Only a few decades ago, the often contradictory data as to whether or not bug repellents were safe was sidestepped by some by just living with the itching from bug bites.
But since that time, serious health hazards like mosquito-borne West Nile disease and encephalitis, as well as tick-borne Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and ehrlichiosis, have changed the equation.
Putting up with bug bites is no longer the annoying but benign inconvenience it used to be. Consequently many people who used to avoid bug repellents like the plague have been venturing into the realm of chemical repellents.
According to the Environmental Working Group, Lyme disease numbers in 2013 were more than twice what they were 15 years earlier. West Nile virus infected more than 5,600 people in the United States annually, as of 2013, with almost 300 deaths.
The Environmental Working Group cautioned that repellents should not be used in every situation but in high-risk places and professions, they should be seriously considered.
EWG's research determined that there are four types of repellent chemicals that offer the best protection from tick and insect bites. EWG's top choices were picaridin, IR3535, DEET and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and its synthetic derivative p-Menthane-3, 8-diol (PMD).
- Picaridin has been available since 2005. It protects against tick and mosquito bites and is less likely to irritate skin and smell strong like DEET. It also doesn't evaporate as fast as DEET so it protects longer. EWG said that picaridin at 20 percent concentration can protect for 24 hours.
- IR3535 has been used in the United States since 1999. It may irritate eyes but no health problems have been observed. Merck 2013 recommends using 10-30 percent IR3535 for protection against ticks and insects.
- DEET is the most common mosquito and tick repellent. It should be noted that DEET has in rare cases caused nervous system damage. But consumers should not use a product that is 100 percent DEET. EWG said that 30 percent DEET is plenty strong enough. It offers protection with less toxicity.