Did you know that most bug sprays in the US are made with chemicals that have been shown to cause neurological damage? And that the high concentrations we see in our bug sprays are actually banned in other countries? Clearly, the stuff we’ve been using isn’t very good for us or the environment, but that doesn’t mean you have to resign yourself to becoming a bug buffet.
Eco-friendly bug sprays are becoming increasingly common. In fact, you can even find all-natural, organic sprays that actually work. In this guide, we’ll show you what to look for when choosing a more eco-friendly bug spray. At the end, we’ve also got a list of our 10 favorites to help you get started.
How to Choose an Eco-Friendly Bug Spray – Buying Guide
When it comes to picking a good bug spray, it’s less about your individual requirements and more about what actually works. There is some variation between preferences, though, so keep your needs in mind as you consider the following factors.
Ingredients to Look For: Lemon Eucalyptus and Picaridin
There are a few different ingredients that make for an effective bug spray. Some ingredients are more effective against certain bugs than others, so be sure to read the label to see what bugs each spray is formulated to protect you against.
For an “All-Natural” Spray, Look for Lemon Eucalyptus
Most natural bug sprays will include either citronella oil, lemon eucalyptus oil, or oil of lemon eucalyptus as their main ingredient. As similar as they sound, none of these are the same thing, though all of them contain PMD, a naturally occurring, highly effective mosquito and bug repellent.
Citronella oil and lemon eucalyptus oil are essential oils that contain low concentrations of PMD. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, on the other hand, is a concentrated version of lemon eucalyptus oil that contains a much higher amount of PMD. While all will be effective at deterring bugs to some degree, oil of lemon eucalyptus is the most effective of the three.
Do note, however, that lemon eucalyptus is actually one of the scents bees are most attracted to, so if you’re in an area with bees, maybe skip the lemon eucalyptus spray.
For Broad-Range Protection, Look for Picaridin
Picaridin is a synthetic version of a chemical found in black pepper plants. It’s one of the most effective bug repellents in terms of the number of different bugs it can protect you from–including mosquito, ticks, and flies.
It has almost no odor, doesn’t leave behind any residue, and is generally considered non-toxic and safe for both people and the environment. Picaridin is also considered a better option for children under 3 years old as essential oils can be too highly concentrated for their skin at that age.
Avoid DEET at All Costs
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly bug spray, you probably already know that DEET is one ingredient you want to avoid. But why is DEET so terrible? Well, aside from being an extremely effective bug repellent, it’s also been known to melt plastics, cause short-term health effects like dizziness, headaches, and nausea, as well as long-term health effects like impaired neurological functions, muscle weakness, and tremors.
Luckily, most eco-friendly bug sprays are proud to be DEET-free and will have it written clearly on their labels so you know right away that you’re not getting any of that nasty stuff.
Make Sure that the Product Can Protect You for as Long as You Need or Be Prepared to Reapply
Unfortunately, DEET bug sprays tend to be the most long-lasting. Most sprays will have their duration of protection written on them, so make sure you pick one that will last you the whole day, or at least that you won’t mind reapplying between those intervals.
Also, keep in mind that bug spray tends to wear off faster if you’re sweating during summer hikes than if you’re just bird-watching on a cool day. Most natural bug sprays are not sweat-resistant, so be prepared to reapply often.
Pick Pump Sprays – Aerosols Release Harmful Chemicals and Compounds
While aerosol sprays no longer release the ozone layer-depleting chemicals they did back in the 50s and 60s, they still release hydrocarbons and other gasses that contribute to global warming (albeit in small amounts).
Aerosols also tend to release volatile organic compounds that can irritate your respiratory system and create ground-level ozone which is a large component of smog (it turns out extra ozone in the wrong place can be just as bad as too little ozone in the right place–go figure). So to avoid these unnecessary atmospheric pollutants, it’s best to go with plain old pump sprays.
Top 10 Best Eco-Friendly Bug Sprays to Buy Online
Now that you know what to look for in an eco-friendly bug spray, here are a few of our favorites to help you on your search.
10. Badger Anti-Bug Repellent Spray (4 oz)
Certified Organic Mosquito Repellent
This eco-friendly bug spray is certified organic and contains no synthetic chemicals. It has a strong but pleasant scent–lemony and closer to an essential oil than a bug spray–and is most effective against mosquitoes.
However, some reviewers note that this spray is less effective for those who are particularly prone to bug bites. So if you find that you’re often a bug buffet, you might want to try something a little stronger.
|Active Ingredients||Citronella, cedar, lemongrass essential oils|
9. Coleman DEET Free Lemon Eucalyptus (4 oz)
Effective, Highly Concentrated Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Spray
This bug spray from outdoor brand Coleman is made from a 30% concentration of oil of lemon eucalyptus, making it extremely effective against mosquitos.
