SafeMama’s 2010 Bug Repellent Cheat Sheet

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NOTE! Please visit the latest updated Bug Repellent Cheat Sheet here!

It’s probably not a shock that products containing DEET, are not on our recommended list. DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is a widely used active ingredient in insect repellents. Biting insects are attracted to the scent of carbon dioxide gas to find food… in this case, your blood. Skin and breath naturally give off carbon dioxide. DEET masks the scent of carbon dioxide therefore keeping buggies away.

DEET can act as an irritant, and has been reported to be the cause of seizures, insomnia, mood disturbances and impaired cognitive function. The American Academy of Pediatrics still stands by its safety on children over 2 months old. A brief encounter with DEET might not cause any harm, but long term exposure may. DEET is certainly effective but if DEET gives you the heebs then there are natural alternatives that work just as well to mask carbon dioxide and keep those pests away.

The main ingredients in natural bug repellents rely on oils, most notably citronella, soybean oil, geraniol (oil of geranium), eucalyptus, cedar, rosemary, eucalyptus and sometimes lemon oil. I’ve scoured the stores and the Internet for some better choices and here is what I came up with.

SafeMama Criteria: Products had to be free of DEET, parabens, phthalates, PEG’s, Sulfates, Dioxanes, Propylene Glycols, and synthetic fragrances. I tried to select all natural products when possible. I have tested a handful of these products and they do work for general kid and adult use. (Note: I went ahead and included any Skin Deep ratings that were available. However, some haven’t been reviewed for accuracy since 2006.)

Last Updated: August 4, 2010 (This list is no longer being updated – Please see my newest bug repellent cheat sheet HERE)

Bug Repellent Sprays

Bubble & Bee 100% Organic Insect Repellent
Main Ingredients: Organic soybean oil, organic lemongrass essential oil, organic peppermint essential oil, organic rosemary essential oil, organic cloves essential oil, organic geranium essential oil
Kathy Says: I have not tried this for effectiveness but it contains all of the oils that naturally repel bugs, which I have seen work with other products. I trust Bubble & Bee immensely and their passion for safe ingredients trumps all others. I strongly recommend giving this one a try.
Skin Deep Rating: 0

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor Spray

Main Ingredients: Oil of Citronella (10.0%), Oil of Soybean (5.6%), Oil of Peppermint (2.0%), Oil of Cedar (1.50%), Oil of Lemongrass (1.00%), Oil of Geranium (0.05%)
Kathy Says: I’ve been holding out on you. This is one of my hands down favorites. Living in South Florida, mosquitoes are AWFUL. I use this on me and the kids all the time. Effective, stinky.. but effective. I always have this on hand daily. Its a spray lotion too so you can see where you have covered and can rub in to hit spots you missed. Helpful.
Skin Deep Rating: 3

Purple Prairie Bug Stuff
Main Ingredients: Geranium, Lemongrass, Catnip, Rosemary, Eucalyptus
Kathy Says: Have never tried this, and Skin Deep rates it a zero… they carry sunscreen and hand sanitizer too.
Skin Deep Rating: 0

allthingsjill-bug-sprayAll Things Jill Bug Joose Outdoor Spray
Main Ingredients: Witch Hazel, Essential oils of cedarwood, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, pine, lemongrass & citronella (all organic)
Kathy Says: I haven’t tried this but I love the All Things Jill company and they use all organic ingredients when possible.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A

Miessence Buzz Free Zone Personal Spray
Main Ingredients: Proprietary blend of essential oils, Catnip Oil
Kathy Says: I haven’t tried this but I know that Miessence uses all natural ingredients and organic ones when available. I’ve had great experiences with the Miessence products I have tried before. I wouldn’t let the “proprietary” scare you on this brand. They are pretty responsible when it comes to ingredients.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A (couldn’t find it)

Brittanie’s Thyme Organic Insect Repellent
Main Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Rosemary Oil, Lemongrass Oil, Cedar Oil
Fig + Sage Says: “I’ve been using this for the past three weeks at all hours of the day (and night) and I’m happy to report that I’ve had absolutely NO BITES!!! You see, for me this is a huge feat as I so look forward to months of sunshine and warmth, yet despise the little blood-suckers that want to feast upon me.” Read Fig + Sage’s Review – Thanks for the find!
Skin Deep Rating: 0

Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
Main Ingredients: Clove Oil, Eucalyptus Oil, Geranium Oil, Peppermint Oil
Kathy Says: This works better than most I have tried. It smells great too. The only drawback is that the “spray” is not really a spray at all. It comes out in oil form and you have to rub it all over the place to get good coverage. But again, works really well at keeping away bites.  Oily though.
Skin Deep Rating: 0

Bite Blocker® Herbal Spray
Bite Blocker® Herbal Lotion

Main Ingredients: Soybean Oil
Kathy Says: This brand also comes in a lotion and wipes, both of which pass our SafeMama criteria. However we haven’t yet had a chance to test them out. Check out their website for effectiveness information. I will be reviewing these in the coming weeks and will update accordingly.
Skin Deep Rating: 2

