How to choose the best bug repellent, according to experts

Don't let bug bites ruin your summer!
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/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

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Sick of getting eaten alive by mosquitoes all summer long? It's a pain, we know, but you don't have to surrender yourself to the itchy red bumps these pesky insects leave behind.

Mosquito repellents can do a great job of keeping summer's bugs at bay, but finding the right one for you and your family can take a bit of work. To help make it easier, Shop TODAY spoke with entomologists and mosquito experts to find out everything you need to know when buying a mosquito repellent.

What to look for in a mosquito repellent

Mosquito bites are annoying at best (the itchiness!) and dangerous at worst (some breeds carry diseases), but there are a number of repellent ingredients that can help keep those pesky insects at bay.

"Use Environmental Protection Agency-recommended repellents. Ingredients like DEET, Picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus work well," said Laura C. Harrington, a professor in Cornell University's entomology department.

Mosquito repellents come in a variety of formulas and some naturally provide a bit more protection than others.

"Repellents applied to the skin via spray or lotion will always be more effective. They are putting a protection layer directly on the skin from the biting mosquitoes," said Sonja L. Swiger, an entomology expert at Texas A&M University.

Some essential oils and herbs (rosemary, lavender, marigold and basil, for starters) are also pretty effective at keeping mosquitoes away, and citronella candles can also help when used in conjunction with repellent.

Best mosquito repellents to try this summer

1. Ben's 30 Deet Wipes

Looking for a mess-free mosquito repellent you can store in your pocket? These water-based, fragrance-free wipes are individually wrapped and gentle on skin. Plus, the 30% DEET formula is super effective. "DEET is used as the active ingredient in many insect repellents and offers the best protection against mosquito bites," said Kevin Chan, in-house entomologist for national pest control leader Mosquito Squad.

2. Sawyer Products 20% Insect Repellent

Formulated with 20% Picaridin, this fragrance-free lotion repels several types of disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks. "Picaridin is the most widely used repellent in the world outside of the United States. It's odorless, has a pleasant feel and doesn’t plasticize," American Mosquito Control Association's technical advisor Joseph M. Conlon said.

3. Coleman Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

You'll get six hours of protection from mosquitoes with this oil-based formula that also happens to have a cool, refreshing scent. "Oil of lemon is remarkably close in effectiveness to DEET. You should look for about a 30% formulation," Conlon said.

4. OFF! Family Care Picaridin Aerosol

If you've been searching for a no-fuss formula that will get the job done without latching onto skin like glue, look no further. This simple spray fends off pesky mosquitoes with the help of its star ingredient: picaridin. "Studies have shown it to be as fully repellent to mosquitoes as DEET," Conlon said.

5. Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard

Looking for a mosquito repellent that will last you all summer long? This large bottle should do the trick! The light spray fends off mosquitoes, gnats, deer ticks and other pests with the help of picaridin. Just make sure you're always looking at a repellent's concentration before deciding which one is best for you.

"The higher the concentration, the longer the spray is effective. So if people are planning to be outside for a longer period, choose a higher concentration spray," said Michel Slotman, associate professor in the department of entomology at Texas A&M University.

6. Ultrathon Insect Repellent Lotion

The time-release technology in this lotion repels mosquitoes, ticks and gnats for up to 12 hours. Plus, the 34.34% DEET formula is splash and sweat-resistant. Just don't forget to apply it a while before heading outside. "Products formulated as lotions generally take about 20 minutes after application to become effective. Sprays are immediately effective, but lose their effectiveness quicker," Conlon said.

7. Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Pump Spray

Repel's lemon eucalyptus spray is perfect for those seeking a plant-based repellent. The lightweight formula works to create a barrier that repels mosquitoes for up to six hours. "Repel is a 40% formulation of naturally-derived eucalyptus and has a pleasant scent and feel without any plasticizing properties. It is also effective at repelling ticks," Conlon said.

8. Babyganics Insect Repellent Continuous Spray

Babies also need protection from mosquitoes, but finding a repellent that's gentle enough for their sensitive skin can be challenging. This plant-based spray is made with natural essential oils (citronella, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass and geranium) and is free of parabens, sulfates, phthalates and artificial fragrances.

"Many natural scents that are appealing to humans repel mosquitoes, including lavender, peppermint, basil, garlic and eucalyptus. Many of these scents can be worn as an essential oil on your skin to help keep these pesky pests from biting you," Chan said.

9. Cutter Citro Guard Citronella Candle

Amazon fans of this popular citronella candle say they "love the aroma" and appreciate that it's "great at repelling mosquitoes."

"Citronella is a common ingredient in insect repellents due to its strong smell, which tends to mask mosquito attractants," Chan said, adding that candles work best used in enclosed patios and other confined spaces.

10. Natrapel Wipes

These travel-friendly wipes keep mosquitoes and ticks at bay for 12 hours and deter other biting insects for eight hours. Even better, the 20% picaridin formula is on the Environmental Protection Agency's list of approved repellents. "If the product has been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency and is recommended for use by the Centers for Disease Control, then the product has been tested and proven to be effective against mosquitoes," Swiger said.

11. Bull Frog Sunblock with Insect Repellent

Having to layer bug spray on top of sunscreen can be a real pain, so an all-in-one product can be a real lifesaver. This one protects skin from the sun's harsh rays with SPF 30 and also repels those annoying mosquitoes for up to eight hours. "The most important thing is to reapply the repellent if you are engaging in physical activities, especially if you are sweating," Chan said.

12. OFF! Deep Woods Towelettes

Whether you're heading out on a nighttime walk or embarking on a camping trip, these portable wipes with a 25% DEET concentration are perfect for protecting you from mosquitoes, ticks, gnats and more. "DEET concentrations of 50% or less will provide adequate protection. Avoid spraying skin that will be covered by clothing and wash the product off after going back inside," Chan said.

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