Biting insects can mar an otherwise perfect day outdoors, and they have the potential to transmit serious diseases. A little knowledge about your enemy can go a long way.
This article provides some tips on safe, effective insect-repellent usage. See the companion REI Expert Advice article, Insect Repellents: How to Choose, for help on which type of repellent (e.g., DEET, picaridin, plant-based oils) is best for you.
How Insect Repellents Work
First, a few words about your enemy.
Mosquitoes are attracted by carbon dioxide (exhaled breath), lactic acid, ammonia, phenols, humidity and other human emissions.
Repellents do not actually repel mosquitoes. They create a vapor barrier atop skin and mask or scramble the signals of attraction that humans emit. They make it tougher for mosquitoes to locate their target. Because they act as vapor barriers, repellents are rarely effective when applied underneath clothing.
Why are some people more attractive to mosquitoes? Researchers at the University of Florida speculate that human skin produces 300 or so chemicals, and one individual’s mix may be more attractive to mosquitoes than other person’s.
This means you may find one insect repellent very effective, and a friend may have great results with a different repellent.
Tips on Using DEET Repellents
Other Repellent Tips
- Camp or take breaks in breezy areas. Mosquitoes have trouble tracking targets in windy conditions.
- For use with sunscreen, apply sunscreen 15 minutes before sun exposure begins. Apply repellent any time after the 15-minute skin-bonding stage for sunscreen.
- To minimize your attractiveness to insects, avoid dressing yourself or children in dark colors or wearing fragrances.
- When using sprays or aerosols, avoid inhaling spray or mist.
- Avoid under- and over-application.
- Always follow label instructions on repellent labels.