Does Buying Insect Repellent Confuse You, Too?

By Emily Selia

Photo by Kayhi Han

Photo by Kayhi Han

September was always my favorite month in the Washington, D.C. area.  The days were still long and good for evening walks in the woods or kayaking on the river. But those evenings also meant braving a veritable swarm of mosquitoes that somehow seemed to find me more than anyone else in my family. And, a growing number of ticks seemed to be appearing along my favorite hiking paths, latching onto my clothes.

When I’m outside where I might be bitten, I try to use insect repellent to keep ticks and mosquitos away. I hate the annoying itch from mosquitos and I know that both ticks and mosquitos can transmit diseases through their bites.

Here’s the challenge – When I’m in a hurry shopping for an insect repellent, it’s hard to quickly pick one – there are so many different bottles on the shelf!

I want to know – how long will a product work? Does it work on mosquitos or ticks? I don’t want to use the wrong one or use it incorrectly. Most of all, I just don’t want to be bitten so much!

I know I could read the label to tell which product is best for me.  The thing is, the print can be tiny, and sometimes it’s hard to find the information I need quickly.

Good news! My colleagues at EPA are trying to solve this problem.

We’re asking for your thoughts on a proposed graphic to be placed on insect repellent labels that CLEARLY tells you important information so you can choose the right products.  It’s kind of like the SPF symbol on sunscreen that tells you how much UV protection it provides. This proposed new graphic tells you if the insect repellent works for 2, 4, or 6 hours, or even longer. And, it tells you if it works on mosquitos, ticks or both. It’s simple, clear and easy to see. Manufacturers will have the option to put this graphic on qualifying products after EPA scientists make sure the product works for the amount of time they claim.

What do you think of the proposed graphic? Will it help you pick a product?

I think this new graphic will help me quickly pick a repellent that works for me and my activities. And, fewer bites means the warm evenings of September will probably be my favorite times next year, too.

About the author: Emily Selia is an Environmental Health Scientist at the EPA Office of Pesticide Programs. She primarily works on health communication and outreach, including farm worker health programs.

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