Mosquito repellent is important because mosquitoes can carry so many dangerous diseases. Things like West Nile Virus and malaria are transmitted via mosquitoes, and most doctors recommend you do everything you can to prevent contracting these conditions by keeping mosquitoes well away from you. There have been numerous reviews of the types of repellents that work best, and experts usually conclude that the most effective mosquito repellent is one that contains DEET.
DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is not only useful in repelling mosquitoes, but also in keeping away other bugs like ticks that may carry Lyme disease. It confuses most bugs by masking the smell of carbon dioxide which the body naturally gives off, attracting insects. DEET has to be used properly and in appropriate concentrations. A higher level of concentration tends to translate to longer lasting insect repellent.
For the people who cannot or chose not to use DEET, there are some alternative mosquito repellent ingredients. They have some efficacy, but are still not as effective as DEET. However, some are safe enough to be used on younger children. One of these is piperidine or picaridin. The US Centers for Disease Controls lists this substance as a viable alternative to DEET.
Picaridin is derived from pepper and has been approved for use in the US since 2005. It is available in some versions of Avon® Skin So Soft lotions, and sold as Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent too. Though this repellent is not quite as effective as DEET, it can be used on infants two months or older, and it has a smell that many people find pleasant or at least less off-putting than DEET. Some claim picaridin is just as effective as DEET, but these claims are difficult to prove because both chemicals can be used at different concentration levels.
Other mosquito repellent formulations that continue to rank below DEET include things like lemon oil, citronella, and eucalyptus. While these may have some effectiveness they are still not the best. Some people, however, prefer to use more naturally derived substances or cannot use DEET as a mosquito repellent due to skin irritation or to its potential to damage things like plastic.
If you need to use a milder repellent than DEET, you may want to avoid times when mosquitoes are usually most active. Typically in the hours right before and after sunrise and sunset, you’ll find the most mosquitoes. However, in some climates, especially humid or tropical ones, and in some areas, near water, you may find plenty of mosquitoes at other times of the day as well.