Don't Bug Me!

Amanda Harper


Summer means time outdoors... picnics, festivals, baseball games, fire pits, porch sittin’, playgrounds, hiking and more. We love moving about when the weather is warm!

Unfortunately, so do bugs.

Aside from the fact that approximately no one wants to spend the whole summer scratching itchy bug bites, there are practical reasons to avoid being bitten. Mosquitoes and ticks can transmit a host of serious diseases, such as Lyme, Zika, West Nile Virus or encephalitis.

It’s important to protect yourself, your family and your pets from getting bugged by bugs. But it can be hard to know which products are best. We’ve rounded up some suggestions to help you tell these flying, crawling nuisances to bug off this summer!

Which Ingredients?

For many years, DEET was considered the gold-standard of bug sprays. Developed by the US Army in 1946, it has the benefit of being well-known.

Many experts prefer picaridin, a synthetic compound derived from the plant that produces ground pepper. Studies suggest it’s about as effective as DEET.

Picaridin was only approved for use in the US in 2005 (though it’s been used in Europe and Australia since 1998). The EPA has determined that like DEET, normal use does not pose any health concerns. But unlike DEET, picaridin has no odor, isn’t greasy-feeling and doesn’t harm plastics or synthetic fabrics (such as camping gear).

Many people seek “natural” alternatives, from citronella to rosemary. If you want to go this route, be sure to do your research into its effectiveness. Many studies bring up concerns such as the amount of time these natural options remain effective, and most studies only take into account mosquitoes – don’t forget that you want to repel ticks, too!

Spray or Lotion?

Many insect repellants come in aerosol cans. This tends to provide the most even application – as long as the wind’s not blowing. Spray bottles offer less coverage per spritz, but it can be a little easier (or less likely to make everyone cough) outdoors.

Insect repellent lotions help ensure even coverage, but they require you to get your hands dirty. You’ll want to wash the lotion off of your hands, which can be difficult to do if you’re camping or at a festival concert. (Lotions also have the benefit of being crowd-friendly!)

Skin So Soft

Avon’s Skin So Soft was launched as a simple lotion. Over time, it gained a cult following. Its fans swear it works as an effective – and good-smelling – insect repellant. Never mind that studies have called into question its efficacy; fanatics hoard the stuff to ensure their supply never runs out.

It’s gained such a mythical place as the go-to bug repelling lotion that Avon got tired of reminding people that it was never meant to be used that way. Instead, they took the approach of “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em;” they launched a line of Skin So Soft Bug Guard products with added (scientifically-proven!) insect repelling ingredients.

As for us? We believe! Several members of the TOPS staff swear by the OG.

What About Other Stuff?

You’ve seen all the gadgets; bracelets, necklaces, clip-on fans, candles, coils, mosquito swatting rackets and patio insect repelling… thingies! There's so much out there!

Everyone’s always trying to invent a better, easier-to-use, portable insect repellant solution. But so far, the results seem to be a fairly mixed bag. Be sure to check reviews online from trusted sources before you put all of your eggs into a high-tech basket.

What does work?

While it's not a great option for high temperatures, covering as much skin as possible can help prevent most bites. Long sleeves, long pants, neck gaiters and gloves help. If you're taking a hike, pull your socks over your pant legs to prevent ticks from crawling in.

Outdoor products that spray aerosol bug spray into the air seem to be effective. They work best for the nearby, immediate area – but experts recommend against using them in enclosed spaces. Also be sure to keep them away from pets and other wildlife.

If you are in an enclosed area, citronella candles can be effective. Fans can also sweep carbon dioxide out of the enclosed area (a great excuse to finally install that porch fan you've been dreaming of!)

"Bug zappers" obviously do work to kill bugs – but it requires them coming within smacking distance. There seems to be no truth to the claim that ultrasonic products will keep bugs at bay.

TOPS Tips:

There's a right way to apply bug spray! Follow the label instructions, but here are some tips for you.

» Spray exposed skin and clothing. Don't bother spraying under clothing.

» Don't apply around your eyes, mouth or nose.

» If you're not sure if your skin is evenly covered, feel free to lightly spread the product with your hands. Wash your hands afterward!

» Check the label to ensure it's not expired, which can significantly decrease the product's effectiveness.

» Spray your kiddos yourself!