10 Best Mosquito Repellents Reviewed and Compared

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During the summer months , lovers of the outdoors enjoy taking advantage of the extended daylight and cool temperatures in the early mornings and late evenings. Unfortunately for us, these prime conditions also attract some uninvited companions that can cause endless irritation. Mosquitoes and other biting bugs are a real nuisance to runners and all other individuals. Their bites can pose even higher risks than itchy red bumps.

Many mosquitoes in the U.S. carry life-threatening diseases such as West Nile Virus and Yellow Fever. Traveling outside of the U.S. for destination races or trails can put us at risk for additional harmful diseases such as Zika in Central or South America and Malaria in Africa and Asia. It is important to arm ourselves with appropriate protection against these biting beasts.

Last Updated: January 8, 2018
By Brian Price:

Although things in the bug repellent market don't change as fast as products like running shoes, we did make a couple of replacements, to make our list up to date with what we think is the best out there.

Off! Deep Woods
  • Off! Deep Woods
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Very effective
  • Price: See Here
Sawyer Picaridin
  • Sawyer Picaridin
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Easy to use
  • Price: See Here
3M Ultrathon
  • 3M Ultrathon
  • 4 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Water resistant
  • Price: See Here

10 Best Mosquito Repellents

1. Off! Deep Woods Bug Spray

If you want to keep the bugs away, DEET is going to get the job done. This spray provides 8 hours of protection and tops the list of most effective repellents when tested by Consumer Reports. The aerosol formula (without ozone-damaging CFCs) is convenient and provides easy, full coverage that will last for the duration of your run.
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Active Ingredients:
25% DEET

Safety:
The concerns surrounding DEET typically arise from the harsh nature of this chemical. It has been shown to strip paints and melt plastics, not surprisingly it can also be harsh on skin and cause irritation. There has been one test to suggest other negative effects (see discussion under “Metrics We Used”) but this chemical has been around for a while and consistently passes rigorous testing done by the EPA. DEET does warrant some caution but it has been shown to be safe and is closely regulated.

Efficacy:
The EPA and CDC recommend products with 10-30% DEET and this formula falls near the upper end with 25% DEET. Testing by Consumer Reports showed this is the most effective product for repelling mosquitos. This is supported by reviews by users who note this spray is reliable to drastically reduce bug bites.

Application:
This aerosol spray provides convenience and is great to leave by the door for use just before hitting the trail. Application does not require too much attention to detail to ensure it is dispersed; most users report adequate coverage without too much effort. This convenient aerosol formula does not contain CFCs or other ozone-depleting substances.

Sweat-resistant:
Reported to last up to 8 hours.

Odor:
Chemical odor with a hint of pine. Better than some other chemical sprays but not the most pleasant scent.

Value:
The price is about average when compared with other repellents on this list and it does provide very effective coverage.
Pros
  • Very effective
  • Repels mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, gnats, chiggers and no-seeums for up to 8 hours.
  • 25% DEET in the recommended range
  • EPA certified
  • Easy, full coverage for skin and clothes
Cons
  • DEET may be irritating to skin

2. Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent

This non-DEET repellent spray was among the most effective products when tested by Consumer Reports. Featuring an alternative synthetic chemical Picaridin, this is a great alternative for those sensitive to DEET.
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Active Ingredients:
20% Picaridin

Safety:
Picaridin is a newer chemical on the market in the US and is one of the active ingredients approved and tested by the EPA. While it does not have the same associated concerns as DEET being newer means it has not been studied as thoroughly. That being said, this product is regulated carefully and has passed all safety tests. It is also widely used in Europe and Australia.

Efficacy:
This product has been shown to be more effective than some DEET products and was top-rated when reviewed by Consumer Reports. It reports to be more effective at repelling flies than DEET. The EPA reports this product is effective for up to 8 hours.

Application:
Pump spray is easy to use and does not require much time to apply effectively.

Sweat-Resistant:
Yes

Smell:
It does have a chemical odor initially but it seems to dissipate quickly and becomes odorless.

