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Are Bug Repellents Harmful to Your Skin?

Your Essential Guide to Protection

Following the news can be overwhelming, as it often mentions a variety of potentially hazardous chemicals in our food supply and waterways without providing much detail.

That is why this guide exists: to answer your biggest questions about toxicity, environmental health, and the planet overall. We are here to help clear up any confusion and provide you with peace of mind!

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was revealed that incidents of illnesses related to mosquitos, ticks, and fleas have tripled between 2004-2016. Insects can carry life threatening diseases, which is why preventive measures should be taken in high risk environments.

For the past fifteen years, we have seen nine new illnesses transmitted by pesky insects become commonplace in America; two of which being Zika and chikungunya.

The Centers for Disease Control have yet to document any cases of Zika transmission this year, but they emphasize that these conditions are becoming more rampant due to our increasingly warm climate—which extends ticks’ and mosquitoes’ breeding grounds.

We can therefore reasonably assume that bites and infections will continue their upward trend if no preventative measures are taken soon.

While there are certainly valid worries regarding some of the active ingredients in bug repellents, it is essential to understand that their advantages far surpass any potential risks.

Here are a few questions you should ask yourself as you select the perfect bug repellent: What geographical region do you call home? Where will your next travels take you? Are certain bugs more prevalent in those areas than others? Is there an existing pregnancy or any children who may use this product too? Answering these inquiries can help ensure that the right bug repellent is chosen.

To keep all bugs away, the Environmental Working Group recently updated its Guide to Bug Repellents with new testing data. The EWG’s highest-rated repellants are those that contain picaridin, DEET (concentration of 30% or lower), and IR3535 (20%) for protection from different types of insects and ticks.

Not only do these products provide effective protection, but they also have an excellent safety profile that is approved by the EPA after careful examination of both efficacy and toxicity.

Be wary of products that claim to offer absolute protection against bug bites. There is no foolproof, totally secure method of avoiding insect stings, and there are no guarantees any repellent will repel all insects.

Concentrations of chemical compounds used in repellents that are higher may not be more effective, but they can provide longer-term defense from pests. Don’t forget to regularly reapply the product if you’ve been swimming or perspiring.

For those of us worried about potential side effects associated with DEET, picaridin is just as successful and could be worth looking into. According to EWG researchers, when used in combination with necessary safety measures, both DEET and Picaridin can effectively combat life-threatening illnesses while posing minimal danger for our health.

It is important to note that chemical repellents should not be used on babies younger than six months old, or on certain young children. (Refer to the Environmental Working Group’s Guide to Bug Repellants: For Kids for more details.) When possible, clothing must always be your first line of defense against mosquitos.

Botanical-based repellents are an ideal solution if bug-borne diseases aren’t a concern in the destination you’re traveling to.

When making preparations for sunny days and mosquito protection, be sure to follow the CDC’s instructions: apply sunscreen first, then put on your insect repellent. Research indicates that components contained within sunscreen can increase the skin’s absorption of the natural products found in some repellants.

To make sure you’re fully protected from insect bites, here are some extra tips to consider:

  • When exploring dense vegetation where insects may be present, it is important to wear long-sleeved shirts and trousers with socks and shoes. Additionally, make sure that your pants are tucked into the tops of your socks for optimal ankle protection.
  • For those living in areas with a high-risk of Lyme disease, West Nile virus, or other mosquito- or tick-borne illnesses, it is essential to take additional steps for prevention against bug bites.
  • For added protection, install nets or fans over outdoor dining areas, and drape protective shields on strollers and baby carriers.
  • To ensure safety and effective protection from pesky bugs that may be in your vicinity, carefully read the labels on repellent products for usage tips.
  • To keep your family safe, try to use products with the smallest amounts of chemical repellents. This is especially true when it comes to protecting children.
  • For the safety and well-being of any child, always apply repellent to your own hands first before applying it to them. This will prevent accidental contact between the skin and the product.
  • If you are looking to protect yourself from inhaling harmful chemicals, steer clear of aerosol sprays in pressurized containers and opt for lotions, pumps, or towelettes instead.
  • Take the time to do a full body scan for ticks once you are back inside and, if necessary, make sure to remove them correctly.
  • Clean your children’s clothing and the repellent-treated skin on their bodies as soon as they enter the house or when the day is done.
  • If you want an additional layer of protection against ticks, consider purchasing permethrin-treated clothing. Be mindful when using these products and make sure to read the labels carefully – wash all treated garments separately from other clothes as well.
  • To ensure maximum protection from unwanted bugs, eschew bug zappers, repellent wristbands, and candles, as well as clip-on repellents. These products are not nearly as efficient in comparison to skin or clothing treatments.
  • To protect your home from mosquitos, eliminate buckets, planters, or any other objects that can hold standing water. Mosquitoes are drawn to this type of environment and will use it as a place to breed.

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