We Tested 15 Mosquito Repellents, And These Kept Us Bite-Free

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We asked literal bug experts to share their recs — and then we put these bug-banishers to the test.

<p>Shape / David Hattan</p>

Shape / David Hattan

Mosquito repellent is the categorical opposite of pheromone perfume. Unlike the latter, which attracts babes, the former bucks bugs.

True to its name, mosquito repellent uses a combination of active ingredients — like DEET or picaridin —to discourage insects from docking on your skin and feasting on your blood. The result of using these products is that whether you’re spending the day swimming, running, hiking, or BBQ-ing, without worrying about a gnat attack ruining your fun.

So which are the most effective mosquito repellents on the market? After testing 15 different products for over 600 hours and evaluating them on effectiveness, ease of use, smell, coverage, and value, we’re got the answer. Below, you’ll learn the best products for stopping itching and muting buzz before it starts — plus, get all your questions about DEET and how mosquito repellent works, answered.

Best Mosquito Repellent Overall: Off! Family Care Insect Repellent With Picaridin

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Buy at 123office.com

Why We Like It: It’s lightweight, non-greasy, and fragrance-free.

It's Worth Noting: While this option is effective for as long as it claims to be (3 to 4 hours), the other products on this list are effective for longer.

Behold, the gold medal mosquito repellent: OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent II. Not only does this option effectively deter biters from landing on your skin and chomping down, but it does so without making you feel like you need a shower ASAP.

The aerosol spray evenly applies a coat of repellent over your skin. But unlike other bug sprays, this option doesn’t feel greasy or wet, slimy or slick. Honestly, it feels nearly as unnoticeable as perfume is after you spritz it on. (Though to be clear, the scent of this repellent is far less noticeable than the scent of your perfume).

While it may feel subtle to you, OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent II isn’t subtle to mosquitoes. On the contrary, thanks to its line-up of effective ingredients (namely, picaridin), this product keeps them away for the three to four hours it promises. Actually, when we tested in a mosquito-dense area for hours on end, not one single person experienced a bite — hence why it earned the title of best mosquito repellent from our team.

Price at time of publish: $8

Type: Spritz | Good For: Backyard, outdoor play, hiking | Duration: 3-4 hours | Protection Against: Mosquitos

<p>Shape / Andrea Lavinthal</p>

Shape / Andrea Lavinthal

Best for Sensitive Skin: EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent

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Buy at Earthkind.com

Why We Like It: People prone to contact rashes can use this mosquito repellent without the risk of allergy-induced bumps and lumps.

It's Worth Noting: Because you have to rub this lotion in, there is greater room for user error.

If your skin is as sensitive as a water sign-rising (read: very), then this EarthKind Stay Away Mosquitoes Insect Repellent is for you. A skin-friendly option, this DEET-free mosquito lotion helps ward off bugs without increasing the risk of contact dermatitis.

Yep, you read that right: lotion. Even though this repellent is in a spray bottle, you have to rub it in — which means you’ll want a sink nearby to wash your hands after application. After all, no one wants to get bug spray in their eyes.

That fact that you have to rub it in also means that there is some room for user error (translation: you might miss a spot). Actually, when we were testing one of our test subjects forgot to spray her feet. The only spot she got bit? Between her toes. Still, wherever we did apply the product, that area remained bite-free throughout the duration of our adventure.

Oh, and good news if your schnoz is as sensitive as your skin: It doesn’t have a strong odor. Any whiff you do get will smell on the sweet, rather than the toxic, side.

Price at time of publish: $13

Type: Spray | Good For: Backyard, outdoor play, hiking | Duration: 14-hour protection from mosquitoes and ticks. Up to 8-hour protection from biting flies, gnats, and chiggers. | Protection Against: Mosquitos, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers

<p>Shape / Kimberly Souza</p>

Shape / Kimberly Souza

Related: This $10 Product Painlessly Sucks Insect Saliva from Under Your Skin to Get Rid of Itching and Stinging

Best With DEET: Off! Active Insect Repellent

Buy at Amazon.com

Buy at Anrdoezrs.net

Why We Like It: This product is as long-lasting as it says it is (up to 5 hours).

It's Worth Noting: DEET is both effective and safe. However, those with sensitive skin may not love this option.

In one word, OFF! Active Insect Repellent I is effective. And that stands even if you’re exercising (read: hiking, trail running, playing) somewhere with a lot of mosquitoes. That’s because this spray option is sweat-resistant — meaning, it works just as hard as you do.

The nozzle on this aerosol spray bottom allows you to effectively “coat” your skin with the repellent, without much work or worry. “Coat” is in quotations because the repellent is far lighter than the verb implies. Actually, two of our favorite things about using this spray are that we don’t have to wash our hands after applying and the product doesn't stain our workout wear.

At $8, this bug spray is on the cheap side, and we were thrilled by how little product we needed to use for full coverage. With OFF! Active Insect Repellent I, a little goes a long way.

Price at time of publish: $8

Type: Aerosol Spray | Good For: Backyard, playground, playtime | Duration: up to 5 hours | Protection Against: Mosquitoes.

<p>Shape / Surfina Adams</p>

Shape / Surfina Adams

Best Lotion: Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Insect Repellent

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Buy at Bassproshops.vzck.net

Why We Like It: It doesn’t get more long-lasting than this — up to 8 hours.

It's Worth Noting: Applying this lotion repellent is a little more labor-intensive. Plus, it takes about 5 minutes to dry fully.

