Mosquitos: How to Choose Use Insect Repellents (cont.)

How the Percentage of Active Ingredient in a Product Relates to Protection Time

In general, the more active ingredient (higher percentage) it has, the longer a repellent will protect you from mosquitoes. For example, DEET products are available in many formulations--something with 30% DEET will protect you longer than one with 5% DEET. You cannot directly compare the percentage of one active ingredient to another, however.

Use your common sense. Re-apply repellent if you start to get bitten and follow the label instructions.

As a "rule of thumb":

  • For many hours outside (over 3-4 hours) and/or where biting is very intense-look for a repellent containing more than 20% DEET. Products with more than 50% DEET do not offer additional protection.
  • For shorter periods of time, repellents containing less than 20% DEET, the repellent currently available with 7% picaridin or one of the products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus may provide adequate protection. There are other products available, but they may not protect as long as those named here.
  • Even if you're going out for 10 minutes use a repellent -that's long enough to get bitten!

Hint: Applying permethrin to your clothing ahead of time will give you even greater protection.

Remember-if you're getting bitten, do something about it!

Choose a repellent that you will use consistently. Also, choose a product that will provide sufficient protection for the amount of time that you will be spending outdoors. Product labels often indicate the length of time that you can expect protection from a product. If you are concerned about using insect repellent, consult your health care provider for advice.


How the Percentage of DEET in a Product Relates to Protection Time

Typically, the more active ingredient a product contains the longer it provides protection from mosquito bites. The concentration of different active ingredients cannot be directly compared (that is, 10% concentration of one product doesn't mean it works exactly the same as 10% concentration of another product.)

DEET is an effective active ingredient found in many repellent products and in a variety of formulations. Based on a 2002 study (Fradin and Day, 2002.):

  • A recent study indicates the following:
  • A product containing 23.8% DEET provided an average of 5 hours of protection from mosquito bites.
  • A product containing 20% DEET provided almost 4 hours of protection.
  • A product with 6.65% DEET provided almost 2 hours of protection.
  • Products with 4.75% DEET were both able to provide roughly 1 and a half hour of protection.

These examples represent results from only one study and are only included to provide a general idea of how such products may work. Actual protection will vary widely based on conditions such as temperature, perspiration, and water exposure.

Choose a repellent that provides protection for the amount of time that you will be outdoors. A product with a higher percentage of active ingredient is a good choice if you will be outdoors for several hours while a product with a lower concentration can be used if time outdoors will be limited. Simply re-apply repellent (following label instructions) if you are outdoors for a longer time than expected and start to be bitten by mosquitoes.

Other repellents

CDC recommends products containing active ingredients which have been registered with US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as insect repellents on skin or clothing.

All of the EPA-registered active ingredients have demonstrated repellency however some provide more longerlasting protection than others. Additional research reviewed by CDC suggests that repellents containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or picaridin (KBR 3023) typically provide longer-lasting protection than the other products and oil of lemon eucalyptus (p-menthane-3,8-diol) provides longer lasting protection than other plant-based repellents. Permethrin is another long-lasting repellent that is intended for application to clothing and gear, but not directly to skin. In general, the more active ingredient (higher concentration) a repellent contains, the longer time it protects against mosquito bites.

People who are concerned about using repellents may wish to consult their health care provider for advice. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) can also provide information through a toll-free number, 1-800-858-7378 or

How can you know which active ingredient a product contains?

Certain products which contain permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear, and are registered with EPA for this use. Permethrin is highly effective as an insecticide and as a repellent. Permethrin-treated clothing repels and kills ticks, mosquitoes, and other arthropods and retains this effect after repeated laundering. The permethrin insecticide should be reapplied following the label instructions. Some commercial products are available pretreated with permethrin.

Using Products Containing DEET Safely on Children

Repellent products must state any age restriction. If there is none, EPA has not required a restriction on the use of the product.

According to the label, oil of lemon eucalyptus products should NOT be used on CHILDREN UNDER 3 YEARS.

In addition to EPA's decisions about use of products on children, many consumers also look to the opinion of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP does have an opinion on the use of DEET in children (see below). AAP has not yet issued specific recommendations or opinion concerning the use of picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus for children. CDC will post a link to such information from the Academy when/if it becomes available.

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