Consumer Reports: Best insect repellents

PHILADELPHIA -- As summer approaches, and you spend more time outside, you should know that mosquito and tick-borne diseases on the rise nationwide.

The best way to protect yourself is with a good insect repellent.

Fortunately, Consumer Reports has exclusive new ratings of the best products to use for a bug-bite free season.

"Annoying, irritating, and potentially dangerous," Consumer Reports' Joan Muratore said.

Mosquito and tick bites can ruin any summer outing, and the diseases they carry -- like West Nile virus, Lyme disease, or Rocky Mountain spotted fever -- can be much worse.

The good news is that the same kinds of repellents protect well against both mosquitoes and ticks.

"Many of the better performing products contain DEET at levels of 15 to 30 percent," Muratore said. "Research has shown that DEET is safe when used as directed, even for kids and pregnant women."

As part of Consumer Reports expert testing against mosquitos, a standard dose of repellent is applied to each test subject's forearms, then sticks each arm into a cage of 200 disease free mosquitoes of one species for five minutes. The repellent fails if there are two bites in one exposure period or one bite in each of two consecutive sessions.

Consumer Reports did not test all repellents against ticks, but previous test results and further research indicate that any product that protects from mosquito bites will also likely protect from tick bites.

Consumer Reports' two top-rated repellents contain DEET - Total Home CVS Woodland Scent Insect Repellent and Off Deep Woods Insect Repellent Eight Dry.

Also performing well were this 30 percent Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus repellent and 20 percent picaridin repellent. Research suggests both are safe, though OLE shouldn't be used on children under 3.

And to get the best protection from any of these repellents, you must apply them properly. So follow the directions on the label.

For those worried about using chemicals on children, the US Environmental Protection Agency says that DEET with concentrations of 30 percent or less is safe for kids.

In addition, Consumer Reports says when it comes to natural products, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is the only option that performed well against mosquitoes.

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