The 10 Best Bug Sprays of 2023 | by Real Simple – Real Simple

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The best bug sprays offer long-lasting protection so you can enjoy the outdoors in comfort.
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RealSimple / David Hattan
When warmer days and nights approach, you're probably going to spend more time enjoying the great outdoors, whether that means hiking through the woods or simply relaxing on the patio. But with the warm weather comes mosquitos, ticks, and more biting insects, so finding a bug spray that actually works without leaving you feeling like a sticky mess bug spray is a summertime necessity.
To find the best bug sprays, we spent hours researching products, considering ingredients, types, protection duration, and scent. We also spoke with entomologist Abby Lehner; Jamie Mitri, chemical and environmental engineer and founder and CEO of Moss Pure; and Nikki Thomas, writer and backyard specialist at Backyardville, for tips and insight on what to look for when shopping for the right bug spray for you.  
“I recommend long-wear products so you don’t have to reapply as frequently,” says Lehner. “Most topical products fall in the range between four to eight hours.”
From heavy-duty repellents to all-natural sprays, we’ve rounded up the best bug sprays that actually do their job. Not a fan of sprays? We’ve included a few bug-repellent lotions and wipes, too. Plus, nearly all of our picks are registered by the EPA, meaning they have been evaluated and approved for human safety and effectiveness.
Who it's for: People who want to repel nearly every type of bug and insect found outdoors.
Who it isn't for: People who want a DEET-free bug spray that won’t damage synthetic fabrics. 
While mosquitoes may seem like the most common culprit of bug bites, especially in warm, tropical areas, there are dozens of bugs that are attracted to humans. Our top choice is Repel 100 Insect Repellent Spray, because it’s effective at creating a barrier against disease-carrying mosquitoes (including those that may transmit Zika, West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya viruses) as well as ticks, flies, gnats, fleas, and dozens more insects. Additionally, we like its affordable price point and the fact that it provides protection for up to 10 hours. It’s also unscented and compact enough to store in a backpack or carrying case. 
While DEET makes up about 98 percent of its formula, this bug spray also contains Picaridin and lemon eucalyptus oil, both of which provide additional protection against insects. It is also available in pen form and aerosol form for those who don’t want a pump spray. For best results, the label instructs to apply this repellent to exposed skin, but not under clothing. After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water and wash treated clothing before wearing again. (Do note that while DEET can be used on nylon, cotton and wool, it’s not recommended for use on most synthetic fabrics.)
Price at time of publish: $17
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want a bug spray made with natural ingredients that can be used on skin and clothes. 
Who it isn't for: People who want protection against more than just mosquitos and ticks.  
There are many types of plants that repel bugs, and plant-based bug sprays are usually formulated with a blend of essential oils that come from these plants. Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent is the perfect option for those who want a DEET-free repellent that works against deer ticks for up to four hours, mosquitoes for up to six hours, and  lone-star and brown-dog ticks for up to eight hours. It is formulated without synthetic fragrances, dyes, or harsh chemicals. This repellent also comes highly recommended by entomologist Abby Lehner because of its effectiveness and great scent. 
While this repellent is a bit more oily than most, it’s safe to use directly on your skin and clothes, and it won’t harm your outdoor gear. Lemon eucalyptus oil is also the only plant-based ingredient recommended by the CDC to “reduce bites of disease-carrying insects and offer reasonably lasting protection.” Although this particular spray may not work on all types of insects, it’s definitely the best option for those searching for a plant-based option. 
Price at time of publish: $22 for 2-pack
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want a natural bug spray that’s effective for young children. 
Who it isn't for: People who want a long-lasting bug spray. 
Choosing an effective bug spray for your child can feel like an overwhelming task with so many chemical-based options. For children over six months, we love the Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent for its soothing and completely plant-based formula containing natural essential oils like citronella, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, and geranium. This oil spray uses soybean oil as its main active ingredient to keep mosquitoes, gnats, and flies away.
Although this repellent should be reapplied every 90 minutes, it’s a perfect solution for parents who want to be outdoors with their kids for a short amount of time without worrying about pesky bugs. For best results, shake the bottle well before applying just enough to evenly cover exposed skin. The label recommends avoiding applying the product directly on the face, under clothes, diapers, the underarm area, or on open cuts, wounds, and irritated skin. While this is the only bug spray on our list that is not EPA-registered, it qualifies for exemption from registration because it is deemed a “minimum-risk pesticide,” meaning it poses little to no risk to human health or the environment. 
Price at time of publish: $24 for 2-pack
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want an easy-to-apply and long-lasting aerosol bug spray.
Who it isn't for: People who want a DEET-based formula. 
When you’re enjoying time outside, the last thing you want to be doing is constantly stopping to reapply bug spray. If this sounds like you, then Natrapel Tick and Insect Repellent Eco-Spray might just be the one for you. This Picaridin-based spray offers up to 12 hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks that may carry Lyme disease, Zika virus, malaria, chikungunya, dengue fever, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. It also offers protection up to eight hours for other types of insects like fleas and gnats. The aerosol spray allows you to quickly and easily apply the repellent without leaving behind a greasy or sticky mess. 
