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Active Ingredients in Mosquito & Tick Repellents

Spending time outdoors requires preparation, whether that time will be spent in your backyard or halfway around the globe. Keeping mosquitos and ticks in check is an important way to avoid the serious illnesses insects can spread. Insect repellents are especially important for outdoor professionals who spend their days working in rain forests, swamps and other remote areas. Not sure which repellent to choose? Check out popular formulas below.

Mosquito Bite

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DEET Repellents

Developed by the military more than a half-century ago, DEET is by far the most common and effective repellent. Although its name sounds similar, it is not related to the pesticide DDT, which was banned in the United States in the 1970s. Initially DEET was thought to repel by creating a smell that mosquitoes and ticks disliked, though some studies seemed to show that it confused the pest's sense of smell. Recent studies suggest that DEET jams certain odor receptors that the insect uses to detect breath, because its effectiveness increased in combination with natural compounds found in human breath. While the exact nature of DEET's mode of action is still a bit of a mystery, it seems that this jamming of olfactory receptors is on the right track.

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Permethrin Repellents

A staple in keeping ticks away. Permethrin is a synthetic chemical in the pyrethroid family and acts like naturally occurring pyrethrins extracted from chrysanthemums. Unlike a typical repellent, permethrin is actually toxic to insects and ticks. It excites the nervous system if touched or ingested to the point of causing muscle spasms, paralysis and death. Although it is more toxic to insects than to people and dogs, most permethrin products should only be applied to clothing and gear and not to skin directly.

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Picaridin Repellents

Picaridin is a relatively recent compound that was first made in the 1980s. Less is known about the actual means of repelling, however it appears to keep mosquitoes from sensing their prey. Some studies indicate that picaridin stimulates the tiny sensory hairs on antennae that prevent it from recognizing animals as a potential meal. Picaridin products are similar in effectiveness to products containing DEET, but are less likely to cause skin irritation.

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IR3535 Repellents

Another newcomer, IR3535 was approved by the USEPA in 1999 after being used in Europe for some 10-20 years prior. While most repellents are designed to mask scent, IR3535 makes use of a mechanism researchers have named the "repellent effect". IR3535 contains an amplified version of beta-alanine, a naturally occurring amino acid, to intensify a signal that chemically tells mosquitoes to stay away. Keep in mind that IR3535 is a brand name that isn't always used for labeling purposes. These products may list the ingredient as 3-(N-n-Butyl-N-acetyl) aminopropionic acid ethyl ester, Ethyl N-acetyl-N-butyl-ß-alaninate or Ethyl Butylacetylaminopropionate.

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Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Repellents

Lemon eucalyptus formulas provide a natural alternative. The main ingredient is the aromatic oil extracted from leafs and twigs of the gum eucalyptus plant. Being natural, it is considered a safer alternative to synthetic repellents. Little is known about the mechanism lemon eucalyptus employs to repel, though it is believed that the strong odor masks signals given off by hosts.

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Last Updated: 05.03.17

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