Deetderived as an acronym for di-ethyl-toluamidewas developed in the 1950s and remains the world's most effective bug repellent. In most cases it's reasonably safe, provided you don't pickle yourself in high concentrations of the stuff. Caution is advised for children, however (10 percent dilutions or less; repellent applied to clothing rather than skin). And deet has well-documented solvent qualities that can be hard on plastics and similar materials.
A lot of people tout alternatives based on soybeans or citrus. Some are moderately effective. But none works as well as deet nor lasts as long. Now, however, there are some effective alternatives. For years, a repellent called Picaridin (pee-CAR-ee-den) has been available in Asia and Europe. Tests show that it works more or less as well as deet (maybe even better in some cases), poses no risk to adults or children, doesn't cause plastic to melt, and is generally much more pleasant. Picaridin was made available in the U.S. market last summer in Cutter Advanced bug juice ($6 for a six-ounce bottle; www.cutterinsectrepellent.com).
S.C. Johnson, the makers of the popular, deet-based Off! repellents, also markets a Picaridin product (which the Johnson folks call Picaridin Autan). It goes by Skintastic CleanFeel, and contains 5 percent Picaridin (the Cutter is 7 percent). Sells for $5 for a six-ounce bottle.
I'd like to hear some feedback on these things from people in bug-intensive states. At least one competitor claims Picaridin doesn't work. And what with the threat of West Nile virus and all, bug repellents have become serious stuff, not just a way to deter a moderate nuisance.
Lead Photo: courtesy, REI
Our mission to inspire readers to get outside has never been more critical. In recent years, Outside Online has reported on groundbreaking research linking time in nature to improved mental and physical health, and we’ve kept you informed about the unprecedented threats to America’s public lands. Our rigorous coverage helps spark important debates about wellness and travel and adventure, and it provides readers an accessible gateway to new outdoor passions. Time outside is essential—and we can help you make the most of it. Making a financial contribution to Outside Online only takes a few minutes and will ensure we can continue supplying the trailblazing, informative journalism that readers like you depend on. We hope you’ll support us. Thank you.
Contribute to Outside →