Introduction to Insect Repellents

Insect repellents are essential tools for anyone spending time outdoors. These products help prevent bites from mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and other insects, reducing the risk of discomfort and diseases such as malaria, Lyme disease, and Zika virus. This guide will provide a thorough understanding of insect repellents, covering types, selection tips, safety considerations, and more.

Close up photograph of a mosquito biting a persons skin

Types of Insect Repellents

There are two main types - man made synthetic repellents and those based on naturally occuring active ingredients:

Synthetic Insect Repellents

Synthetic insect repellents are chemical formulations designed to prevent insect bites by deterring insects from landing on or biting the skin. Common active ingredients include DEET, picaridin, and IR3535. These repellents are highly effective against a variety of insects, including mosquitoes and ticks. They are widely used due to their long-lasting protection and efficacy. When applied correctly, synthetic repellents provide significant defense against insect-borne diseases, making them a valuable tool for outdoor activities and travel to areas with high insect populations.

  1. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide)

    • Pros: Highly effective against a wide range of insects.

    • Cons: Can cause skin irritation and damage synthetic materials.

  2. Picaridin (Icaridin, Saltidin)

    • Pros: Effective and less irritating than DEET; safe on clothing.
    • Cons: Limited availability in some regions.
  3. IR3535 (Ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate)

    • Pros: Effective against mosquitoes and ticks; low toxicity.
    • Cons: May not be as long-lasting as DEET or Picaridin.
  4. Permethrin

    • Pros: Applied to clothing and gear for long-lasting protection.
    • Cons: Not for direct skin application; can be toxic to cats.
      Range of insect repellents containing Deet

Natural Insect Repellents

Natural insect repellents use plant-based ingredients like citronella, eucalyptus, lavender, and neem to deter insects. These repellents are favoured for being eco-friendly and less harsh on the skin compared to synthetic options. While generally effective, they often require more frequent reapplication. Natural repellents are a popular choice for those seeking a more organic approach to insect protection, especially in environments with lower insect populations.

  1. Citronella

    • Pros: Natural and widely available.

    • Cons: Shorter duration of effectiveness; may require frequent reapplication.

  2. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

    • Pros: Comparable effectiveness to low concentrations of DEET.
    • Cons: Not recommended for children under three years.
  3. Peppermint Oil

    • Pros: Pleasant smell; natural.
    • Cons: Can cause skin irritation; limited duration of effectiveness.
  4. Tea Tree Oil

    • Pros: Natural and has antimicrobial properties.
    • Cons: Can cause skin irritation and allergic reactions.
      Selection of natural insect repellents

How to Choose the Right Insect Repellent

  1. Consider the Insect Threat:

    • Choose a repellent effective against the specific insects in your area.
  2. Duration of Protection:

    • Opt for longer-lasting repellents for extended outdoor activities.
  3. Safety and Sensitivity:

    • Select products suitable for your skin type and sensitivity, especially for children and pregnant women.
  4. Application Preferences:

    • Decide between sprays, lotions, wipes, and wearable devices based on convenience and preference.
  5. Environmental Considerations:

    • Use natural repellents if you prefer eco-friendly options.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Natural Insect Repellents


  • Fewer chemicals, reducing the risk of skin irritation and toxicity.
  • Environmentally friendly and biodegradable.
  • Pleasant natural scents.


  • Shorter duration of effectiveness, requiring frequent reapplication.
  • May not be as effective against a broad range of insects.

Insect Repellents for Different Activities

  1. Camping and Hiking:

    • Choose long-lasting repellents like DEET or Picaridin.
    • Consider clothing treated with Permethrin for added protection.
  2. Beach and Water Activities:

    • Water-resistant formulas are essential to maintain effectiveness.
  3. Urban and Travel:

    • Portable options like wipes or compact sprays are convenient.
  4. Garden and Home Use:

    • Natural repellents can be effective for short-term use and lower insect populations.
      Woman applyin insect repellent to her legs whilst out walking

DIY Insect Repellent Recipes

  1. Lemon Eucalyptus Spray:

    • Mix 10 drops of lemon eucalyptus oil with 30 mL of witch hazel.
    • Add 70 mL of water and shake well before use.
  2. Citronella Balm:

    • Combine 2 tablespoons of beeswax with 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.
    • Add 20 drops of citronella oil and pour into a small container to cool.
  3. Peppermint Spray:

    • Mix 10 drops of peppermint oil with 30 mL of apple cider vinegar.
    • Add 70 mL of water and shake well before application.

Expert Tips for Effective Use of Insect Repellents

  1. Apply Evenly:

    • Ensure even coverage on exposed skin and clothing.
  2. Avoid Eyes and Mouth:

    • Be careful not to apply repellents near the eyes or mouth.
  3. Reapply as Needed:

    • Follow the product instructions for reapplication, especially after swimming or sweating.
  4. Combine with Other Measures:

    • Use mosquito nets, wear long sleeves and pants, and avoid peak insect activity times.
      Man correclty appying insect repellent via a spray to his arms

Safety and Precautions with Insect Repellents

  1. Follow Instructions:

    • Always read and follow the product label instructions.
  2. Patch Test:

    • Test on a small skin area to check for allergic reactions.
  3. Children and Pets:

    • Use child-safe formulas and keep repellents out of reach of children and pets.
  4. Storage:

    • Store repellents in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.

    Latest Innovations in Insect Repellents

    1. Wearable Repellents:

      • Devices emitting insect-repelling chemicals or ultrasonic waves.
      • Anti-mosquito clothing that has insect repellents impregnated into the fabric that provides a 'halo' effect
    2. Long-Lasting Formulas:

      • Advanced formulations providing extended protection with fewer applications.
    3. Eco-Friendly Products:

      • Biodegradable and sustainably sourced ingredients

    Inscet Repellent Conclusions

    Choosing the right insect repellent is crucial for enjoying the outdoors safely and comfortably. By understanding the different types of repellents, their benefits and drawbacks, and how to use them effectively, you can protect yourself and your family from insect bites and the diseases they can carry. Stay informed, stay prepared, and make the most of your outdoor adventures with the right insect repellent for your needs.