In the winter, you lather yourself with moisturizer. In the summer, with sunscreen. Well, during mosquito season you can continue your lather-with-lotion routine with this lotion-based repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes and other nibbling nuisances for eight — or more — hours!

White in color and thicker in consistency than other options we tested, applying Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent felt like applying regular old body lotion. We were able to easily tell where we’d already applied the product on our arms and legs, which helped us make sure we didn’t miss important spots (like behind the knee).

The one downside is that much like sunscreen, it took a bit to absorb into our skin. By the five-minute mark, however, it was fully absorbed, and it felt neither sticky nor greasy on our skin.

Price at time of publish: $10

Type: Aerosol Spray | Good For: Hiking, camping | Duration: 8 hours | Protection Against: Biting flies, gnats, chiggers, fleas, no-see-ums. 14 hours: mosquitoes, ticks

<p>Shape / Andrea Lavinthal</p>

Shape / Andrea Lavinthal

Related: All the Ways You Can Use Cortisone Cream, According to a Derm

How We Tested

Did you know that there are people who are experts in mosquito repellent? Well, there are! Known as entomologists, these experts are scientists who research insects, and their relationship to people, their environment, and other species.

We called up two of these bug buffs — board-certified entomologist Elizabeth “Wizzie” Brown, B.C.E., who works at Texas A&M University AgriLife branch, and Immo A. Hansen, Ph.D., an associate professor of biology at New Mexico State University who specializes in molecular biology and the physiology of mosquitoes — to get all of our questions about mosquito repellent answered. With their help, we got the deets on DEET, as well as recommendations for the best mosquito repellents, and info on how to tell when they’re working.

For good measure, our team of writers and editors spritzed and sprayed their go-to recommendations to test out just how effectively they repel the enemy in question. Throughout the month-long test, we spritzed or lathered each product at least five times on ourselves and/or on family members. Once applied, we paid close attention to things like how it felt on our body, whether the repellent stayed on throughout the day or came off easily with sweat, if the protected lasting time was accurate, and more.

What to Know About Mosquito Repellent

Active Ingredients

The most common active ingredient in mosquito repellent is DEET — which your nose probably recognized as the scent of summer camp. But DEET is far from the only ingredient that effectively cautions creepy crawlies. Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), and 2-undecanone are also effective mosquito repellents, according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents.

Lotions vs Sprays

Much as is true with sunscreen, spray-based repellent is easier and less messy to apply. However, it is easier to accidentally miss a swatch of skin with a spray than it is with a lotion. After all, when you apply lotion you can physically feel where you have applied spray based on whether or not your hand has passed over the area. The downside of lotion-based repellent, however, is that you need access to a sink after applying (because you’ll want to wash your hands after application for safety reasons) — which you may not have if you’re applying in the middle of the woods, golf course, or running trail.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the most effective mosquito repellent?

There are a few active ingredients that effectively repel mosquitoes. According to the EPA, these include DEET, picaridin, IR3535, OLE, PMD, and 2-undecanone. Products that include one of these ingredients should help keep mosquitoes away. Natural ingredients may not always be as effective, as Shape previously reported.

Is DEET a safe ingredient?

Yep. Despite the fact that the common ingredient got a bad rep a few decades back after a study found that it may cause negative health side effects. But DEET actually is not dangerous. “It’s perfectly safe,” says Dr. Hansen. Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the EPA agree that DEET is a safe ingredient for repellent.

Not only is DEET safe, but it’s also effective. “If you want to protect yourself from mosquito-borne diseases or if you travel to countries where there is a risk of getting malaria or dengue, DEET is the most effective active ingredient you can choose,” she says. To find out if you live or are traveling somewhere where there is a high risk of contracting a mosquito-borne disease, check out this map from the CDC.

Is DEET the most effective mosquito repellent?

Not necessarily. Those formulated with picaridin also provide effective protection against malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

In places where mosquito-borne diseases are not a risk — like much of the United States — you can opt for other ingredients like IR3535, OLE, PMD, or 2-undecanone, says Dr. Hansen. These active ingredients all protect against mosquitos.

Which of these alternative active ingredients you opt for, will depend on your scent preferences, according to her. “OLE has an active ingredient called para-menthane-diol that is just as effective as DEET,” she says. The downside is that it has a very strong citrusy smell that many folks don’t like. Picaridin is also effective at warding off winged creatures, but it has a more subtle scent. “It smells like old apples,” she says.

Wait, does the percentage of active ingredient matter?

Simply, yes. “What percentage of the active ingredient you look for is going to be dependent on where you are and what you are doing,” says Brown. “If [you’re] going hiking in the woods, you should use something with a higher percentage,” she says. Something with 30 percent or above is a heavy percentage. Meanwhile, if you’re just sitting on the back patio, you can get away with using a product with just 10 to 15 percent, she says.

Why Trust Shape

Gabrielle Kassel is a freelance wellness journalist with nearly a decade of experience writing about health, summarizing research papers, and testing everything from sunscreen and bug spray to exercise equipment and period swimwear. In addition to Shape, her work has appeared in publications such as Health, SELF, Women's Health, Men’s Health, Greatist, Bustle, and more.

A New England resident, in the warmer months she spends her afternoons away from her computer, coaching and taking outdoor CrossFit classes, hiking the woods with her dog, and beating Right Swipes at mini golf. As a person with so-called sweet blood, she has a special investment in helping people prone to bites avoid mosquitoes.

For this article, she conducted interviews with two entomologists, she also did additional product research to make sure Shape recommended mosquito repellents and bug spray that actually beat bugs.

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Read the original article on Shape.