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10 Mosquito Repellents That Are Worth Your Money (and 2 That Aren’t)

Whether you're BBQing, sunbathing, or hiking, these are the expert recommended sprays that are the most effective at repelling those pesky bugs and saving you from turning into a mosquito's dinner.

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Sawyer Ultra 30 Insect Repellent

“DEET remains the standard repellent and is very effective,” says Grayson C. Brown, PhD, director, public health entomology laboratory, University of Kentucky. According to Brown, a mosquito repellent with a 30 percent DEET formulation is sufficient. “Higher concentrations do not give proportionately higher levels of repellency.” Of all of the active ingredients found in standard mosquito repellent, Brown says DEET has the broadest range of effectiveness.” It also keeps ticks at bay. Prefer to keep it chemical free? Try these plants that are natural mosquito repellents.

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Off! Deep Woods

If you prefer a brand-name mosquito repellent, try SC Johnson’s OFF!, suggests Brown. “The line is extremely good and the company goes to great lengths to conduct scientific validation of their product line,” he says.

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Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent

Brown says another “solid” mosquito repellent option is Cutter’s line of products. Skinsations, in particular, has a lower percentage of DEET at just 7 percent and feels nice and smooth on the skin, thanks to vitamin E extract. Says one fan on Amazon, “I didn’t feel desperate for a shower as soon as I got inside.” Of note: many reviewers commented this spray was effective for just two to three hours—keep that in mind if you’re spending many hours outdoors. Adds Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, a Los Angeles-based dermatologist, “Less concentrated versions of DEET smell better, but do not last as long (in which case you’d need to reapply), so do check the information on the bottle for its longevity.”

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Sawyer Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

For an effective mosquito repellent that’s gentler on your skin, search for one with Picaridin. “It’s as effective as DEET and has no known negative effects—some people have skin reactions to DEET,” says Brown, explaining that the ingredient Picaridin is, “safe for use on babies and elderly. It’s great!” Sawyer Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin lasts up to 14 hours. One fan of the product raved on Amazon, “Mosquitoes love me! Yesterday, I used Sawyer Picaridin and went out in the afternoon to prune banana trees for several hours and never got a single bite.” If you do get a bite, here’s why you should never scratch it.

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Sawyer Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent

Some types of mosquito repellents are made specifically for use on clothing rather than exposed skin, typically those containing permethrin; it provides heavy-duty protection and is especially good for hikers and hunters. Permethrin also helps prevent ticks from climbing up your socks/pant leg, Brown says. Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent doesn’t damage fabrics and also fends off the Yellow Fever Mosquito, a carrier of the ZIKA virus. Adds Deanne Mraz Robinson, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology, Yale New Haven Hospital, “Unlike DEET which doesn’t kill mosquitoes, just repels them, permethrin does kill mosquitoes and ticks.”

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Ben’s 30% Deet Insect Repellent Spray

“There is no evidence to support that theory that DEET isn’t safe,” says Kristina Goldenberg, MD of Goldenberg Dermatology in New York City. “Products containing DEET are safe and very effective at protecting the skin from insects and ticks.” She likes Ben’s 30% DEET Insect Repellent Spray, which, says one Amazon fan of the product, is “very convenient to point and apply. Just takes two or three pumps of mist on each leg and those irritating mosquitoes are history.”

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repel plant based lemon eucalyptus insect repellentvia

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

“If you prefer something more natural, try bug-sprays that use oil of lemon eucalyptus as a base,” says Nikola Djordjevic, MD, of “It’s more effective than other natural alternatives.” Dr. Djordjevic’s a fan of Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, which is DEET-free and organic. “You just need to spray every six hours for maximum effect. It protects you from Zika, West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya viruses, making it ideal for traveling abroad.” Note: Lemon eucalyptus is not safe to use on kids under age three.

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Kinfield Golden Hour Deet-Free Repellent

Check out this newly-launched product by Kinfield, a mosquito repellent that is DEET-free, formulated with only safe ingredients if you prefer a more natural, botanical, bug spray. It contains a special strain of citronella that is sourced in Indonesia along with extracts of clove, lemongrass, vanilla, and more, which the brand claims help to keep mosquitoes at bay for an extended period of time.

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Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin

Avon’s Skin So Soft has been an industry beauty must-have for generations. It not only makes the skin luscious but for some reason mosquitoes hate it. There are a few different types on the market, so be sure to pick up the one with Picaridin that doesn’t have sunscreen, says Dr. Shainhouse. “The bug spray can last eight hours and can be toxic if applied every two to three hours as sunscreen should be.”

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Cutter Dry Insect Repellent

“I especially like this product, because it contains 10 percent DEET and is fragrance-free, so the risk of irritation is minimized,” Dr. Goldenberg says. When you’re outside at night, either enjoying a meal or chatting away with friends at sunset, don’t forget your feet, reminds Dr. Shainhouse. Mosquitoes love to take a bite out of your feet and ankles, so if you’re wearing sandals, don’t forget to spray your feet before slipping on your shoes. Mosquitoes, she warns, also like to bite sweaty neck and scalps, even at night, so cover up as much as possible to fend off those pests. You can also try these 9 things that mosquitoes hate to keep the bugs at bay.

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Essential oils

According to Dr. Robinson, when it comes to mosquito repellents, “people may assume using essential oils is safer, however essential oils can cause skin irritation, or worse, if not properly diluted in a carrier oil.” Adds Dr. Robinson, “Certain essential oils can act as potential endocrine disruptors and can result in hormone changes.” Instead of risking it, for a safe, all-natural option, try SKYORGNIC’s Organic Bug Spray. It is DEET-free, good for the whole family to use, certified USDA Organic, and contains extracts of citronella, castor, peppermint, and lemongrass oil.

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You may equate the smell of citronella with summertime, but does it really work? The short answer is yes, but only for a brief period of time. “It’s probably the most common natural essential oil used to defend against mosquitoes,” says Dr. Shainhouse. “When outdoors, citronella candles can provide up to 50 percent extra protection for less than one hour, compared to using no repellent, but they are not considered to be effective in any form, including candles, bracelets, or lotions.” Plus, when you’re using a candle outdoors, the scent blows away and disperses, making it ineffective. But if you’re hosting a BBQ and want to keep your backyard bug free, try a mosquito repellent lantern.

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Every product is independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Rachel Sokol
Rachel Sokol is a longtime contributor to Reader's Digest, tackling mostly cleaning and health round-ups. A journalism graduate of Emerson College, she's a former education writer, beauty editor, and entertainment columnist.