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This Natural Bug Repellent Works Better Than Deet

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If mosquitoes love to slurp your blood—and yes, some people are more prone to a bite than others—you’ll likely stop at nothing to keep them away, harsh chemicals and all. A Consumer Reports survey of 2,011 U.S. adults found that almost 75% are more concerned with the many diseases transported by mosquitoes and ticks, like Lyme disease, West Nile Virus and chikungunya, than with potentially dangerous chemicals in their bug spray. But a new investigation by the product-testing group Consumer Reports finds that you have more natural options that are even more effective.

In Consumer Reports’ entire history of testing bug sprays, harsh chemicals like N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, commonly known as deet, have always come out on top. But for the first time, safer, gentler products were more effective.

The winning products used picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus as the active ingredients. Both are chemically synthesized ingredients but more similar to natural compounds than deet; they also come with fewer side effects. Best in show were Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula, which held mosquitoes and ticks at bay for eight hours, and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, which protected against ticks for eight hours and mosquitoes for seven hours.

MORE: You Asked: Why Do Mosquitos Always Bite Me?

To test the effectiveness of the sprays, researchers enlisted the help of some brave testers—the “swat team,” they called them—who were spritzed with different repellents, left to sit for 30 minutes, and then told to reach into a cage with 200 mosquitoes hungry for blood (but free of diseases). Researchers watched the feast and recorded the number of bites; two or more bites in a five-minute session meant the repellent failed. They tested for ticks, too—and even braver testers had repellent applied to parts of their arms and disease-free deer ticks released on their arms to crawl. If two ticks crossed into the sprayed areas, the repellent failed.

Products starring plant oils like citronella, lemongrass and rosemary didn’t work. Candles and wristbands didn’t work, either.

“Look first for products with 20 percent picaridin or 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus,” the report said. “We think they’re safer than those with deet.” If deet is your only option, aim for a concentration of about 15 percent, which even outperformed the product with 25 percent. In concentrations more than 30 percent, deet might be dangerous, the authors conclude.

Read the entire Consumer Reports investigation here.

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