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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Which Bug Repellent Is Best?


If your family is like ours, you'll be spending time outdoors this Labor Day weekend. And if you're a mother like me (read: a worrier), you're well aware of news reports about the abundance of ticks this year, and about an increase in cases of West Nile virus in some parts of the country.

That means we'll be spraying ourselves and our children with bug repellent, to ward off both ticks and the pesky mosquitoes that carry West Nile. (Generally we avoid slathering our offspring with chemicals. But we make an exception in this case, if they're going to be out in nature for extended periods of time). But which repellent is best?

Consumer Reports has updated a test of widely available repellents that work on both deer ticks and mosquitoes that carry West Nile, along with cost information on a per-ounce basis. The six top-rated products are $2 an ounce or less. The data on costs is from 2010, according to Consumer Reports, but all the products are currently available.  (And a quick check online suggests prices are about the same, or in some cases, lower.)

Just how much chemical you are comfortable exposing yourself and your children to is up to you. The four top-ranked brands - Off Deep Woods Sportsmen II, Cutter Backwoods Unscented, Off Family Care Smooth & Dry, and 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent - all contain DEET in varying concentrations from 15 percent to 30 percent, and were able to repel mosquitoes for at least eight hours.

DEET is effective, and the Environmental Protection Agency says it is safe when used as directed, but you shouldn't use it on babies under 2 months old. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using products with more than 30 percent DEET on children.

The fifth- and sixth-ranked products - Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus and Natrapel 8-hour with Picaridin - don't contain DEET, but provided long-lasting protec tion as well.

The lower-ranked products also repelled mosquitoes effectively, but generally for shorter periods of time, and some had other drawbacks, like a tendency to stain clothing.

The upshot, Consumer Report says, is that “most of the tested products will do the job if you're going to be outside for only a couple of hours, but look for a highly rated product to protect you on longer excursions.”

The E.P.A. has information on its Web site to help you choose a repellent based on your specific needs, although it doesn't include cost data. General information about West Nile is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Are you stepping up your use of bug repellent due to West Nile?