Value:
Slightly more expensive than some other options. You pay about the same as other products but for a smaller bottle.
Pros
  • Effective against Mosquitoes, Ticks, Flies, Gnats and Chiggers for 8 hours
  • Non-DEET 20% Picaridin
  • EPA certified
  • Easy to use
  • Smell dissipates quickly
Cons
  • Slightly more expensive

3. 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellant

Effective with a high concentration of DEET, this is a reliable option for those traveling to high-risk areas for West Nile, Zika and Malaria. This sweat-proof lotion will provide effective protection that will stay with you during a long run.
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Active Ingredient:
34.4% DEET

Safety:
This is a slightly higher concentration of DEET with the upper recommendation typically being 30% DEET. However, this lotion is designed to slowly release over the 12 hours in provides coverage.

Efficacy:
The lotion formula provides very effective and focused coverage. Many users report using this product to minimize mosquito exposure in high risk areas and report having very few, if any bites. The EPA approves this product for up to 12 hours of protection.

Application:
This is a lotion product so it is great for more focused application. May get sticky or greasy with sweat but most reviewers felt it was not too greasy for everyday use. Applying lotion is a bit more time consuming but allows you to focus coverage on exposed areas. Unlike sprays, it cannot be applied to clothing but it also does not evaporate as quickly off skin and provides longer protection than any spray.

Sweat-resistant:
Users stand by this product for hiking and running.

Odor:
There is a mild chemical scent with initial application that dissipates quickly.

Value:
Price is around the same as many others on this list. This is a lotion to be applied to exposed areas only so how fast you go through it will depend on how much skin you leave exposed.
Pros
  • 12-hour protection from mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, gnats, fleas and deer flies
  • Long-lasting and water resistant
  • Focused and reliable protection
  • Very effective for use in high risk areas
Cons
  • High concentration of DEET
  • More time-consuming than spray

4. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Natural Insect Repellant Spray

This repellent is the most effective option of all natural repellents. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is one of two natural active ingredients recommended by the EPA and is a good plant-based and natural alternative to DEET.
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Active Ingredient:
30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Safety:
One of the two naturally-derived active ingredients registered by the EPA. This plant-based active ingredient is much less worrisome than synthetic chemicals but this oil and the large amount of ethanol in this formula still make it a bit too harsh to be used safely on pets or children. Despite being natural, this product is still closely regulated and certified by the EPA for safety.

Efficacy:
Consistently rated as one of the most effective options for non-DEET repellents including tests done by Consumer Reports. The EPA rates this product as effective for up to 6 hours for mosquitos. This is a great natural option but is still outperformed by DEET when it comes to efficacy.

Application:
This is an oil and although it can be sprayed on, it does need to be spread out using your hands for proper coverage.

Sweat-resistant:
Oil-based formula should stand up to water and sweat.

Smell:
Very strong lemon scent. Better than chemicals but still a strong odor.

Value:
Fairly standard for insect repellents and cheaper than many other natural alternatives.
Pros
  • Natural alternative to DEET
  • Plant-based active ingredient
  • Most effective natural option
  • EPA certified
  • Water-resistant
Cons
  • Strong lemon scent
  • Not quite as effective as chemical active ingredients
  • Does not repel ticks, flies or other insects

5. Ben’s Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellant Wipes

DEET wipes are an effective and convenient option for runners. These lightweight wipes can easily be stashed in a pack or waistband without worry about any chemicals spilling on your gear. The repellent is designed to sit on top of the skin and evaporate slowly to provide long-lasting protection without being absorbed into the skin.
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Active Ingredient:
30% DEET

Safety:
This product does have DEET as the active ingredient and is closely regulated by the EPA for safety. It is designed to sit on top of the skin rather than being absorbed.

Efficacy:
30% DEET is at the upper end of recommended DEET concentrations and is effective for repelling mosquitoes. This has been tested by the EPA but they do not report how long you can expect it to remain effective.

Application:
Easy application that can be focused on exposed areas. Individually packaged wipes can easily be tucked away for reapplication. This non-liquid and effective option is perfect for travel. Some users complain they can be a bit greasy but overall find these wipes very convenient.

Sweat-resistant:
These wipes are not water-resistant but users do not feel a need to reapply throughout the course of vigorous activity.

Smell:
Fragrance-free although some users do note a chemical odor with initial application.