According to the label, this repellent won’t damage clothing, gear, toys, or water bottles, so you can feel assured when using it. It’s also safe for children over two months old and provides an even coverage with no rubbing required. While this long-lasting repellent can stay effective throughout your entire day, many find that reapplying it every 4 to 6 hours gives you the peace of mind you are looking for. 
Price at time of publish: $22 for 2-pack 
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want an odorless bug spray that’s effective without causing irritation. 
Who it isn't for: People who prefer a DEET-based bug spray.
To keep insects away, most bug sprays are formulated with harsh ingredients and overwhelming scents. We like Proven Mosquito and Tick Spray because it doesn’t compromise on effectiveness when used on sensitive skin. This unscented, Picaridin-based spray is safe for every member of the family, including children, and effectively repels mosquitoes and ticks for up to 14 hours and flies, gnats, chiggers, and no-see-ums (aka biting midges) for up to eight hours. If you want a more controlled application or want a bug spray specifically for your face, this product is also available as a lotion.
Not only is this bug spray spray great for those with sensitive skin, it’s also gentle on fabrics and synthetics so you don’t have to worry about permanently staining your clothes or gear. While this product offers long-lasting protection, you can comfortably reapply it frequently because of its odorless and non-greasy formula (although it’s also available in a scented version, too).
Price at time of publish: $16
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want bug spray that offers sun protection.  
Who it isn't for: People who want bug spray that uses natural oils and ingredients. 
In addition to bugs, the sun and its harmful UV rays is another thing you have to be aware of when spending time outside. To make sure you are protected from both, we recommend the BullFrog SPF 50 Mosquito Coast. This repellent is not only waterproof with SPF 50, but it’s also effective at repelling disease-carrying mosquitoes, black flies, gnats, and more for up to eight hours. This is thanks to its active ingredient, IR3535 (aka ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, a type of synthetic insect repellent).
We also like that this lotion is formulated with aloe vera and vitamin E so your skin can feel soft and nourished. For those who want a 2-in-1 sunscreen and bug spray without DEET or oxybenzone, this product is formulated without either and is also available in an aerosol form. This is a great option for anyone who wants to save themselves the hassle of carrying both a bug spray and a body sunscreen
Price at time of publish: $14
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want a bug spray that complies with carry-on restrictions. 
Who it isn't for: People who want a repellent with a continuous spray. 
If you’re traveling to a tropical area where bugs are prominent any time of day, it’s important to carry an effective bug spray that will still meet airplane carry-on rules. OFF! Botanicals Insect Repellent is the perfect size at two ounces and has a convenient pump so you can spritz on the desired amount. Using a pine oil extract as its active ingredient, this repellent keeps disease-carrying mosquitoes, black flies, gnats, and no-see-ums away. The plant-based formula contains no added dyes so it’s safe to use around your clothing and gear. We like that this product is also available in wipes and a slightly larger 4-ounce size (though the latter does not meet carry-on restrictions). 
Price at time of publish: $5
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want more control over their application than a spray can offer. 
Who it isn't for: People who want a repellent that can be applied to clothing. 
A lotion bug bug repellent can give you more control over the application and can also last longer than sprays or aerosols. We love Sawyer Products Picaridin Insect Repellent Lotion because it’s a safe and fragrance-free option for the whole family. The main active ingredient in this repellent is Picaridin, which, according to Nikki Thomas, writer and backyard specialist at Backyardville, is odorless and non-greasy, unlike DEET. Picaridin is also more effective against bite flies, but can also repel disease-carrying mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, and chiggers.
This lotion repellent has an impressive protection of up to 14 hours for mosquitoes and up to eight hours for fleas, flies, and other insects. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that you may need to reapply this product frequently if you sweat a lot or if your clothing rubs it off. Although this lotion is safe for gear and clothing, the brand recommends using this lotion repellent on exposed skin and spray repellent on your clothes and/or outdoor gear.
Price at time of publish: $11
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want a convenient and quick way to protect against insects while on-the-go. 
Who it isn't for: People who want a more long-lasting bug repellent.
If you’re in a rush to get outside, or don’t want to spend time spraying or lathering up with lotion, wipes can be a convenient option to stay protected. We like Cutter All Family Mosquito Wipes for their non-greasy and unscented formulation that is able to repel ticks, gnats, biting flies, chiggers, fleas, and mosquitoes that may be carrying the Zika, West Nile, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. This 15-count pack can be easily stored anywhere in your pack and each disposable wipe can be used for controlled application on exposed skin including your face, neck, and ears.
With less than a 8 percent DEET as an active ingredient, these wipes are safe to use for the entire family. The resealable pouch makes these extra convenient since they won’t dry out for your next outdoor adventure, and each wipe offers protection for at least two hours. For optimal coverage, the label recommends applying sunscreen before using these wipes. 
Price at time of publish: $7 for 15-pack
Product Details:
Who it's for: People who want a bug repellent that will remain effective for a longer period of time. 
Who it isn't for: People who want bug spray for insects other than ticks and mosquitoes. 
