The Best Bug Repellents That Won't Irritate Your Skin

Say bye-bye to irritating insects, for good

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 Not all bug repellents are created equal, to say the least. There are a few gold-standard criteria to be on the lookout for in the fight against flying insects. Most importantly, your repellent should contain an active (CDC- and EPA-approved) ingredient that’s been proven to protect against insects, like picaridin or DEET. On the other hand, if you have sensitive skin that breaks out in a rash at the mere mention of bug spray, you might want to consider a plant-based alternative, like oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, or lemongrass oil. The right bug spray should also be safe for small children and not too oily or sticky upon application. 

If you’re unsure where to begin when it comes to looking for the right insect repellent, you’ve come to the right place—here are our suggestions for the best bug sprays to fend off mosquitoes, ticks, and other pests.

The Rundown

Best Overall: Natrapel 12-Hour Insect Repellent at Amazon

Offering 12 full hours of protection, this top-quality bug spray is extremely efficient on ticks, mosquitoes, and flies.

Best Drugstore: Cutter Backyard Bug Control at Walmart

Sprays on easily and solidly, providing ample coverage.

Best for Kids: OFF Family Care Insect Repellent at Walmart

This fast-acting spray is suitable for children of all ages.

Best Natural: Kinfield Golden Hour Bug Spray at anthropologie.com

Active ingredients like citronella oil and lemongrass oil do a great job of deterring bugs.

Best for Camping: Ben's Eco Spray Insect Repellent at Walmart

The Eco-Spray bottle sprays at any angle, releasing a fine, continuous mist for all-over coverage.

Best for Travel: Proven Insect Repellent at Amazon

This spray is also odorless and non-greasy, so it’s great for using anywhere.

Best for Water Activities: Cliganic Mosquito Repellent Bracelet at Amazon

These waterproof bracelets are made with geraniol oil, lemongrass oil, and citronella oil.

Best for Hiking: Repel 100 Insect Repellent Pump Spray at Amazon

Provides an effective barrier from all manner of bugs.

Best Essential Oil-Based: Everspring Essential Oil Insect Repellent at Target

You don’t get any of the harsh fumes of other bug sprays with this product.

Best Overall: Natrapel 12-Hour Insect Repellent

What We Like
  • Offers full 12-hour protection

  • Picaridin repels disease-causing insects

  • Approved for children over 2 months

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a bit oily

When it comes to staving off pesky, biting insects, whether you’re hiking, camping, or just hanging out in your yard, you’ll want to have the Natrapel 12-Hour Insect Repellent on hand. Offering 12 full hours of protection, this top-quality bug spray is extremely efficient on ticks, mosquitoes, and flies. It’s approved for children over 2 months old and pregnant and/or breastfeeding moms, so it’s family-friendly. Most notably, this spray contains the CDC-recommended ingredient picaridin, which is known to repel disease-causing insects, providing you with the ultimate protection for all your outdoor adventures.

Best Drugstore: Cutter Backyard Bug Control

Cutter Backyard Bug Control

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Great for all outdoor spaces

  • Kills most flying insects

  • Available at most drugstores

What We Don't Like
  • Not a repellent for personal body use

Bothersome bugs, be gone—the Cutter Backyard Bug Control will keep those blood-sucking mosquitoes firmly at bay, with its active chemical ingredients (tetramethrin, phenothrin, and others) that target a host of pests other than mosquitoes, like gnats, flies, wasps, and others. This bug spray is available at most drugstores, so it’s more accessible than most, and it also sprays on easily and solidly, providing ample coverage.

Best for Kids: OFF Family Care Insect Repellent

What We Like
  • Suitable for children of all ages

  • Easy spray application

  • Doesn't leave filmy or oily residue

What We Don't Like
  • Cans are small

Gentle on the skin but extra-tough on pests, the OFF Family Care Insect Repellent is a great pick for families. This fast-acting spray is suitable for children of all ages and formulated with a safe-yet-powerful concentration of DEET—it’ll reliably protect you and your family from annoying biting insects. The aerosol spray allows for easy application, and the powder-dry formula comes as a welcome alternative to other sprays that produce a filmy, oily residue. 

Best Natural: Kinfield Golden Hour Bug Spray

 Kinfield Golden Hour Bug Spray

Courtesy of Kinfield

What We Like
  • All-natural vegan spray

  • Uses essential oils

  • Great scent

What We Don't Like
  • Expensive

Impressively effective for an all-natural insect repellent, the Kinfield Golden Hour Bug Spray is your ticket to a mosquito-free summer if harsh chemicals just aren’t your thing. This all-natural, vegan spray contains active ingredients like (carefully sourced) citronella oil and lemongrass oil that do a great job of deterring bugs. And bonus: With swirls of clove, lemongrass, and vanilla, this spray smells downright pleasant.  

Best for Camping: Ben's Eco Spray Insect Repellent

Ben's Eco Spray Insect Repellent

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • 30 percent DEET

  • Multiple hours of protection

  • Sprays at any angle

What We Don't Like
  • Slightly greasy

If you’re going camping, you need a bug spray that offers multiple hours of protection from disease-carrying insects, full stop. Enter Ben's 30 DEET Eco Spray. This powerful, 30 percent DEET bug spray is the real deal, helping to repel all kinds of insects, from ticks and mosquitoes to chiggers and biting flies. Aside from providing consistent protection for hours, the Eco-Spray bottle sprays at any angle, releasing a fine, continuous mist for all-over coverage. 

