Bruce P.Robinson, MD

Insect Repellents

Not All Repellents Are The Same

The use of repellents can protect both your health and sanity.

While some bug bites leave bothersome, itchy bumps on your skin they can also pose a serious threat and sometimes deadly risk to your health. Insect-borne diseases, may transmit harmful pathogens that can cause dangerous diseases like Lyme disease, Malaria, Dengue fever, Zika, and West Nile.

To Help Prevent Bug Bites We Recommend The Following Tips:

  • If you are outdoors, cover exposed skin. Wear loose clothing, long sleeves and long pants, socks and closed toe shoes instead of sandals.
  • Place screens over windows.
  • Get rid of standing water that may be a breeding ground for mosquitos.
  • However, one of the best ways to protect yourself when you are outdoors & at risk of getting bitten is the use of repellents containing DEET.


We have options when it comes to choosing what type of repellent to use -- sprays and lotions, candles, coils and vaporizers to name a few.

These repellents interfere with a mosquito's sense of smell, taste or both. The repellent either blocks or over stimulates these senses.

Repellents That Don't Work:

Bracelets, wristbands and watches. Even if they are loaded with repellents, they can't protect your whole body from getting bitten.

Ultrasonic repellent devices don't work. These come as electrical plug-ins, free standing varieties or watch-like accessories that claim to emit a high frequency sound that deters bugs by mimicking bats.

Dietary Supplements -- vitamin B, garlic, and so on -- don't work.

Light based repellents don't work. These devices come as colored light bulbs and they don't attract insects that fly toward white light. This works well on months, beetles, and stinkbugs but not on mosquitos.

Repellents That Do Work:

DEET works! DEET, was developed in the 1950's by the US Army and is a well established bug repellent. The higher the percentage, the longer the protection time is -- up to six hours. Despite its sixty year history of use by consumers, how exactly DEET works to keep bugs at bay still isn't fully understood. It's likely that more than one mechanism is at play.

How safe is DEET? Since it was originally used in 1957 a broad scientific consensus still holds that the chemical is safe when used as directed on the label. Newer insect repellent active ingredients are however judged. These need more time to look at outcomes.

Picaridin works. This synthetic repellent can protect for up to six hours at a 20% concentration. This is a promising alternate to DEET.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus, or OLE, works. OLE, with the active ingredient PMD, is a plant-based alternative to DEET and Picaridin. It's repellent properties can last for up to six hours.

Citronella works, just not that great and for not that long.

Which Essential Oils Work Best?

An arm-in-cage experiment for different essential oils has been completed specifically for mosquitos. Complete protection times (in minutes) measured for lotions with a 10% concentration of each essential oil. The longer the complete protection time the better the repellent will protect against mosquitos.

If your planning to mix your own plant-based mosquito repellent, remember that essential oils are complex mixtures of plant-made chemicals that can cause skin irritation.

Our Recommendation:

Based on studies and efficacy we recommend using repellents with the active ingredient DEET that contains at least 20-30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing and re-apply as directed. If you are wearing sunscreen and DEET apply sunscreen first.

Sometimes, despite one’s greatest efforts, bug bites still happen. Fortunately, most bug bites and stings can be safely treated at home.

Treatment of Bug Bites and Stings at Home:

For painful bites, such as a bee sting, take an over-the-counter painkiller, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. For bites that itch, apply an ice pack or an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, such as hydrocortisone. Another option is to take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine. Always follow the directions on the label and use the correct dose. If these over the counter remedies do not work schedule an appointment to discuss treatment options that may yield better relief.

If you experience any serious symptoms after a bug bite, such as a rash, fever, or body aches, schedule an appointment immediately. Make sure you tell us about your recent bite so that we can examine you for a transmitted disease.

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