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Beat the Bugs of Summer Without DEET

Lyme disease, St. Louis encephalitis, West Nile virus—and in some hotter countries, malaria—offer compelling reasons to slather on the insect repellent. But many people are wary of DEET, the most common conventional ingredient in insect repellents, because of concerns about human toxicity, pollution, and skin sensitivity.

Luckily, recent years have yielded some effective alternatives. In fact, the EPA now recognizes some insect-repellent ingredients derived from natural materials. Oil of lemon eucalyptus and IR3535 are two such biopesticides, and may appeal to people looking for a less toxic and more targeted insect repellent.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus comes from the leaves and twigs of eucalyptus trees. There’s also a chemically synthesized version of oil of lemon eucalyptus, which has been shown to be similarly effective to repellents containing DEET. IR3535 is another insect repellent made from naturally occurring compounds, and targets mosquitoes, deer ticks, body lice, and biting flies. There are precautions to follow with all insect repellents, so be sure to read the label before applying any product.

For more information about these and other active ingredients found in insect repellents, visit the EPA’s topical pesticides fact sheet. To see how other natural insect repellents fared in a field test by an avid outdoorsman in the wilds of Maine, check out this New York Times article.

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