The best mosquito repellent should protect you from bites without irritating your skin. To find our top picks, we consulted with mosquito experts, researched active ingredients, and tried 20 sprays, wipes, and lotions on our own skin to figure out which ones we’d actually want to use.
Best DEET-Based Repellents
Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent VDEET is the oldest and most extensively studied of our active ingredients — offering rock-solid protection against quie lness. Off! Deep Woods is an aerosol spray that provides 8 hours of protection.
Repel Family Dry Insect Repellent
A gentle formula that works for 2-4 hours. Good for children as young as 2 months.
Best Non-DEET Repellents
Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray
A newer, picaridin-based repellent that’s good for sensitive skin and offers eight hours of coverage.
Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
An all-natural option that relies on oil of lemon eucalyptus. Provides 6-7 hours of protection.
The best mosquito repellent includes enough active ingredient to repel mosquitoes for multiple hours. The key term is “active ingredient” — only a small number of ingredients are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). DEET is the most thoroughly researched and widely available — and the most commonly recommended by our experts. But picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus are good alternatives if you have sensitive skin or want a natural pick.
If you just want a general-use mosquito repellent that provides a full day of protection, choose something from the Off! Deep Woods line. Off! is a known-and-trusted brand in the insect repellent world, and its Deep Woods repellents come in aerosols, pump sprays, and towelettes. The Deep Woods line contains 25 percent DEET, which provides up to eight hours of coverage. And unlike some DEET formulas we tested, the Deep Woods line didn’t irritate our skin at all.
If you have kids, or if you’re looking for just enough repellent to cover an afternoon picnic, we recommend Repel Family Dry Insect Repellent. This 10 percent DEET repellent is designed to be safe for children, but its non-greasy, unscented spray will also be attractive to adults who are only looking for about four hours of mosquito protection.
For those with especially sensitive skin, try Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent Spray. Picaridin less likely to be a skin irritant than DEET, and testers barely noticed the repellent was on their skin once it dried. Sawyer contains 20 percent picaridin and comes in an aerosol spray. If you like the sound of picaridin but want a different method of application, you can also try Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent Wipes.
For those who want an all-natural, plant-based ingredient, Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent are two pump spray repellents that performed identically during testing. They’ll make you smell like you’ve been dipped in lemon eucalyptus (an herbal, menthol-tinged scent), but they should keep the bugs at bay for six or seven hours.
What does “up to eight hours of protection” mean?
As Joe Conlon, technical advisor at the American Mosquito Control Association explained, a repellent that advertises “up to eight hours” of protection means that you can expect eight hours of protection if you don’t wash — or sweat — your repellent off before the eight hours are up.
For more information on how the best mosquito repellent was foun as well as more on the active ingredients, see http://www.reviews.com/mosquito-repellent/