- DEET. This one’s the most effective and powerful. Opt for 10 to 30 percent concentration, and avoid products that contain both sunscreen and DEET. SPF can increase the concentration of the repellent, so put your sunscreen on first and wait 10 minutes before applying DEET. Try Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellent ($7,drugstore.com).
- Picaridin. It’s very similar to a chemical compound found in pepper, making it more natural than DEET. Twenty percent picaridin should do the trick. (Both DEET and picaridin are safe to use in kids age 2 months and up.) Try Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent ($8, amazon.com).
- Lemon eucalyptus. While oil of lemon eucalyptus sounds natural, it’s not: Like DEET and picardin, it’s also chemically synthesized in lab (it’s also very effective). Just remember: It can only be used in kids 3 and up. And be extra careful applying around the eyes, as there’s a higher risk of irritation and temporary vision issues. Try Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent Spray($4, target.com).
Repellent lasts six to eight hours—in other words, all day. So only reapply if you’re headed back out at night or if you shower with soap and water. Use sprays in a well-ventilated area, and avoid spraying directly onto your face so you don’t breathe in the chemicals. Instead, spritz the repellent into your hands and pat it onto your face. Only apply on skin that’s not covered by your clothes.
Bowe stresses that concerns about the very rare neurological side effects of DEET (like disorientation or seizures) are vastly overstated. “The dangers of exposure to West Nile, Zika, or Lyme disease far outweigh the risk of these ingredients,” she says. “In thousands of my patients who use repellents, not one had any side effects.” The few cases where side effects have been reported, she adds, were in people who ignored the label and grossly overused the sprays, applying every hour from head to toe.
2. Clear Out the Kiddie Pool
Kiddie pools, trash cans, pots, buckets, toy chests, and anything else that collects rainwater will attract Zika mosquitoes (a.k.a. Aedes aegypti), because that’s where the female bugs—the ones that bite—lay their eggs, says Bowe. So check around your home after it rains and empty out the water stat to avoid a mosquito infestation.
3. Avoid Exercising Outside When Possible
Mosquitoes seek out chemicals in your breath and sweat, especially carbon dioxide, and they’re attracted to movement and heat, says Bowe. That means they’re extra drawn to you when you’re breaking a sweat. What’s more, although peak mosquito hours are generally sunrise and sunset, Zika mosquitoes bite at any time of day, says Joseph Conlon, a retired U.S. navy entomologist and the technical advisor for the American Mosquito Control Association. So, if you can, schedule your workouts inside during mosquito season. And if you have to head outside, be sure to use repellent on exposed skin.
4. Use a Floor Fan Outdoors
Have you noticed that mosquitoes leave you alone in a brisk breeze? That’s because they can’t fly at speeds above 20 mph—although most won’t bother you even at 10 mph, says Conlon. Why? Wind disperses thebody odors that entice them. “A fan at foot level can effectively repel Aedes aegypti, as it prefers to feed on lower extremities and is easily disturbed,” says Conlon. He says floor fans can be an effective deterrent if they’re directed to blow across your full body.
5. Sport Synthetic Fibers
High-tech athleisure wear and other clothing made out of synthetic fabrics like polyester, nylon, and rayon is more tightly-woven, which helps block mosquito bites, says Bowe. Cotton and linen aren’t as effective. Dress in long sleeves and pants to keep more of your skin protected, too.
6. Or Get Clothes Designed to Repel Mosquitoes
Two clothing brands, Nobitech and Insect Shield, are pre-treated with permethrin, a chemical proven to repel mosquitoes, says Bowe. Both brands have been shown to be effective for 25 washings; just avoid dry cleaning. You can also buy permethrin spray and treat your own clothes—just never spray it directly onto your skin (according to the National Pesticide Information Center, this can cause irritation, itching, and possibly even burning). Either way, you’ll still need to wear bug repellent on exposed skin.
7. Wear Sneaks
Zika-carrying mosquitoes love feet—even more so when they’re in sandals—because they’re often sweaty and dirty, says Bowe. So instead of sandals, slip into a cute pair of kicks that cover your feet when you’re outside.
8. Skip the Floral Fragrances
Some floral scents have been shown to be somewhat attractive to mosquitoes, says Conlon. So it’s probably a good idea to refrain from wearing perfumes if you’re concerned about mosquitoes.
What DOESN’T Work
Lemongrass, cinnamon oil, cedarwood, and other spices and plants are all touted as natural and safe mosquito repellents, “but unfortunately based on a recent Consumer Reports study, many failed almost immediately,” says Bowe. “Or if they worked at all, they worked for less than an hour.” So while it can’t hurt to use these scents, they can also give you a false sense of security. Eating garlic or lemongrass has been rumored to help repel mosquitoes, but there’s no solid science proving that strategy works, either. And citronella candles and mosquito-repelling bracelets are almost completely ineffective.