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Protect Yourself From Disease-Carrying Ticks, Mosquitoes With EWG's 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents

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Fairfax County / CC BY-ND 2.0

A number of factors should come into play when you're choosing a bug repellent: what part of the country you live in, where you plan to travel, whether you're pregnant and whether you are planning to use the product on children. EWG's 2018 Guide to Bug Repellents can help you find the right product for yourself and your family.

No repellent works every place against every pest, so it is worth researching the diseases insects and ticks carry where you plan to spend time outside. The repellent you might choose for a backpacking trip in Colorado could be different from the one that might suffice for a picnic on an East Coast beach.


According to the available scientific literature, when you really need protection, your best bets are products made with active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When a company registers a bug repellent, it must provide the EPA with technical information that shows the chemical is effective against mosquitoes, ticks or both.

Based on testing data, EWG's top choices for repellents include those that contain the active ingredients picaridin, DEET and IR3535 for protection from a variety of biting insects and ticks. And all three have good safety profiles.

Many people are concerned about the possible drawbacks of common active ingredients like DEET. EWG researchers have analyzed the science in depth and found that, with proper application and precaution, our recommended active ingredients effectively reduce risk from life-altering diseases and have very low toxicity concerns.

But these strong chemicals should not be used on infants under 6 months old, and some should not be used on young children.

"Insects that bite and burrow into your skin are not just a nuisance—they can carry dangerous, even deadly, diseases," said EWG Research Analyst Carla Burns. "Educating yourself on what you can do to protect yourself and your family is important. EWG's guide helps consumers choose the right repellent for their circumstances and provides additional tips to reduce risks from insects."

EWG's guide breaks down advice on what bug repellents are best for children, adults and women who are pregnant. The guide also goes beyond repellents to offer a list of do's and don'ts for avoiding bug bites.

According to a new report from the CDC, tick- and insect-transmitted diseases, which can have serious health impacts and may even lead to death, are on the rise. While the agency has reported no cases of Zika virus transmission in the U.S. in 2018, it warns that pest-borne diseases are "a large and growing public health problem in the United States."

In the U.S., the number one mosquito-borne and tick-borne disease threats are West Nile virus and Lyme disease, respectively. But travelers to tropical regions and some other places could encounter Zika, malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever and other diseases. Diseases carried by ticks are rare, but can be severe. EWG recommends prudent tick prevention methods to anyone who spends time in tick-infested areas.

"Spending plenty of time outside, whether in your backyard, on the beach or on a family camping trip, is important," said EWG senior scientist David Andrews. "By taking a few simple steps, you can spend more time enjoying the outdoors and less time worrying about bug bites."

EWG scientists recommend people avoid a number of toxic and ineffective products, including clip-on repellents and repellent candles—both of which can present inhalation risks.

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