing, repellents with [these ingredients] provided little protection, often failing in our tests within a half-hour,” Calvo said.
However, oil of lemon eucalyptus at 30 percent has proven to work well, according to Fanucchi. Consumer Reports stated that oil of lemon eucalyptus is safe for children older than 3 years.
Consumer Reports’ recommendations for keeping mosquitoes away from your home include cleaning your gutters; ensuring that there’s no standing water in birdbaths, old tires and on swimming pool covers; clearing away ivy and decaying leaves; and not using citronella candles or bug zappers.
“Instead, put an oscillating pedestal fan, set on high, on your deck or patio,” Calvo said. "In [our] tests, this cut mosquito landings by 45-65 percent among people close to [the fan].”
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
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