Value:
The price will add up if you plan to use this as a daily repellent as the wipes do dry out after a day. However, this option is affordable and easy to justify for travel or stocking emergency kits with these convenient wipes.
Pros
  • Lightweight and convenient
  • Great for travel
  • Effective against mosquitoes and ticks
Cons
  • Pricey for daily use

6. Natrapel 8 Hour Insect Repellent

Another effective DEET alternative. This Picaridin spray repellent comes in a convenient TSA-approved bottle that is great for travel.
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Active Ingredient:
20% Picaridin

Safety:
Picaridin is a synthetic chemical that is an alternative to DEET. It is less likely to cause skin irritation but is still closely regulated by the EPA. Most users do not complain of skin irritation while using this product but there are a few who feel this chemical is still too harsh.

Efficacy:
Proven effective for 8 hours for both mosquitoes and ticks.

Application:
This spray-on formula should be sprayed onto skin or hands and then rubbed in for full coverage. Most users report that the feel of this product on skin is much more comfortable than other chemical repellents. This bottle does come in a TSA-approved size, however some people note the spray function has a tendency to break.

Sweat-resistant:
This spray does not claim to be waterproof but reviewers do not note concerns about the effects wearing off.

Smell:
This does have an odor but many users report it smells good to them. Others will not go that far but still agree it is more pleasant than the scent associated with DEET sprays.

Value:
Affordable and long-lasting.
Pros
  • Effective Non-DEET option
  • Travel-size bottle
  • Affordable
  • Long-lasting
Cons
  • Spray nozzle may break

7. Coleman Botanicals Insect Repellent

This 100% plant-based formula features Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. This spray is not as effective as the above options but will still provide some protection from insects. This is a good option for those seeking an all-natural formula.
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Active Ingredient:
30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Safety:
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is a natural alternative to DEET. This formula is completely plant-based and is less irritating than the harsh chemical alternatives. However, this product is not cleared for use on infants under the age of 2.

Efficacy:
Moderately effective when tested by Consumer Reports. It does not work as well as chemical repellents but will provide some protection for those seeking a natural alternative. The EPA approves this product for 6 hours of protection from mosquitoes.

Application:
Spray formula is an easy-to-apply oil that does not feel sticky or greasy on skin. Some people note the spray lid does leak and recommend not throwing it in your bag.

Sweat-Resistant:
Yes

Smell:
Strong lemon scent

Value:
Affordable option, particularly when compared with other natural formulations.

Pros
  • 100% plant-based formula
  • Non-irritating and good skin feel
  • EPA certified for use against mosquitoes for 6 hours
Cons
  • Strong lemon scent
  • Not as effective
  • Does not repel ticks

8. Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535

This product is an insect repellent combined with SPF 30 making it a great 2-in-1 option for runners. It is not quite as effective as DEET or Picaridin but it may be convenient for those wanting easy protection from both the bugs and the sun.
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Active Ingredient:
IR3535

Safety:
Active ingredient IR3535 is a synthetic compound considered to be very safe for use. It is widely used in Europe and was recommended for children and pregnant women in France during a recent Chikungunya outbreak.

Efficacy:
Mixed reviews from users on the efficacy of this product. It seems to work great for most but there are still a few who did not find it to be effective for preventing bites. The EPA ranks this product as effective for 2 hours for both mosquitoes and ticks.

Application:
This is a lotion that combines insect repellent and SPF 30. Users note the lotion is thinner and more oily than most sunscreens but spreads on easily for effective coverage. The CDC typically recommends avoiding products that combine sunscreen with bug repellent because the sunscreen should be reapplied more frequently than the repellant. Therefore using these products for all day protection requires unnecessary repeated exposures to the insect repellent. However, if you are only needing the product for a 1-2 hour run why not kill two birds with one stone?

Sweat-resistant:
This product is waterproof but does need to be reapplied every few hours regardless of sweat or water.

Smell:
Little to no scent

Value:
Affordable especially if you are using this as a 2-in-1.
Pros
  • Convenient 2-in-1 option for both SPF and insect repellent
  • Safe Non-DEET alternative
  • Easily applied
Cons
  • Inconsistent protection from person to person
  • Only provides 2 hours of protection

9. Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard + Picaridin Towelettes

This is a non-DEET option for convenient towelettes that can easily be stashed while running. Effective for only 2 hours and sold in packs of 8, this is not the most economical option.
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Active Ingredient:
10% Picaridin

Safety:
This is a safe chemical alternative to DEET. It is not likely to cause irritation and has no known harmful side effects. Products using Picaridin are regulated by the EPA.

