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Does Buying Insect Repellent Confuse You, Too?

2013 November 6

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.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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3 Responses leave one →
  1. Sloan permalink
    November 8, 2013

    Emily, idea is good, the info is not great. I want to know how poisonous it is for me to use. Get a thermometer type scale and put Deet etc at the top and pure/natural at the bottom. I have tons of them, because we live in a forest. The No-see-ums need to be added to your mosquito side. They are growing in number and hurt faster and longer than a mosquito bite. They carry disease as well – and they will bite 20 bites in a few seconds. Females need blood to help their eggs. Only females bite but there are many of them and the bites show up nearly immediately. Babies, young children will be covered before you know it. They are at the beach, forests, and everywhere in the world except Antarctica. We are well-educated into the types of repellents on the market, and some in Europe as well. I, too, don’t like the small print, so your idea is good, just make it better and more meaningful. By the way, we wear the Off little battery operated fan that is a repellent. Hard to believe, but it works great. The other day I had one on my shoulder and one on my waist while I was sitting outside. I got a No-see-um bite on my shoulder….. hmmm did the device not work?… nope, I forgot to turn it on. They don’t cost much, and ours have lasted 2 yrs so far and we use them May through Dec.

  2. Barbara permalink
    November 10, 2013

    I like the labeling concept and also agree with Sloan that some toxicity gauge would also be helpful along with an application guide for “on skin” or “on clothing”.

  3. samer permalink
    November 23, 2013

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