Safe Bug Sprays For Camping Adventures

These non-toxic, DEET-free insect repellents are good for you skin, and the environment too.

During a recent camping excursion in the Adirondacks, I found myself huddled deep within the recesses of my raingear. The sky was clear. But what was that steady pattering sound on my shell? Not rain, but hungry mosquitoes and flies. They had caught me in a quandary over bug spray.

If you’re planning to get away this summer or fall, chances are you’re going to have company: bugs. Record snowmelt and rainfall across much of the country this spring has made for prime mosquito-breeding conditions, which should ensure that outdoor outings are peskier than usual. Meanwhile, health professionals are worried to see the expanding ranges of many insect-borne diseases, from West Nile virus, encephalitis and Lyme disease in the United States, to hantavirus and chikungunya fever in Europe.

To DEET or Not to DEET

For protection from mosquitoes, ticks and other pests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that consumers use insect repellents with the active ingredient N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET, a chemical developed by the army during World War II. DEET has proven an effective and long-lasting repellent, but researchers have since raised some concerns about its health and environmental impacts. The chemical is listed as a pesticide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and has been linked to reduced population rates among bees, butterflies and other insects, as well as to impaired brain development in some animals. Human reactions range from skin irritation to rare instances of seizures.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents not to use DEET at all on children under 2 months old and at concentrations no higher than 30 percent on older children, while the EPA cautions against long-term exposure and over-application. DEET also has the charming ability to dissolve plastics, and possesses that icky, chemical smell we associate with bug sprays.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently testing alternatives to DEET, but for those who want them now, there are more options today than a decade ago, when DEET was the only game in town. Natural repellants use the essential oils of plants like eucalyptus, citronella, lemongrass, rosemary and geranium to mask the human smells that attract bugs, while synthetic chemicals like Picaridin and IR3535, which work like DEET without its nastier properties, have been approved in the United States after many years of use in Europe. Users should be aware, however, that none of these alternatives have the staying power of DEET-based formulas—you will need to reapply, and often, to keep those bugs away.

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus

The company says this spray, which uses 40 percent concentrated lemon eucalyptus oil, is effective for up to six hours against mosquitoes, ticks, midges and no-see-ums.

$7.59 for a 4-ounce bottle.

California Baby Natural Bug Blend Spray

California Baby uses ingredients that are organic, pesticide-free and sustainably grown—including essential oils of citronella, cedar and lemongrass—to make this sweet-smelling spray.

$11.95 for a 6.5-ounce bottle.

Natrapel 8-Hour Wipes

These wipes use a 20 percent concentration of picardin to offer a work-day’s worth of relief from mosquitoes, black flies and ticks. The company also offers natural citronella wipes. $

5.99 for a package of 12 wipes.

Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535

That urban legend about the bug-repelling properties of Skin-So-Soft, while untrue, prompted Avon to add the actual repellant IR3535 to its popular moisturizer, which promises to keep off pests for up to eight hours.

$14 for a 4-ounce pump-spray bottle.

Themes: Outdoor Adventures

User Comments

Vote for Repel I use Repel all the time, and it works!