DEET is an effective mosquito deterrent, but there are many reasons it cannot be used. Per the CDC, cuts, eczema, and being a kid are all problems if you want to use DEET.

What proven alternatives are there to DEET that can be used for people with open wounds or eczema?

  • 1
    possible duplicate of What can I do about those obnoxious biting flies?
    – Rory Alsop
    Commented Feb 8, 2012 at 9:17
  • @RoryAlsop -- Not duplicate because the other question is for biting flies. Not all bugs are repelled with the same methods (for instance DEET is only so-so against ticks in my experience). However, thank you for explaining why you voted to close Commented Feb 9, 2012 at 1:30
  • 1
    The latest treatment I've seen is Permethrin. You spray it on your clothes, not on your skin, so it may be better for people with skin issues. I'm only posting a comment because I don't have any facts to back this up.
    – BMitch
    Commented Oct 16, 2012 at 2:32
  • It seems that garlic (in one's diet) helps in keeping ticks away. There are a few studies about that, but being in the diet might be more effective for some and less for others. It doesnt seem to do much for other insects like mosquitoes, although some mosquitoes and horseflies seem to not even care if you are covered with DEET, sometimes a net is the only way. Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 21:20
  • 1
    I agree to most of the answers provided, but do want to add a caution that hasn't been mentioned, and can't be overstated. And that is, for Permethrin: Watch out for your cats and fish. Permethrin is outright dangerous to them. For cats, even if the garment is normally dried, when it becomes wet, such as due to rain or a cat licks it because of food it finds on the garment, it can be fatal to the cat. Don't leave the bottle around, and make sure clothes are dried before a cat can touch them. anapsid.org/pyrethroids.html npic.orst.edu/factsheets/PermGen.html
    – Andrew Jay
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 16:14

8 Answers 8


Besides DEET, the CDC lists:

  • Picaridin (Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the United States))
  • Lemon Eucalyptus oil (PMD)** (no examples given)
  • IR3535 (Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition)

In particular, Picaridin seems to be a viable alternative:

Of the active ingredients registered with the EPA, CDC believes that two have demonstrated a higher degree of efficacy in the peer-reviewed, scientific literature (See Publications page.). Products containing these active ingredients typically provide longer-lasting protection than others:

  • DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide)
  • Picaridin (KBR 3023)

Oil of lemon eucalyptus [active ingredient: p-menthane 3,8-diol (PMD)], a plant- based repellent, is also registered with EPA. In two recent scientific publications, when oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the US it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET.

**: Caveat emptor:

“Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil) is not the same product; it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy, is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent, and is not covered by this recommendation.


The British Army stationed in Scotland use Avon Skin So Soft (I kid you not!) against midges. The locals swear by it too.


I use Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus(OLE) and it works great. Cutter, Repel, and Coleman all make products that contain the EPA and CDC approved OLE.


The importance of good insect protection

This is an important subject. The dangers of mosquitoes in many parts of the world are well known, and recent research suggests that Lyme disease from ticks is greatly under-reported and is many times more prevalent than previously thought.

There are three issues:

  1. Treating clothing so ticks are killed on contact before they can reach your skin, and biting insects are repelled so you can wear more breathable clothing rather than uncomfortable, tight-woven insect-proof fabrics.

  2. Preventing bites on your skin.

  3. Avoiding the little buggers in the first place

Treating clothing & insect netting

Your best (and only) choice here is the contact insecticide permethrin, which was developed by the US military. The EPA has reviewed the evidence and regards it as safe and effective. It is known to work on ticks, mosquitoes and over 50 other types of insect. It is odourless once dry, and doesn't damage clothing.

There are 4 ways to use it, in decreasing order of effectiveness and longevity:

  1. Factory applied - which should last for the life of the garment and is offered by an increasing range of manufacturers
  2. After-market application by a specialist service
  3. Washing it into your clothing
  4. Spraying it onto your clothing, which should last up to 6 weeks provided you hand wash or use a wool programme (it is damaged by vigorous washing).

The well known trekker Andrew Skurka has been testing factory-applied clothing with guided groups in tough conditions in Alaska and has found it very effective. Anecdotal evidence from blogs and forums also suggests that it works well.

Protecting your skin

The options here are less clear. Permethrin isn't suitable, and while DEET is effective there are increasing safety concerns, and bans are being introduced in many jurisdictions.

My own experience is that solutions that work for some don't work for others - the factors that attract biting insects are complex and seem to vary from person to person. So trial and error is required.

The failsafe approach is to use netting and clothing as a barrier. You can even buy or make netting mits. Nets treated with permethrin are more effective, as insects will be killed before they can find any gaps in your protection.

With DEET on the way out, the emerging alternative is Saltidin (also known as Icaridin) which was released by Bayer in 2001. It is regarded as less toxic, is more pleasant on the skin and doesn't attack plastics, but it's not quite as effective as DEET in high intensity situations. It's pretty popular in Scotland for countering the dreaded midges, though as always some people find it doesn't work for them.

Another alternative popular in Europe is Wilmas Nordic Summer Insect Repellent based on Scandinavian folk remedies - no research that I'm aware of, but lots of anecdotal evidence that it works for some. Has a strange odour like a wood fire which is not entirely unpleasant.

The final option popular in Scotland is, strangely, Avon's Skin So Soft body spray (blue bottle). It became widely used by the Royal Marines after their wives reported that it worked. There are rumours that the SAS and the US Special Forces are using it for jungle warfare. Some swear by it, while others find it useless.