Jason Quit Bugging Me – Natural Insect Repellent Spray
Main Ingredients: Soy Bean Oil, Geranium
Kathy Says: This comes in a great little spray bottle and goes on evenly. But be careful not to get in the eyes (like all of them), I just caution it here because it tends to mist when sprayed and I’ve gotten it in my own eyes trying to cover my kid. This works pretty well, not as well as others though. The smell is not my favorite either. My mother commented it smelled like wet gym socks. I do like how it sprays on and doesn’t sit on skin like an oil.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A

Buzz Away Extreme™ Natural Insect Repellent
Main Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Geranium Oil, Castor Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Citronella Oil, Peppermint Oil, Lemongrass Oil
Kathy Says: This stuff I do like, comes in a great spray. It sprays on a little oily. This stuff claims 8 hour protection but my son still got bit wearing it after an hour or so, so I don’t know if 8 hours is an accurate assumption. I’d still reapply every few hours to be covered. The towelettes are cool but for $8+ you only get 12. Compared to Bit Blocker Wipes, which is about the same price you get 25.
Skin Deep Rating: 0 – 1 (there are two listings)

Aubrey Organic’s Gone! Safe and Natural Outdoor Spray SPF 10 4oz*
Main Ingredients: Padimate O (PABA Ester), Natural Grain Alcohol, Vegetable Glycerin, Organic Soybean Oil
Kathy Says: If this wasn’t made by Aubrey Organics I might be more skeptical. I’m including this because they take great care to provide safe sun and outdoor protection. But they use PABA which some people avoid.
Skin Deep Rating: 7 (Due to the PABA content this rates pretty high.. interesting)

California Baby® Natural Bug Blend™ Bug Repellent Spray
California Baby® Citronella Summer Lotion

Main Ingredients: Citronella, lemongrass and cedar essential oils
Kathy Says: These both work well and don’t smell too strong. I prefer the spray, it’s easier than applying lotions. They are both gentle and haven’t caused any reactions. I managed to find this in the store recently and I like it, it sprays a fine mist so you end up spraying a lot and you have to be careful with the kiddies – it stings if it gets in or near their eyes.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A

Absolute Green Deet Free Bug Spray
Main Ingredients: Lemon grass Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Neem Seed Oil, Cedar wood Essential Oil
Skin Deep Rating: N/A

Bug Repellent Balms

Graham Gardens Bug Bar
Main Ingredients: Citronella Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Catnip Oil, Neem Oil, Rosemary Oil (organic oils used)
Kathy Says: Graham Gardens BugBar works awesome. I love carrying a balm with me for trips to the playground (have I mentioned lately I live in the South where bugs are everywhere??) and this stuff covers great and stays on. Spray tend to sweat off so if there is any water play involved it washes off. Not with the BugBar. It’s water resistant (that’s my own observation). Thy have some other really great products that I’ll be reviewing soon!
Skin Deep Rating: 0

badgerstick Badger Anti-Bug Push-Up – 1.5 oz – Stick
Main Ingredients: Citronella Oil (5.0%), Cedar Oil (2.0%), Lemongrass Oil (2.0%), Rosemary Oil (1.0%), & Geranium Oil (1.0%)
Kathy Says: I LOVE this bug balm. I never thought a balm would be enough coverage but I found this at my local grocery store and picked it up. The balm in the push up stick is great and the balm goes on smooth and you can easily cover exposed areas quickly. It works to boot. I really love Badger’s commitment to natural and organic ingredients. Thumbs up!!
Skin Deep Rating: 0

For My Kids Herbal Insect Repellent
Main Ingredients: organic coconut oil, organic soybean oil, candelilla wax, organic, tamanu oil, organic lemon balm, organic rosemary, organic lemongrass essential oil, geranium oil, organic catnip oil, and Vitamin E oil.
Kathy Says: I love all of For My Kids, LLC’s products honestly, and this is no exception.  Great size for carrying in your purse or diaper bag.  Comes in 1 and 2 ounce tins.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A


Bite Blocker® Herbal Wipes
Main Ingredients:
Soybean Oil
Kathy Says: This brand also comes in a lotion and spray, both of which pass our SafeMama™ criteria. However we haven’t yet had a chance to test them out. Check out their website for effectiveness information. I will be reviewing these in the coming weeks and will update accordingly.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A

Buzz Away Insect Repellent Towelettes
Main Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Geranium Oil, Castor Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Citronella Oil, Peppermint Oil, Lemongrass Oil
Kathy Says: The towelettes are nice, and work well but for $8+ you only get 12. Compared to Bit Blocker Wipes, which is about the same price you get 25.
Skin Deep Rating: 0 – 1 (there are two listings)

Non-Spray Repellents

DEET Free Bug Band
Main Ingredients: Geranium Oil, Polypropylene plastic band
Kathy Says: This wristband is great for kids and can be stored for future use. Geraniol is a great natural repellent. People with perfume allergies may have trouble with this one since its about 20% Geraniol. But if you have a perfume allergy you may have problems with any natural repellent since they rely heavily on scents. NOTE: This company makes wipes and a spray as well, but I didn’t include them due to them containing Sodium Laureth Sulfates in the ingredients.