Efficacy:
Effective DEET alternative, however, the EPA only reports 2 hours of protection while using this product.

Application:
Easy-to-use towelettes are a very convenient option. Users report this product is not greasy or sticky, dries quickly and may actually soften skin.

Sweat-resistant:
These are sweat-resistant but will need to be applied every 2 hours regardless.

Smell:
This may have an odor with initial application but it dissipates with the quick-drying formula. Many users prefer the smell of these towelettes to any DEET alternatives.

Value:
These individually wrapped wipes are sold in packs of 8 for around the same price as many of the spray bottle repellents on this list. It is not the most affordable option but you are paying for the convenience and cleanliness of these neat packets.
Pros
  • Convenient Towelettes
  • Great for travel
  • Non-DEET
Cons
  • More expensive

10. Burt’s Bees Natural Outdoor Repellent

This 100% natural insect repellent is composed completely of essential oils. This product is unregistered with the EPA meaning these ingredients are deemed to be very safe. However, that also means it has not been tested for efficacy.
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Active Ingredients:
Castor Oil, Rosemary Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Cedar Oil, Peppermint Oil, Citronella Oil, Clove Oil and Geranium make up about 20% of this product

Safety:
This product is unregistered with the EPA because the ingredients are considered very safe, making testing unwarranted. This oil-based, all-natural spray is a low risk option especially for those sensitive to harsher repellents.

Efficacy:
Reviewers report this spray is very effective for a natural repellant but not quite as effective as DEET. Efficacy seems to vary from person to person but most users note some reduction in bites while using this product. This is an unregistered product that has not been tested by the EPA for efficacy.

Application:
This is an oil-based product that can be sprayed onto skin or hands and then spread out. A little more time-consuming than a quick spray. The oily composition does leave a slightly greasy feel to skin.

Sweat-resistant:
Not specified but users do not complain of any issues with this running.


Smell:
This all-natural repellent is a nice change from chemical alternatives. Most users are pleasantly surprised to note it smells more strongly of lemongrass than citronella oil.

Value:
This spray comes in a fairly small bottle making it slightly more expensive than some other options. However, the oil formula means a little goes a long way and it will last a while.
Pros
  • All natural oils
  • Very safe, low-risk ingredients
  • Pleasant scent
Cons
  • Questionable effectiveness
  • Greasy spray

 

The Metrics We Used to Find the Best Mosquito Repellents

There are a ton of options when it comes to insect repellent. Not only are there brand names to consider but there are also a multitude of active ingredients that all claim to keep the bugs at bay. With each active ingredient comes a confusing mix of facts and rumors concerning the efficacy and safety of each. To help sort through the madness, we have used the following metrics to determine the top 10 best mosquito repellents available to runners.

Active Ingredient

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes and regulates 4 active ingredients for use in insect repellents: DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Products containing these active ingredients need to be registered by the EPA, meaning they have been tested for safety and efficacy. Any products using these active ingredients that have not been registered are considered illegal and are not safe for use. The EPA recognizes alternative and more natural ingredients such as Citronella Oil and many other essential oils for use in unregistered products. This means the products are made with ingredients deemed safe enough to not require further testing. Unfortunately, this also means these low-risk, natural products are not tested for efficacy.

It is also important to note the concentration of each of these active ingredients. Repellents on the market range widely and while you can find repellents with 90-100% DEET, the EPA recommends staying in the 10-30% range as there is little benefit to going much above it.

Safety

Many people show concern about the harsh chemicals used in insect repellents, particularly the best-known active ingredient, DEET. DEET does have the capacity to strip paints and melt plastics which is concerning for something we are putting on our skin. An additional cause for concern arises from the results of one study showing brain cell death with long exposure to the chemical. This study is largely outnumbered by extensive research done by the EPA showing no ill-effects with normal use. Insect repellents should be used only during select months of the year and select locations and this inconsistent use drastically reduces any risk associated. Unless you plan to bathe in high concentrations of DEET every day of the year, the only risk associated with normal use is skin irritation.

