Insect Repellent – An Overview

As bugs swarm in some parts of the world, we look at bug repellents that can help protect us from biting insects.

What are insect repellents? 

Insect repellents are products that help prevent, repeal, or mitigating pests. These can be products that we apply to our skin or products like lanterns or candles that use a heating mechanism to disperse repellents (1).

This post will focus on products that we apply topically, such as a spray or lotion.


What do I need to know about insect repellents?

Manufacturers design different types of insect repellents to repel various insects. Disease-causing insects, specifically mosquitoes and ticks, are the most common targets of insect repellents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is responsible for the regulation of insect repellents.

Do all insect repellents work?   

There are two kinds of insect repellents:

  • EPA-registered products that have been tested for efficacy and safety.
  • Unregistered products that have been tested only for safety.

EPA-registered products are tested to ensure they repel mosquitoes and/ or ticks and are safe when used as directed. The EPA recommends using these products when you’re trying to avoid disease-carrying insects.

Unregistered products are tested to ensure safety, meaning if someone uses the products, including vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women, that the product is unlikely to cause undue harm. Unregistered products are not tested to ensure efficacy (1,2).


How can I tell if a product is EPA-registered?

EPA-registered products will contain an EPA number that you can look upon the EPA’s website.

Common EPA-registered active ingredients include:Subscribe for weekly updates_

  • 2-undecanone
  • Catnip oil
  • DEET
  • R-3535
  • Oil of Citronella
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus
  • Picaridin
  • q-Methane-3,8-diol (pmd)

It’s important to note that we can find botanical-based products in EPA-registered and unregistered products.

If you want to ensure the product is EPA-registered, you will need to find the EPA number or look up the product on the EPA website to confirm. 

Do unregistered products work?

While there is evidence to suggest that some botanical ingredients can repel insects, they do not possess the same consistent, prolonged efficacy that EPA-registered products demonstrate.

The EPA classifies many botanical ingredients as minimum-risk pesticides.

Minimum risk pesticides are thought to be safe when used as directed but are not known to have the same efficacy as EPA-registered products. Therefore, the products cannot make the same claims that EPA-registered products can make. For example, the marketing label cannot mention preventing insect-borne diseases like Zika or malaria.

Unregistered, minimum risk ingredients include many botanical and nature-derived ingredients like cinnamon oil, Citronella, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, and more.


What else do I need to know?

It can be hard to distinguish between an untrustworthy product and a reputable unregistered or EPA-registered product.

It’s important to look for an EPA registration number or check the EPA’s current list for minimal risk pesticides to see if an unregistered product contains ingredients recognized as safe by the EPA.


The good news.

Insect repellent products can protect us from annoying bug bites and potentially damaging insect-borne diseases. By knowing what active ingredients and types of products to look for, we can choose products that best suit our needs


Did you find this article useful?