The People's Perspective on Medicine

Who Is Right About the Best Mosquito Repellent?

Finding the best mosquito repellent can help you avoid infection with West Nile virus from mosquitoes or Lyme disease (carried by ticks).
Bug insect itch west nile

The concern about Zika virus is an excellent reminder that mosquito bites can transmit disease. Even where Zika has not arrived, there are infections such as West Nile virus that is currently very widespread in the United States. Although most people bitten by mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus have no symptoms at all, an unlucky few develop an extremely serious infection that may start with headache, high fever, disorientation, tremors and proceed to coma, seizures or paralysis. It only makes sense to protect yourself from mosquito bites, no matter where you may live, but what is the best mosquito repellent?

Finding the Best Mosquito Repellent:

Q. Please settle a family dispute. My husband insists on using high-potency DEET mosquito repellent when we go hiking. I prefer a natural approach like lemon eucalyptus that he says is worthless. Who’s right?

A. You’re both right. Consumer Reports rates 15 to 30 percent DEET as highly effective (Ben’s, Off Deepwoods VIII and Repel Scented Family). These products kept mosquitoes from biting for about eight hours. Of the natural repellents, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus (30 percent) was roughly comparable to DEET, keeping mosquitoes away for up to seven hours.

Another effective option is picaridin 20 percent, which is a synthetic version of a chemical in the black pepper plant. Brands include Sawyer Picaridin and Natrapel 8 Hour. As the name implies, these products also provide protection for up to eight hours.

Warding Off Ticks:

In addition, both picaridin and DEET offer protection from ticks. Since tick bites may transmit Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, bartonellosis and a range of other infections, warding off tick bites is just as important as preventing mosquito bites.

To learn more about ticks and the infections they carry, you may be interested in our hour-long interview with Drs. Neil Spector, Robert Mozayeni and Thomas Platts-Mills. 

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    I need to know what insect repellent that works that is scent-free, for using around the folks in my life who are chemically sensitive.

    I used to be a mosquito magnet, too! In Dallas, West Nile ground zero it seems, I am always looking for the best solution. We still have a bunch of mosquitoes. Lately my low carb diet (no grains, sugar, dairy) might seem to be the key, as that is the only thing I’ve changed. At times I forget to wear repellent – no bites so far.

    I am usually the mosquito magnet in any crowd but I was proactive this year and started taking both a higher-dose Vitamin B combination and a fermented black garlic capsule twice daily…seems to be working!! I am also eating cashews which someone said worked for them. Sooooo, don’t know which of the treatments is the magic one, or if it’s the combination of the 3, but something IS WORKING. It’s great to be able enjoy being outside more.

    What about Avon’s Skin So Soft? Have any studies been done on this product? I’ve heard it works as a repellant.

    Avon’s Skin So Soft has been around for decades. I still have a roll on which isn’t made any longer and take on trips with me. No odor, works well even when sweating. Also used spray OFF in developing countries on clothing as well as skin.

    Thanks for providing the alternatives and effectiveness of the mosquito repellents.

    I live in the middle of tick/mosquito country and always seemed to attract both. Badger Balm’s Anti-Bug Spray and/or Balm does the trick completely. Mosquitoes fly around but do not land. Ticks just don’t land. I put the balm liberally on all exposed skin and spray on clothing. This is the first product I have ever used that works. Even when working outdoors and in the blackberry patch and sweating – no bites. I recommend it highly. (I don’t own stock in the company – just a very satisfied customer!)

    I can tell you for certain that the best repellent for mosquitoes is Shaklee’s Basic H. It isn’t toxic at all. Just rub it on and that’s it. I do not sell Shaklee products, I only use them. I also put this on my dog’s coat before he goes out. I cannot say enough good things about Basic H. You can buy it in 16 oz or gallon. There is not health threat at all by using it as a mosquito repellent.

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