Don’t Bite Me Patch
Main Ingredients: Vitamin B1
Kathy Says: Unlike the other repellents, this patch uses Vitamin B1 instead of fragrant oils. B1 when excreted from the skin will mask the scent of carbon dioxide (which is what the bugs are attracted to). By applying the patch to the skin directly, rather than taking a vitamin, is the faster absorption. Like lotions (which is why we are so adamant about safe skin care), things applied to the skin go directly into your bloodstream instead of having to travel the digestive system first. So this will take effect quicker. I am not a huge fan of having something stuck to my or my kids skin (seems like it would be an irritant) but the materials.

The patch itself is made of “Acrylic Pressure Sensitive Adhesive with Aloe and Thiamine Hydrochloride on Urethane film laminated to polyethylene coated kraft paper”. I can’t find any solid reason to not use this product (or the wristbands for that matter) other than the waste factor, as they may not be recyclable.

Other natural tips for deterring buggies naturally at home:

  • Eliminate standing water from outdoor areas where you hang out and play.
  • Keep potted rosemary or eucalyptus plants around your patio areas. Marigold’s are supposed to ward off bugs too.
  • Eat food rich in B Vitamins like bananas or eat garlicky food – mosquitoes don’t like it apparently. (Note: Some argue bananas are a bad idea due to potassium.. jury is still out on this one I guess!)
  • If it’s not too hot, wearing longer pants, shirts and socks can prevent bugs from getting to you.

Enjoy the outdoors! Remember to also choose a safe sunscreen for sunny days! Read SafeMama’s 2010 Safer Sunscreen Cheat Sheet report for our top sunblock picks.

Posted by: SafeMama Kathy on May 4, 2010


8 Responses to “SafeMama’s 2010 Bug Repellent Cheat Sheet”

  1. Heather Thalwitzer on May 5th, 2010 1:52 pm

    Don’t see it on here, but we use Gentle Natural’s bug repellent we found at Babies R Us. It’s around 5 dollars and the ingredients are comparable to the brands above. Gross, they added vanillin in the new one, but we have the old one with Winnie the Pooh.

    Active Ingredients:

    Soybean Oil 3%,Cinnamon Oil 0.1%, Lemongrass Oil 0.1%, Geranium Oil 0.05%.

    Other Ingredients: 96.75%

    Purified Water, Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Vanillin, Citric Acid.

  2. Amy on May 5th, 2010 2:23 pm

    I’d like to add that I too LOVE the Badger Anti Bug Push Up Stick! My husband and I were pushing our daughter on a swing in the backyard the other evening and were surrounded by annoying gnats. 3 quick swipes of the stick on our arms and neck and they were gone!! AMAZING!! And you can’t ask for a better skin deep rating. We love Badger!

  3. Melanie Chandra on May 6th, 2010 12:12 am

    Just wanted to say I LOVE Bite Blocker. I did tons of research because our family frequently goes to India (mosquitos= malaria), and they had the most impressive claims, which they totally lived up to. HIGHLY recommend.

  4. Andi Winterfield on May 6th, 2010 3:02 pm

    I am a huge fan of Purple Prairie Botanicals. I’m glad to see their Bug Stuff Lotion made your list. It is a great product and works really well for our entire family. We even use it on the dogs for flea and tick repellant.

  5. kelly on May 6th, 2010 9:21 pm

    We used Bite Blocker last year – mostly the spray, because I kept not wanting to “waste” the wipes (silly of me, since then they didn’t get used!)
    The only thing I didn’t like was that it stayed with you for a while – we’d shower thoroughly and the next day we’d still smell like the spray. Not a horrible smell, but it made me a little uncomfortable that the stuff was still on us, even if it is relatively safe. Are all the natural sprays like that – they sort of sink in?

    And on a related note, do the bug wrist bands actually work? Because I could see using them for casual use and the spray for times needing more protection, so I don’t have to use it every day.

  6. Maria on May 7th, 2010 12:07 pm

    We have used Swy Flotter by Kiss My Face available @ Whole Foods. It has a nice scent.

  7. Shannon on May 24th, 2010 6:52 pm

    I noticed on your the ingredients list you posted for baby wipes, you listed Geraniol as an ingredient of concern. For bug repellents, it seems to be a safe ingredient. Could you clarify?

    Shannon-Some people have perfume allergies to this ingredient.

  8. Thuy on June 2nd, 2010 7:03 pm

    Has anyone tried the new Loving Naturals bug repellent yet? I just noticed it on their website the other day…must be new. Here are the ingredients:
    Ingredients: Organic Witch Hazel Extract, Organic Citronella Oil, Organic Neem Seed Oil, Organic Lemongrass Oil, Organic Cedarwood Oil, Catnip Oil, Organic Geranium Oil, Organic Rosemary Oil, Organic Aloe Vera Gel, Water, Sea Salt