How Well Do Picaridin Insect Repellents Work? – Consumer Reports

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Looking for an alternative to deet? Bug sprays containing picaridin can help protect you from biting pests.
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Do you hate mosquitoes but prefer not to use deet? While it has a well-established safety record, Consumer Reports’ tests show that you have some other safe and effective options, including picaridin. 
Here, we explain what picaridin is, how well it performs in our tests, and what you need to know about its safety.
Picaridin is a synthetic insect repellent ingredient that has been available in the U.S. since 2005. It was created by Bayer and is based on the piperidine molecule, a chemical found in some pepper plants.
As with deet, scientists aren’t exactly sure how picaridin works to repel mosquitoes. Chris Potter, PhD, an associate professor of neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who specializes in insects’ sense of smell, says some evidence suggests that like deet, picaridin may repel mosquitoes on contact.
“You have these chemicals on your skin, and the mosquito lands on you,” he says. “We don’t know exactly why, we don’t know what it means to the mosquito, but it doesn’t like it, and so it will jump away.”
Research also suggests that picaridin may have some effect on mosquitoes’ ability to sense odors, another trait it has in common with deet.
CR tests insect repellents by having volunteers put their repellent-covered arms into cages full of disease-free mosquitoes and seeing how long it takes for the bugs to start biting. Our current ratings include 13 products that have picaridin as their active ingredient. Of those, four performed well enough to earn our recommendation. 
“Our testing can’t determine precisely why some picaridin repellents last for a long time while others don’t,” says Chris Regan, who leads CR’s insect repellent testing. But some patterns have emerged. For example, all of our recommended picaridin repellents are pump or aerosol sprays. None that come in lotion or wipe form provide comparable protection in our tests (though some picaridin sprays fall short as well).
When it comes to the concentration of the active ingredient, the picture gets somewhat murkier. Three of the 4 recommended picaridin repellents have a concentration of 20 percent, while one has a 10 percent concentration. So if you want to use a picaridin-based insect repellent, it’s probably best to stick with a spray that has 20 percent picaridin, Regan says. Still, several other products with those same concentrations didn’t last long enough to earn our recommendation, so you can’t go by concentration alone. Members can check our full ratings here.
Picaridin’s efficacy as a repellent is backed up by published research in addition to CR’s tests. In a 2018 analysis of studies testing picaridin’s effectiveness against mosquitos, researchers concluded that the evidence appears to suggest that picaridin-based repellents provide about the same amount of protection as deet-based repellents. 
And what about ticks? Picaridin is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency as a tick repellent as well as a mosquito repellent. CR’s tests evaluate only how long a repellent keeps mosquitoes at bay, and while testing in past years found that a repellent that works well against mosquitoes also works well against ticks, we can’t say for sure how long a given product will repel ticks. 
Still, other outside evidence suggests that picaridin can provide solid protection against ticks. The Wilderness Medical Society, for example, says evidence suggests that picaridin is effective against ticks comparable to deet. Check product labels to see how long manufacturers suggest they should last.
Picaridin’s safety hasn’t been as well studied as that of deet, which has been commercially available for decades longer. But evidence suggests that picaridin poses little risk when used according to the directions on the label. Possible adverse effects include skin and eye irritation, but these appear to be very rare. 
In a study of calls to U.S. Poison Control Centers between January 2000 and May 2015, researchers found that of all the calls concerning picaridin, just one resulted in a person being hospitalized, and most problems were easily handled at home.
Here are a few of CR’s recommended products containing 20 percent picaridin, in alphabetical order.
Catherine Roberts
Catherine Roberts is a health and science journalist at Consumer Reports. She has been at CR since 2016, covering infectious diseases, bugs and bug sprays, consumer medical devices like hearing aids and blood pressure monitors, health privacy, and more. As a civilian, her passions include bike rides, horror films and fiction, and research rabbit holes. Follow her on Twitter @catharob.
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