bug spray

Summer bugs are no joke–mosquitoes can transmit West Nile and the latest worrisome virus, chikungunya, a mosquito-borne virus that causes debilitating arthritic pain and in some cases, even death. While chikungunya is still only found in the Caribbean, there are fears it will hit the U.S. soon enough. While repelling worrisome bugs is important, DEET, found in brands like Off! may cause similarly serious reactions. Consumer Reports recently found that DEET side effects may be dangerous. In short, if you can use natural bug repellents, you should.

“We think that DEET and other chemical-based repellents should be used only if other, safer methods don’t work for you,” says Urvashi Rangan, director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center.

DEET side effects can include allergic reactions in skin concentrations of 50 percent and above, as well as eye irritations. In fact, a 2013 analysis of about 4,000 DEET related calls to poison control centers found that 450 people needed medical treatment after applying DEET for serious side effects like seizures, slurred speech, and coma. The most serious reactions came when DEET was ingested or applied in products with 95 percent concentration.

It’s unclear whether less potent products pose similar risks but experts says extra caution should be used especially with children.

“Most important, people should first try safer ways of avoiding bugs,” Rangan says. She points out that in our tests, products with 30 percent or less DEET worked well. “So if you decide you really want to try DEET, stick with the lowest effective dose, and avoid those that are more than 30 percent DEET.”

Try These 5 Natural Bug Repellents Instead

1. Burt’s Bees Herbal Repellent

Burt’s Bees Herbal Repellent uses a natural blend of rosemary, lemongrass, citronella oil, and other essential oils to keep bugs at bay. Price $8.00

2. Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Repel Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent is made with lemon eucalyptus, the only plant-based ingredient recommended by the CDC because of its effectiveness. Price: $4.97

3. California Baby Natural Blend Bug Repellent

California Baby Natural Blend Bug Repellent is made with citronella, lemongrass, and cedar. And California Baby’s essential oils are all sustainably grown. Price: $12.98

4. Biter Fighter DEET Free Repellent

Biter Fighter DEET Free Repellent is sweat proof protection that’s chemical-free, non-toxic, and biodegradable. Price: $9.95

5. Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent

Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent is safe and non-toxic. It’s made with essential oils in a non-greasy formula. Price: $9.00

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