Bug sprays with the chemical DEET—the most active ingredient in insect repellents—are considered safe in small quantities by U.S. health and environment agencies. However, some studies have shown that DEET exposure can cause headaches, nausea, and psychological problems in people who use the chemical often.
But with a wide array of plant-based repellents now on the market, you may want to go the natural route—unless you're traveling to an area where serious insect-borne diseases are a real threat.
Active Ingredients: For most of your backyard barbecues and hiking trips, you can keep mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects at bay with products containing plant oils. Many products contain geranium, lemongrass, and peppermint oils. Citronella and oil of lemon eucalyptus are specifically recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Picaridin and DEET are also recommended by the CDC.
What they kill: Bug sprays aren't a one-size-fits-all product. Most protect against mosquitoes, but read labels to make sure the product you purchase fits the right bug problem, such as ticks for long hikes or sand flies for trips to the beach.
Wear long sleeves, long pants, closed shoes and socks in areas with high mosquito or tick populations.
For added protection against ticks, tuck pants into socks and shirts into pants.
Wear light colors. There is some evidence that mosquitoes are more attracted to dark colors than light colors, and light colors make any ticks that might crawl on you more visible.
Avoid being outside when the bugs are worst, generally dusk to dawn.
When walking in tick-infested areas, stick to the center of the path and avoid brushing against grasses, where ticks wait to hop a ride.
Check for ticks at the end of each day, paying careful attention to your head and warm spots such as underarms, behind the knees and between the toes.