In 2005 the EPA recognized additional active ingredients such as Picaridin, IR3535 and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus for use in insect repellents. Picaridin and IR3535 are both synthetic chemicals that are easier on the skin than DEET. While initial reports suggest they are safer than DEET, these are still newer chemicals that have not been around long enough to be researched as thoroughly.

Efficacy

How well does it repel insects and how long will the protection last? This is obviously of great importance when choosing a repellent. DEET and Picaridin are most consistently recommended for effectiveness when tested both by the EPA and independent groups like Consumer Reports. However, efficacy does vary based on a variety of other factors as well and can vary from individual to individual, especially when it comes to the more natural options so we took user reviews into account as well.

Application

When most people think of insect repellent they think of a spray bottle or aerosol can but there is actually a wider variety of formulas including wipes, oils, and lotions. The ease of application is important to note, especially for runners who may be needing a repellent on the go. Skin-feel is also an important factor for many people. Some repellents leave skin feeling greasy or sticky so we looked for options that provide protection without getting in the way.

Sweat-resistant

Most repellents are designed to be worn outside and in hot or humid weather. The best repellents should not be affected by sweat or water during a long run.

Smell

If you think back to the days of summer camp or evening barbecues, you can probably evoke memories of the chemical smell of DEET bug sprays. While this may bring back happy memories for some, most people prefer to avoid this strong chemical scent. Smell has long been a complaint of many repellent users and some modern companies have addressed this issue. We looked for formulas that repel bugs, not people.

Value

Fortunately, insect repellent is not too costly across the board. However, the differences between sprays, lotions and wipes will affect how quickly you run through your stores.

 

Other Things to Consider When Choosing Mosquito Repellent

Where are you running?

It is important to familiarize yourself with the areas you run in or plan to run in to know what bugs you’re dealing with and what they may be carrying. If you are traveling in a high-risk area where insects may be carrying Malaria, Zika, Chikungunya or West Nile Virus you want to find the most effective repellent period. If you are running in lower risk areas and are just hoping to reduce the number of bites, you may opt for a repellent with less harsh ingredients and subsequently, lower efficacy. Similarly, you may want to note the other insects that are in your area. If you have concerns about ticks, DEET may be more attractive. Whereas if biting flies are an issue, Picaridin may be more beneficial.

How often do you need insect repellent?

It is difficult to determine how long mosquito season will last as mosquito activity correlates more with the temperature than the time of the year. However, you may have a good idea of how often the bugs are out and how much you will need to be applying a repellent. If you have a feeling you will be applying repellent daily for longer than a few weeks, you may want to avoid high concentrations of DEET as the risk of skin irritation may increase the more consistently you use it.

What is your pre-run routine?

If you are already taking the time to apply sunscreen before a run, it may be easy to add a spray or lotion repellent to that routine. Whereas if you are trying to squeeze in a quick run before or after work, you may need something more quick and convenient that can be thrown in a gym bag or glove box.

 

FAQs

Q: How do I use insect repellent safely?

A: Make sure you read and follow the instructions on the bottle. Each repellent will vary but typically it is not necessary to apply repellent under clothing. Many also recommend showering or rinsing off skin after you have come inside. Make sure to read the instructions on the label to ensure you are using it properly.

Q: Does insect repellent expire?

A: As long as they are stored reasonably well, mosquito repellents should not spoil or go bad. However, they do begin to lose effectiveness, usually after several years. If you are noticing your favorite repellent is not working as well as it used to, it may be time for a replacement.

Q: Can I use repellents on my dog?

A: Most mosquito repellents humans use are not suited for dogs and can actually be harmful. Repellents containing DEET can be especially toxic for dogs. Make sure to read labels carefully and speak with a vet about repellents specifically suited for your furry running buddy.

Q: Should I use 90-100% DEET?

A: Any product certified by the EPA is safe for use. However, studies have shown a diminished return on increasing DEET concentration over 30%. Really the concentration of DEET has more to do with how long protection will last rather than effectiveness. So, 10% DEET will work just as effectively as 30% for the first 1-2 hours. After you reach 20-30% the length protection only marginally increases with the concentration. So, while 30% DEET may protect you for 7-8 hours, increasing the concentration above 90% only buys you an extra 2 hours for 9-10 hours of protection.

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