Best for Travel: Proven Insect Repellent

What We Like
  • Non-greasy formula

  • 20 percent picaridin

  • All-day protection from insects

What We Don't Like
  • Unscented version can still have an odor

For on-the-go bug prevention, get the Proven Insect Repellent. There’s a travel size available, and this spray is also odorless and non-greasy, so it’s great for use anywhere. With 20 percent picaridin included in the formula, you can rest assured that you’ll have all-day protection from ticks, mosquitoes, flies, gnats, and chiggers.

Best for Water Activities: Cliganic Mosquito Repellent Bracelet

What We Like
  • Made with natural oils

  • Great for sensitive skin

  • Use for swimming and water activities

What We Don't Like
  • May not be as effective as a spray

If you know you’ll be swimming or getting wet at all, Cliganic's Mosquito Repellent Bracelet is best. You get ten wearable bracelets in one pack, each of which comes individually wrapped in a reusable bag, keeping it fresh and usable for as long as possible. Fully adjustable and stretchy, these waterproof bracelets are made with geraniol oil, lemongrass oil, and citronella oil, so they’re great if you have sensitive skin.

Best for Hiking: Repel 100 Insect Repellent Pump Spray

What We Like
  • Protection for up to 10 hours

  • 98 percent DEET formula

  • Great for woods hiking

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks easy aerosol spray pump

For long jaunts on the trail, keep the Repel 100 Insect Repellent in your pack. The 98 percent DEET formula provides an effective barrier from all manner of bugs, including mosquitoes that may transmit Zika, dengue, and other diseases. Conveniently for when you’re out hiking, this spray protects for up to 10 hours and, at 4 ounces, fits neatly in any backpack.

Best Essential Oil-Based: Everspring Essential Oil Insect Repellent

Everspring Essential Oil Insect Repellent

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Repels with essential oil blend

  • No parabens or preservatives

  • No harsh fumes

What We Don't Like
  • May not be as strong as other repellents

The Everspring Essential Oil Insect Repellent is a bit of a plant-based wonder. USDA-certified and bio-based, this oil controls mosquitoes and other insects with a blend of essential oils (no parabens or preservatives necessary). You also don’t get any of the harsh fumes of other bug sprays with this product—instead, it’s a mild lemony scent.

Final Verdict

While any of the bug repellents listed above will be effective, the Natrapel 12-Hour Insect Repellent (view at Amazon) beats its competition thanks to the extreme efficiency at which it wards off most flying insects found while hiking and camping. It's CDC-recommended ingredients come in a continuous-spray can and are safe for children, moms who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and really anyone who needs good protection in the outdoors.

What to Look For in Bug Repellent

Active Ingredient(s)

The CDC recommends that you use a bug spray that contains one of three common active ingredients: plant-derived chemicals (like oil of lemon eucalyptus), synthetic chemicals like DEET, or picaridin. Anything else (such as essential oil-based sprays) will simply not be as effective. 

Long-Lasting Protection

Depending on the activity at hand, you may want a repellent that provides the longest-lasting protection possible, in which case you should look for a product that provides at least 90 minutes of protection or more (keep in mind that DEET-based sprays tend to last the longest). Some sprays provide up to 12 hours of protection, which is awesome if you’re long-distance hiking or camping. Otherwise, if you’re just hanging out outside for a short period of time, a spray that offers at least 60 minutes of protection should be fine (just remember to reapply). 

If you’re looking at a DEET-based spray, products with concentrations around 10 percent are effective for two hours. As the concentration of DEET increases, the duration of protection increases, as well.   

Lack of Residue

Of course, this is bug repellent we’re talking about, so there’s bound to be a little residue once you spray it on. But any repellent that feels super-oily or sticky on the skin is a no-go. Some repellents are even formulated with a powder-like finish, which is ideal.

Age-Appropriate Formula

Not every bug spray is suitable for kids of all ages (some aren’t recommended for kids under the age of three), so if you have children, be sure to check the bottle and do your research before buying.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Where should I store bug repellent?

    You should store bug repellent in a cool, dry place that isn't accessible to children. Also, make sure the repellent isn't in close proximity to anything that could be contaminated, like food or drink. A cabinet, garage or shed could be the right fit for storing.

  • What's the role of synthetic chemicals, like DEET or picaridin?

    DEET is a chemical in repellents designed to be applied directly to your skin and works by producing a smell undesirable to mosquitoes or ticks. In the same vein, picaridin is a chemical in repellents that may be applied to your skin or clothing and also smells pungent.

  • How should I dispose of bug repellent?

    Empty cans or bottles of bug repellent should be disposed in a trash can. However, you should check the product's packaging to be sure and see whether recycling could be an option,

Why Trust TripSavvy

Nathan Borchelt is a freelance contributor for TripSavvy. He has been working in the travel and outdoor industry for more than 15 years as a writer, photographer, editor, and product manager. His travels have taken him to South and Central America, Canada, South and Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Europe, the Caribbean, Mexico and all over the continental United States.

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