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Insect repellents help people reduce their exposure to mosquito bites that may carry potential serious viruses such as West Nile Virus. Please read the following to learn more about commonly used active ingredients in insect repellents.



Insect repellents containing DEET are the most effective mosquito repellents available. Products vary in their concentration of DEET from below 10% to above 30%. Products with concentrations around 10% are effective for periods of approximately two hours. As the concentrations of DEET increases, the duration of effectiveness during activity increases. For example, 24% has been shown to provide an average of 5 hours of protection.

For safety, select the lowest concentration affective for the amount of time spent outdoors. it is generally believed that DEET should not be applied more than once a day. 

The active ingredient in insect repellents containing DEET is is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide.

For more information regarding DEET, please visit the National Pesticide Information Center's informational page or the EPA.

Always Use Insect Repellents According to the Label Directions

  • DEET should not be used in a product in combination with a sunscreen since typically sunscreen should be applied multiple times a day and it is advised that DEET should only be used once a day. Be sure to follow label directions for the product you are using. 
  • Apply DEET sparingly on exposed skin and do not use under clothing. 
  • Do not use DEET on the hands of young children. Avoid applying to areas around the eyes and mouth. 
  • Do not use DEET over cuts, wounds or irritated skin. Wash treated skin with soap and warm water after returning indoors. Wash treated clothing. 
  • Do not apply aerosol or pump products directly to your face. Spray you hands and then rub then carefully over the face while avoiding eyes and mouth. 
  • Avoid spraying in enclosed areas. Do not use near food and drink.
  • DEET can also be applied to clothing to avoid application to the skin altogether.
  • DEET repels insects, it does not kill them. If you are aware of mosquitoes around you and they are not biting, the repellent is still working and you do not need to reapply the repellent.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and warm water.

Insect Repellents and Children

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC has suggested a cautious approach is to use products with a low concentration of DEET, 10% or less, on children. Most guidelines cite that is it acceptable to use repellents containing DEET on children 2 years of age or older, but the concentration should be low (less than 10%).

When using repellent on a child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child. Avoid children's eyes and mouth and use it sparingly around their ears. Do not allow young children to apply insect repellent to themselves, have an adult to it for them. Keep repellents out of the reach of children. Repellent production that do not contain DEET are not likely to offer the same degree of protection from mosquito bites, however there are several alternatives (see below). 

Use of insect repellents may cause skin reactions in rare cases. Cases of serious reactions to products containing DEET have been related to misuse of the product, such as swallowing, using over broken skin and using for multiple days without washing skin in between uses. Always follow instructions on the product label. If you suspect a reaction to these products, discontinue use and wash the treated skin and hands. Seek profession health care if reaction continues. 

Alternatives to DEET

  • Picaridin

    Picaridin is an insect repellent that is applied directly to the skin. It is in the piperidine chemical family. Picaridin appears to work by preventing the mosquito finding or recognizing its host. Picaridin products can be formulated as solids, liquids, sprays, aerosols, or wipes. Insect repellents can help prevent disease, but they must be used correctly; always read and follow the label directions. For more information please visit the National Pesticide Information Center's page
  • IR3535

    A naturally occurring compound that is synthetically produced. Nearly as effective as DEET and not harmful to skin. View the EPA's fact sheet here here.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD 

    This natural alternative is useful in relelling against mosquitos and other insects, however the duration of time is much shorter than that of DEET. However, you can reapply multiple times as it is not harmful to skin in approved products. View the EPA's Fact Sheet here.

Other repellents can be found at the EPA's Skin Applied Repellent Ingredient List as well as the CDC's Website