Another popular remedy is B-vitamin supplementation or patches, but this has been carefully studied and found to be ineffective. Taking garlic capsules has not been researched, so far as I can determine, but researchers are open minded that it might be somewhat effective.

Finally you might want to keep an eye on the guys at Kite Products who raised over $500,000 through crowdfunding to develop what they claim, with some credibility, to be a breakthrough mosquito repellant. They should be launching their first products in 2016.

Avoidance is the best cure - if not always possible!

It hardly needs saying, but whenever possible try and avoid exposure:

  1. Know the bug seasons and try to avoid them.
  2. Steer clear of dense vegetation, boggy ground and other breeding areas
  3. Stay high or in windy areas.
  • 1
    +1 for Avon Skin So Soft. It's the best thing there is although it does seem to just drown midges so you get covered in loads of dead ones.
    – bon
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 9:32

Neem oil has fairly positive results, though it may have to be applied more often than DEET. malaria journal

A search on Amazon gives anecdotal evidence of the oil working and being less irritating. Neem oil reviews


Here is what I have found from REI

  • Picaridin
  • Permethrin
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus
  • Various Plant Oils

Another option is to protect all exposed skin with a head net, long pants, long sleeved shirt, and gloves. For ticks wearing long pants and preventing things from crawling up them with duck tape or blousing straps can help.

Also, avoiding long grass will help with the ticks and staying in windy areas will keep the mosquitoes from landing on you.


I live in tick central, home of Lyme Disease, and do a lot of hiking in areas full of ticks. To give you an idea, I once plucked a dozen ticks off myself and 25+ off my dog after just an hour walking through some fields with tall grass. I also happen to hate DEET because I grew up in south Florida doing stuff like camping in the Everglades, so I spent my childhood drenched in the stuff and prefer to avoid it now.

I don't think there's anything you can put on yourself that will deter ticks completely and isn't toxic to you, doesn't melt stuff, doesn't stain, etc. And they'll happily crawl right over DEET-covered skin and clothing anyway, so that's no help.

I've found that there is simply no substitute for inspecting yourself and just removing the damn things ASAP. And no, you don't need tweezers or tools of any sort. You just need fingers and practice.

I also dispute the usual wisdom of wearing long pants and taping the legs up and stuff like that. Besides being hot, uncomfortable, and making you look silly with duct tape on your ankles, the ticks will just crawl up the outside of your pants and find their way to your skin via your shirt, waistband, etc -- or they'll just go all the way to your head and attach to your scalp. So it's actually much better to wear shorts because you'll feel them crawling up your leg and be able to see them and remove them on the spot. With long pants you won't feel a thing until you find it attached to your private parts the next day (don't ask).

  • 1
    Permethrin applied properly to clothing should prevent the ticks from making it to exposed skin by crawling up socks, trouser-legs or sleeves as it kills on contact. It's far less toxic than DEET and is regarded as safe. It's also much more pleasant to use and doesn't damage your plastics. In my area ticks are quite rare if you take sensible precautions, so I can't really speak from personal experience but you might want to give it a try. Please report back if you do. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 17:24
  • 1
    @Tullochgorum Not a fan of applying insecticide to myself or my clothing no matter how safe they say it is. I'm outside daily, with ticks present 6 months of the year, so I would spend half my life exposed to that stuff. No thanks. I find ticks very manageable with just manual removal, and considering that I've lived here for 30 years, have removed dozens and dozens of ticks from myself, including deer ticks, and that all the North American tick-borne diseases are endemic here, I probably have some low-level immunity at this point. Ticks aren't the big deal people make them out to be. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 19:00
  • Well I certainly have to respect your experience. The idea of keeping them visible with shorts and picking them off is pretty interesting. How often do you have to inspect to catch them? And what is the danger they can infect you in-between inspections? I already have one chronic disease, and could do without another... Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 20:30
  • 1
    @Tullochgorum It's pretty rare for them to get further than halfway up my leg because I feel them. When I'm done with whatever I'm doing, I give myself a good once over so I don't miss any. I find one actually attached maybe 1-2 times per year at most, and almost all of those have been attached mere hours so there's virtually no infection risk. If you've been in tick country and find yourself suddenly feeling ill, insist that your doctor test for tick-borne diseases and you'll never have a chronic infection. All the tick diseases are easily cured with antibiotics if you catch them early. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 23:44
  • (continued) In fact, any doctor in this area who even had to be asked to run those tests would be neglectful. However, if you're in an area where doctors aren't as familiar, you may have to ask for it. Insist if necessary. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 23:45

DEET is really evil, it is a dissolvent that is able to etch the plastic cap!

I used citronella essential oil, it helps but I'd say only 50%... and for short time (few hours). Now I'm looking for a solution using vitamin B1.

  • 3
    I'm not clear why this has so many downvotes?
    – user2766
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 8:23
  • 1
    @Liam Me neither. I guess it could be the starting statement...
    – Roflo
    Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 16:21
  • 2
    I didn't downvote but I'm tempted to because of the vitamin B1 suggestion. The most upvoted answer to the question linked to basically says it doesn't work and it's potentially dangerous, so it's strange to cite that as support. Commented Jul 14, 2016 at 23:51
  • B1 has been carefully tested and found to be ineffective. Don't rely on it, particularly if the insects you are trying to repel are carrying disease. Commented Aug 3, 2019 at 0:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.