How to Choose the Right Bug Spray
School’s out and summer travel season is underway! For many, that means packing a bag and hitting the beautiful beaches of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands for some adventure, fun in the sun and good old R&R.
Informed travelers know that visiting any tropical destination means dealing with mosquitos, and the best way to deal with mosquitos is with a healthy dose of bug spray. But with so many options, how is anyone supposed to know which insect repellent is the best?
When deciding on which bug spray to buy, the best choice is a repellent that’s been registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—especially when travelling to areas with active Zika virus transmission. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, travelers should use EPA-registered repellents that include one of the following active ingredients:
- DEET (up to 30 percent concentration)
- Picaridin (20 percent)
- IR3535 (20 percent)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus
When used as directed, repellents with the active ingredient DEET are generally considered the most effective at keeping mosquitos away. However, it’s important to note that, according to Consumer Reports’ tests, products with 30 percent of the chemical are proven to work just as well as those with higher concentrations for up to 8 hours. Additionally, the CDC says that products with a DEET concentration over 50 percent provide no added protection from pests.
At the other end of the spectrum are organic/natural repellents, which are not registered by the EPA. While they may smell nicer and have fewer chemicals, a recent Consumer Reports study found that most natural/organic repellents lasted less than one hour against mosquitos, and many did not work at all against Aedes mosquitos, the carriers of the Zika virus.
In the end, it’s simply wiser to choose EPA-registered insect repellents, which have been proven safe and effective, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.
How do parents protect their children?
Since their skin tends to be more sensitive, a different set of guidelines exists for children:
- Do not apply repellent on babies younger than two months old. Instead, opt for adding a mosquito net over the car seat or stroller.
- Sprays containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol should not be applied on the skin of children younger than three years old.
- Never apply insect repellent onto a child’s hands, eyes, mouth or cut/irritated skin.
- Adults should spray insect repellent on their hands first, then apply to a child’s face.
- If older children are applying repellent themselves, they need to wash their hands with soap and water afterward.
- Children should immediately wash off all repellent with warm water and soap after returning from the outdoors.
Old or young, DEET or picaridin, it’s key to always follow the product label instructions, reapply repellent as directed, avoid spraying repellent on the skin under clothing and apply repellent on top of sunscreen, after it has dried.
How to “beef up” mosquito protection
There’s no doubt about it, the easiest way for travelers to avoid bug bites is with repellent, but there are several other tools travelers can use to build an even stronger barrier against mosquitos and other pesky biters:
Permethrin-treated clothing: Permethrin is an insecticide that incapacitates bugs once they land on the fabric. Travelers can treat their own clothing (follow all product guidelines) or purchase pre-treated clothing, which remains protective after multiple washings. Permethrin should never be used directly on skin.
Clip-on mosquito repellent kits: Clip-on repellent kits can be added to belts, waistbands and purses to help build a protective repellent barrier that moves with the wearer. Many offer up to 12-hours of protection against mosquitos. Clip-on repellents should not be used as substitutes for traditional repellent, but as a secondary layer of protection.
Dress for success: One of the easiest things travelers can do to help deter mosquito bites is dress properly when out and about. For example, studies have shown that mosquitos are more attracted to dark colors, so travelers should try to wear light colored clothing as much as possible. Additionally, loose-fitting clothes, long sleeves and pants provide extra protection in areas with active mosquito populations.
No matter where a traveler decides to visit, there are always common-sense precautions that need to be taken. Travelers who do their homework, purchase the right bug spray and follow CDC guidelines can cast away their fears and have a worry-free experience in beautiful Puerto Rico.
Visit the Puerto Rico Now homepage to learn more about the Zika virus in Puerto Rico and how the island is protecting its visitors.