Unlike traditional bug sprays, controlled-release repellents work to slowly release their active ingredient over a long period of time to extend the protection duration. We love Sawyer Products Family Insect Repellent Controlled-Release Insect Repellent for its low yet effective concentration of DEET, unscented formula, and lasting protection (up to 11 hours). It’s also non-greasy, sweat-proof, and safe for the whole family. If you’re worried about your sunscreen interfering with your bug spray, this product is designed to be compatible with sunscreen use so you can fully enjoy the outdoors.
This repellent is a great pick ideal for those who require frequent bug spray application, children away at a summer camp, and anyone who prefers a long-lasting bug spray lotion instead of a spray or wipes.
Price at time of publish: $8
Product Details:
Our top pick is Repel 100 Insect Repellent for its affordable price point, long-lasting protection, and effectiveness in repelling 100 types of insects. If you’re looking for a natural, DEET-free alternative, we like Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Mosquito and Tick Repellent.  
“The most common active ingredients in bug spray are DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide), Picaridin, IR3535 (Ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate), oil of lemon eucalyptus or para-menthane-diol (PMD), which is the synthetic version of oil of lemon eucalyptus,” says Jamie Mitri, chemical and environmental engineer and founder and CEO of Moss Pure.
“Per the EPA, products containing 20 to 30 percent DEET work best on a wide variety of bugs including ticks and mosquitoes and will provide protection for two to ten hours. However, products with over 50 percent of DEET will not work any better for protection.” 
Writer and backyard specialist Nikki Thomas explains that Picaridin and IR3535 are synthetic compounds that work to repel insects by blocking their ability to detect the carbon dioxide and lactic acid that humans emit. 
“Most bug sprays also contain Permethrin which is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide that is used to treat clothing and gear, rather than being applied directly to the skin,” says Thomas.
Topical bug sprays can come in the forms of sprays, lotions, soaps, wipes, and oils. According to Thomas, deciding on the type of bug spray will depend on the types of insects in the area, the level of activity and duration of outdoor exposure, and personal preferences. Understanding the difference between ingredients can also be helpful when making your decision. 
"If you're going for a short walk in an area with low mosquito activity, a lower concentration of DEET or a natural repellent like lemon eucalyptus oil may suffice,” she says. “Formulations such as sprays, lotions, and creams are all effective at repelling insects, but a spray is ideal for a convenient application to clothing, whereas a lotion or cream is better suited for skin application.”
Bug sprays can offer anywhere from two to 14 hours of protection depending on the ingredients. This factor is important to consider when choosing the right repellent for you based on how long you want to spend outdoors. For example, if you’re camping then you may want something that lasts for more than 10 hours, but if you’re just having dinner outside, then a repellent that lasts for a couple hours can suffice.
Unless they are unscented (which usually contain Picaridin), most bug sprays have strong scents whether they are synthetic and more chemical-forward or derived from natural essential oils like citronella, peppermint, lavender, eucalyptus, lemongrass, and pine. 
“Smelling like these will cause bugs to intentionally avoid you but it is recommended to use natural repellents in combination with other bug control methods for maximum protection,” says Thomas.
While the EPA and the CDC deem DEET safe and effective, it should still only be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. For entomologist Abby Lehner, it’s a matter of preference.
“DEET-free repellents can typically be reapplied as needed while DEET repellents may cause damage to plastics like your sunglasses.” she says. “DEET-free repellents may also help encourage people to stay on top of protecting themselves from mosquitoes and ticks. Also, I can’t stand the smell of DEET!” 
For Mitri, it’s a matter of understanding how to properly use DEET based repellents and when to exercise caution. 
“Bug sprays containing DEET are safe to use on the skin, however, the EPA recommends that you do not apply oil of lemon eucalyptus, para-menthane-diol (PMD), or formulas with higher than a 30 percent DEET concentration on children under three years old.” she says. “You can apply DEET containing bug sprays to most clothing such as cotton or nylon, but DEET will not work with spandex or other synthetics so be careful when applying on clothing.”
According to experts, there are a variety of scents and chemicals that bugs don’t like including essential oils, DEET, citronella, and smoke. While no scent is a complete guarantee that all bugs will leave you alone, these “interfere with insects’ sense of smell by confusing or masking the chemical signals they use to locate their targets, leaving them unable to find food, mates, and suitable habitats,” says Thomas.
“Mosquitoes are great at smelling; this is how they find people and animals to feed on. Mosquitoes can smell our sweat, breath, and even our microbiome!," says Lehner. "Insect-repelling products work by interfering with mosquito scent receptors, so I find that it works best to apply repellents on your outermost layers. If you wear repellent, then cover it with clothes, it may not be as effective at disrupting the mosquito’s scent receptors.”
This article was written by L. Daniela Alvarez, contributing writer for Real Simple with nearly three years of experience writing about lifestyle content and product reviews. To compile this list, she spent hours researching bug sprays, evaluating them on ingredients, type, protection duration, and scent. She also received tips on how to shop for bug sprays from entomologist Abby Lehner; Jamie Mitri, chemical and environmental engineer and founder and CEO of Moss Pure; and Nikki Thomas, writer and backyard specialist at Backyardville.

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