Mosquitoes and ticks are a nuisance, but even worse, they can spread diseases like West Nile and Lyme. And now some types of those insects are responsible for carrying new diseases -- chikungunya and Powassan. Consumer Reports tested 15 sprays to find the safest, most effective repellents.
Some contain the active ingredient deet. It's an effective repellent, but it can sometimes cause serious side effects like rashes, disorientation, and even seizures. So Consumer Reports says you should avoid products that have more than 30 percent deet.
But can you avoid deet altogether and still ward off bugs? Consumer Reports tests included several non-deet alternatives that contain oils like rosemary, citronella, and lemongrass. The natural and herbal repellents were not very effective at all.
However, there are some non-deet products that really work. One of the best is Repel with Lemon Eucalyptus. And Consumer Reports top-rated Sawyer Fisherman's Formula. It contains 20 percent picaridin. Both are safer than deet, and Consumer Reports tests found they protect against mosquitoes and ticks for at least seven hours.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a plant-based repellent and picaridin is made to resemble piperine, the natural compound found in plants used to make black pepper. They are both chemically synthesized in a lab. Both do have side effects, but they're far less severe than deet.
Keep lemon eucalyptus away from your eyes because it can cause severe but temporary eye injuries. Also, don't use it on children under three. A safer choice is picaridin, though it can cause minor irritation to the eyes, skin, and lungs.
It is important to look for a repellent with 20 percent picaridin. Consumer Reports tested some with only 5 percent, and they were not very effective at all.