Finding a safer bug repellent can be a real buzzkill. Conventional bug repellents often contain a combination of active ingredients that are listed on the label, and inert ingredients that are typically not labeled. In many cases chemicals linked to human and environmental harm are found included in these products. Thankfully, there are safer approaches to keep those bugs away. To help you navigate the chemical confusion, we’re identifying a few of the top ingredient offenders and exploring alternative options. As always, the best way to shop products that have been vetted for human and environmental health is to look for the MADE SAFE® seal—scroll to the bottom for MADE SAFE certified bug solutions.
Ingredients to Avoid
- Cyfluthrin – Cyfluthrin is linked to deleterious effects including muscle trembling, behavior changes, and neurotoxicity. It has also been found in one animal study to impair normal liver function. Ecosystem harm includes negatively affecting aquatic life and honeybees.
- DEET – Adverse reactions to DEET include seizures, memory loss, stiffness in joints, headaches, skin blisters, skin irritation, and shortness of breath. Does not biodegrade quickly and has been detected in groundwater.
- Permethrin – Linked to neurotoxicity and, in one study, was a contributing factor to the incidence of seizures. Toxic to bees and aquatic life. Good to know: some outdoor clothing marketed as bug repellent is treated with permethrin.
- Pyrethroids – Linked to neurotoxicity, endocrine disruption, and increased risk of breast cancer. Most pyrethroid chemicals are also harmful to aquatic life as well.
- Clove Oil – A natural mosquito repellent, especially effective when mixed with other oils.
- Lemongrass – Another great natural oil alternative to repel bugs. Can also be listed on labels as Cymbopogon citratus or schoenanthus oil.
- Thyme – Another highly effective, naturally-occurring bug repellent.
Other Tips for Keeping Bugs at Bay
- Avoid yard bug repellent foggers and coils.
- Stay indoors at dawn and dusk when mosquitos are worst.
- Utilize mosquito netting for strollers and camping.
- Prevent mosquitoes by keeping your yard free of standing water.
- Cover up exposed skin with long sleeves, long pants, and tall socks.
- Have more ingredient questions? Search our MADE SAFE® Banned and Restricted ListSM of over 6,500 substances banned from use in MADE SAFE certified products. This list is an excellent resource for shoppers, but do keep in mind that the Banned & Restricted List is only the first step towards MADE SAFE certification. Our certification process involves multiple steps in which additional toxic substances – not included on the Banned List – may be ruled out.
- To get the full scoop on how to find a better bug repellent and use it well, see our fact sheet, What’s Inside Bug Repellent. Want to dive in even deeper? Read our full report, Bug Repellent: What’s In It?
A Note About Essential Oils
Remember that just because something is natural does not mean that it is safe or non-irritating. When using essential oils, look for pre-made products to ensure they have been diluted properly, or if making DIY repellents, always be sure to dilute properly using a carrier oil like fractionated coconut oil or jojoba oil. Some botanicals can be irritating, so try a small patch test before use, and avoid any known botanical allergens. As with any new product, pay attention to your body and discontinue use if it is causing irritation.
ESSENTIAL OILS FOR DIY REPELLENTS
BUG BITE CARE