If you’re concerned about chemicals leaching into your skin, but tend to be a mosquito magnet, turn to these natural products to protect you from those pesky critters.
With people seeking natural products for everything from skincare to cleaning supplies, it seems counterintuitive to douse oneself in DEET to ward off mosquitoes and gnats. “What we’re seeing at the consumer level is a lot of skin irritation when they use chemical-based products,” says Bob Root, author of Chemical-Free Skin Health. However, “If you want natural products you don’t want to compromise what you’re getting in an insect repellent.”
Natural repellents can be equally effective as the drugstore stuff—if you know what to look for. It’s about “ingredients, ingredients, ingredients,” Root says. “If you look at a label with a bunch of chemical names you can’t understand, walk away.” Unsure what’s what? It may take some sleuthing, but cross-reference items in the ingredient list in a simple online search. An effective natural formula will include things like neem oil, karanja oil, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, red thyme oil, sweet basil oil, and citronella. For broad-spectrum coverage from different types of mosquitoes and any other biting flies, look for multiple repellent ingredients—that inexpensive, one-note citronella oil sold at the cruise ship gift shop may not provide enough protection.
Also, buy through a source you trust. Your local natural market, pharmacy, or apothecary most likely thoroughly vets the products it carries. Another rule of thumb is that true natural products do tend to be a bit more expensive than the superstore buy. To create their natural formulations, companies curate oils from all over the world, and the physical act of transporting them to the factory costs more than chemical ingredients.
Here, we’ve saved you some time by selecting the picks you can count on:
TheraNeem Herbal Outdoor Spray by Organix South
Developed in response to the buggy Florida Everglades, this water-based repellent packs a rich punch of effective essential oils—neem, lemongrass, tee tree, and eucalyptus, among others. It pumps out like lotion, ideal to hydrate skin in hot months, and rubs in, leaving a subtle lemony scent but no oily feel. The formula soothes irritated skin in general, so try it for sun damage, minor allergic reactions, or small scrapes on adults or kids. Since the product is applied directly to skin, you’ll need to re-apply after swimming or sweating (similar to sunscreen).
To buy: $9, amazon.com.
Bug 0% by St. Maarten Nectar
On the island of St. Maarten (where pesky tropical bugs abound), the founder of this product was continually complemented on her self-concocted “perfume,” a natural repellent which served as a base for her products that work equally well Stateside. The combination of non-toxic ingredients scares away mosquitoes and the like without frightening ingredients, plus it moisturizes skin. Luckily, they ship worldwide.
To buy: $21, stmaartennectar.com.
ForceX Natural Inspect Repellent
Originally developed for Northeasterners on Cape Cod, known for its high concentration of mosquitoes, ForceX’s fogger nozzle delivers a fine mist evenly on skin. Also with neem and karanja oil, it’s ideal for athletes, the outdoorsy, and anyone who wants full repellency without the feel of lotion. Spray it on the brim of a hat or sleeves instead of—or in addition to—skin to last longer (plus, you won’t sweat it off).
To buy: $10, keys-soap.com.
RediCare Therapy Spray
The combination of neem oil, Ayurveda roots, and karanja, helps to repel about 200 different insects and helps with everyday skin irritations. No need to rub it in—it simply sprays on through a fine mist that feels like more of a skin emollient. RediCare is also safe for use on pets, including dogs and horses (the formula was originally developed to soothe the irritated skin of search and rescue dogs after Hurricane Katrina).
To buy: $22, amazon.com.