However, it is an aerosol-based spray, so if you’re sensitive to the chemicals in aerosols, this might not be the best choice for you. Also, as it comes out faster, this bottle may run out earlier than a similarly sized pump spray.
|Active Ingredients||Oil of lemon eucalyptus|
8. Turtle Moon Health Nature’s Cloak Insect Repellant (4 Pack, 2.5 oz)
Travel-Sized Spray with a Long Shelf Life
This little bug spray is the perfect companion on any trip–by land or air. It comes in a metal bottle, which is great for shelf life as high-quality essential oils can sometimes degrade plastic and lose efficacy in clear containers over time.
This bug spray is formulated to work against mosquitos and ticks, and while not ineffective against them, some reviewers note that it doesn’t really keep away chiggers.
|Active Ingredients||Lemon eucalyptus, lavender, rose geranium, lemon tea tree, and cedarwood essential oils|
7. Quantum Health Buzz Away Extreme (4 oz)
Great for Forested Areas with Tons of Bugs
This all-natural bug spray is formulated to work against mosquitos and ticks and even works in densely forested, super buggy areas. It comes in two larger sizes as well for longer use and bigger families.
However, at four hours, the duration length is rather low, so be prepared to reapply often or risk losing effectiveness. Otherwise, this spray might not be for you.
|Active Ingredients||Citronella, geranium, lemongrass, cedarwood, peppermint essential oils|
6. Moondance Soaps and More Bugs at Bay Mosquito Spray (2 oz)
Gentle, Travel-Sized Bug Spray
This travel-sized bug spray is gentle on the skin and has a very pleasant smell without sacrificing efficacy. For your little ones, this spray also comes in a baby formulation so you don’t have to worry about too-strong essential oils on their skin.
However, note that this is a fairly small bottle and the repellent itself needs to be reapplied pretty frequently, so this is probably one that’s best left in your bag and used in a pinch.
|Active Ingredients||Lemon eucalyptus, citronella, lavender, rosemary, cedarwood, and peppermint essential oils|
5. Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent (4 oz)
Long-Lasting Mosquito Repellant
This bug spray is most effective against mosquitos and is formulated to be long-lasting for extreme outdoor use so that you can focus on your activity and not on reapplying.
However, some reviewers note that the lemon eucalyptus scent is quite strong and that the scent lingers on the skin for as long as you’re wearing it. So if you’re sensitive to smells, this might not be the right spray for you.
|Active Ingredients||Oil of lemon eucalyptus|
4. Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent (4 oz)
A Little Goes a Long Way
This bug spray from Murphy’s Naturals really does feel natural on your skin–it wears light and doesn’t leave behind any sticky residue. Plus, it’s extremely effective against all types of mosquitos.
While it does have a strong scent, it is not unpleasant, and at the right application levels (that is, you really don’t need too much), the smell shouldn’t bother most people.
|Active Ingredients||Oil of lemon eucalyptus|
3. Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard + Picaridin (4 oz)
Moisturizes as It Protects
Growing up, your mom might have used Avon Skin-So-Soft bath spray on you as a bug repellant. Well, Avon now has a dedicated bug spray that actually works.
Alongside picaridin, this spray also contains vitamin E and aloe to really live up to its “skin-so-soft” name. However, some reviewers note that while this spray effective against mosquitos, it is less effective against other bugs.
2. Natrapel 12-Hour Mosquito, Tick, and Insect Repellent (3.4 oz)
Super Long-Lasting Against a Huge Range of Bugs
This bug spray is super long-lasting and contains a 20% concentration of picaridin. It offers 12 hours of protection against mosquitos and ticks and 8 hours against other bugs like sand flies and gnats.
However, some reviewers note that this spray does leave behind a slightly oily residue on your skin, so for those who really can’t stand that, this might not be the right spray for you.
1. Sawyer Products Premium Insect Repellent (4 oz)
Highly Effective, Long Lasting Bug Spray
This bug spray is recommended by the CDC for those traveling to Zika-infected areas and is effective even for those who always find themselves getting bitten.
The scent is very mild, which is great for those with sensitivities. However, some note that the spray nozzle could be improved, so be sure to spread it with your hands after you spray.
How to Properly Apply Bug Spray
It can be easy to think that bug spray should be worn the same way as perfume–after all, it’s the scent that the bugs don’t like, right? Actually, there’s a little more to it than that, and here are a few tips to doing it right.
Spray from about 6-8 inches away from your skin and spread it over your skin with your hands. Try not to go too heavy–more isn’t necessarily better with bug spray. For your face and other sensitive areas, spray onto your hands first and rub it on with your fingers. There’s no need to get under your clothes, but don’t forget areas like your ankles, hands, and feet.
There you have it–a quick guide to choosing an eco-friendly bug spray. Getting bitten by bugs is not only unpleasant but can also be dangerous in certain situations. So using a harmful spray to try to prevent that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Choosing an eco-friendly option that’s just as effective is your best bet to end your day happy, healthy, and safe.
By Jacqueline Oshiro
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