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Which Bug Repellents Are Safest to Use?

Jul 18, 2013 05:31 AM EDT
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Bug season is underway with mosquitoes, ticks and other creepy crawlers making their rounds and some may even carry diseases such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.

To help consumers select a safe bug spray, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released a review of common bug spray ingredients that focuses on the efficacy and safety of each. The EWG advise which brands or products are safest to use or eat. In the report, they found that products made with active ingredients registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the safest bet.

Scientific tests have shown that four registered chemicals provide a high level of protection from a number of bug bites, according to the EWG report: Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (and its synthetic derivative known as p-Menthane-3,8-diol, or PMD) and DEET.

Key findings from the report:
• Picaridin isn't odorous and irritating like other chemicals and it provides all-day protection from mosquitoes and ticks at 20% concentration, but it's not as effective as the most common repellent, DEET, some studies show.

  • DEET is commonly maligned for neurological damage, seizures, and eye irritation, but can provide all-day protection at concentration of 20%-30% against a variety of pests. The EWG says that DEET is a "reasonable" choice when weighed against the consequences of Lyme disease and West Nile virus, adding that the chemical's safety profile is better than assumed. In 1998, the EPA concluded the rate of adverse reactions was very low - 1 per 100 million people.
  • The chemical IR3535 has a good safety profile, but like DEET, it can cause eye irritation, melt plastic, and damage fabric. It's also not effective unless it's used in concentrations higher than 20%.
  • Extracts from the Eucalyptus tree were the most effective botanical ingredient. Though the extract - which has the trade name Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus - can provide up to six hours of protection at 30% concentration, it can irritate lungs and shouldn't be used for children younger than 3.

"We found them all to be safe, especially if people don't overdose on the product," said David Andrews, lead author on the study and a researcher with EWG. "And these chemicals do protect people against a lot of rather nasty insects."

Click here for the safest choices as recommended by the EWG.

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