Ticks, flies and mosquitoes rank among summer’s biggest buzzkills. And they’re more than just pesty—they can carry dangerous diseases such as West Nile and Lyme. DEET repellents have long been the gold standard for keeping these creepy crawlies away, but many are wary of using this chemical on kids.
So if you find yourself sporting itchy spots after every backyard BBQ (research has found mosquitoes are more attracted to certain body odors) consider a DEET-free formula to keep you as bite-free as the best of them. They’re safe for young children under parental supervision. Just shake ‘em up to activate the ingredients.
The chemical DEET was introduced to civilians in 1956 after the US government tested—and rejected—over 20,000 other possible mosquito-repelling ingredients. DEET was found to be extremely effective and easy to produce en mass. Today essential oil-based bug sprays are growing in popularity as consumers go green.
But you won’t find essential oils in all bug repellents because of their cost. Extracting essential oils can be very expensive and bug sprays require a high concentration of natural oils to match the effectiveness of a lower concentration of DEET.
2Zoe Organics Insect Repellent, $20
Kids and their parents gave this new, 100 percent organic spray two thumbs up during product testing thanks to its lovely, light lemon eucalyptus scent. A vitamin E-rich base of sunflower and neem oils leaves skin soft and hydrated.
3Jason Quit Bugging Me!, $9
The geranium essential oil in this natural spray deters mosquitoes, gnats, horseflies, black and biting flies while leaving skin smelling fresh and herbal. The easy-to-use trigger spray makes it easy for little hands to manipulate. Spritz every two hours for best results.
4The CocoPlum Company Insect Repellent, $14
Necessity is the mother of all invention, so this herbal helper born when CocoPlum creator Destino Fuller was living in the tropics of Belize and needed something safe to protect herself and her five children from bothersome bites. The essential oil blend of citronella and peppermint is up to task whether spritzed in the rainforest or your backyard.
5Badger Anti-Bug Balm, $10
This certified organic balm is made from extra virgin olive oil, beeswax and a classic blend of citronella, lemongrass, rosemary, cedar and geranium essential oils. In independent lab tests, Badger’s formula was 95 percent effective at repelling mosquitoes and stable flies for 90 minutes after application and continued to be highly effective for a three full hours.
6BiteBlocker Xtreme Sportsman Organic Insect Repellent, $9
A 2011 study found BiteBlocker’s long-lasing natural repellent with active ingredients of geranium, castor and soybean oils, protected against mosquitoes even longer than a DEET-based product. Reapply every three-and-a-half hours.
7Limegreen Bug Repellant Spray, $15
Limegreen’s natural insect repellents (in lemongrass or the brand’s signature lemongrass-lavender scent) are infused with a unique ingredient—catnip. Yup, this feline favorite is a traditional bug repellent and bite soother. Just don’t be surprised if a cat follows you home.
8Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent, $8
You can ditch the citronella candle if you mist yourself with this repellent that counts citronella oil as one of its top bug-shooing ingredients. Essential oils of rosemary, lemongrass and peppermint also ward off insects and make for an invigorating aroma blend.
9Bubble & Bee 100% Organic Insect Repellent, $10
There’s lots of buzzing going on at farmer’s markets, parks and outdoor gatherings, so the creators of Bubble & Bee self-tested this vegan formula to prove its efficacy. Every last ingredient in the formula, from the non-GMO soybean oil to the clove and rosemary essential oils, is a major bug blocker.
10The Honest Company Honest Bug Spray, $13
Jessica Alba’s natural product line gives us a hypoallergenic, non-irritating, biodegradable natural insect repellent spray with a blend of organic oils that includes soybean, citronella, cedar and geranium. The company’s lab tests found this formula deterred mosquitoes and stable flies for up to four hours.