Bug Repellent Cheat Sheet

Last updated on April 5th, 2022 at 12:02 pm

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. There are many known essential oils that repel bugs.  Most commonly known are  citronella, soybean oil, geraniol (oil of geranium), eucalyptus, cedar, rosemary, eucalyptus  and the most freshly newsworthy lemon eucalyptus oil.

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: April 16, 2012

Bug Repellent Sprays

Bubble & Bee 100% Organic Insect Repellent
Ingredients: Organic soybean oil (non-GMO), organic geranium essential oil, organic clove essential oil, organic lemongrass essential oil, organic peppermint essential oil, organic rosemary essential oil.
Notes: I have not tried this for effectiveness but it contains organic 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. Stephanie of Bubble & Bee says “Yes! Our Bug Repllent is effective against ticks too.”  100% USDA Certified Organic by UDAF.   This is all oils so expect a level of greasiness, but major effectiveness.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $10

Lafe’s Organic Baby Insect Repellent
Ingredients: *Pelargonium graveolens (Geranium) Reverse Osmosis Water, Essential oils of: *Cedrus atlantica (Cedarwood), *Eucalptus globulus (Eucalyptus), *Citrus medica limonum (Lemon), *Lavandula officinalis (Lavender) Prunus amygdalus dulcis (essential oil dispersant from Sweet Almond Oil) *Certified Organic
Notes: I’ve heard a lot about this one and ordered it for myself to try out.  It’s rated a 0 in EWG and is one of the few Certified Organic by USDA.  The ingredients lists looks great, I’ll update here with my thoughts on it’s effectiveness when it arrives.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $8-11

Loving Naturals Insect Repellent Spray
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, Organic Soy Lecithin, Water, Sea Salt
Notes: I get a lot of feedback about Loving Naturals products and a lot of questions.  Their ingredients lists are very clean and I have heard good things about their products.  I am awaiting samples.  They also carry a sunscreen which rates really well with EWG, and with SafeMama.com! Special features: Vegan and Organic.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $13 for 4oz bottle

All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor Spray
Ingredients: Oil of Soybean 11.5%, Oil of Citronella 10.0%, Oil of Peppermint 2.0%, Oil of Cedar 1.50%, Oil of Lemongrass 1.00%, Oil of Geranium 0.05%, (73%) Water, Glyceryl Stearate, Beeswax, Vegetable Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid
Notes: I’ve been holding out on you.  This is one of my hands down favorites.  Living in the South, 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.  There is also a Phineas and Ferb version that is a dollar more but I don’t see what’s different about it.  The ingredients look the same to me.  I like the adult versions of this too.  Since there is water in this product you do have to re-apply.
Skin Deep Rating: 3
Price: $10 (The regular Kids version is a dollar less)

Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray
Ingredients: Active Ingredients: 23% Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, 10% Ricinus Communis (Castor) Oil, and Essential Oils of 4%, Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella), 2% Cedrus Atlantica (Cedar), 2% Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass), 1.5% Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), and 1% Mentha Piperita (Peppermint).  Inactive Ingredients: Water and 0.5% Gaultheria Procumbens (Wintergreen)
Notes: I basically love and approve of all the Badger products and this one is no exception. It’s fragrant like all the others but it works.  Can’t say one negative thing about badger.  This one relies on the basic repellents like soybean oil, cedar and citronella to ward off the biters.  Sprays on well and lasts for a longer time than some of the musty types of bug sprays.
Skin Deep Rating: 1
Price: $12 for 4 oz

Purple Prairie Bug Stuff  (use code “SAFEMAMA” for 10% off)
Ingredients: aqua(water),organic cold pressed olea europaea (olive) fruit oil, hamamelis virginiana (witch hazel), kosher vegetable glycerin, organic cocos nucifera (coconut), behentrimonium methosulfate, cetyl alcohol, eucalyptus citriadora (lemon eucalyptus), organic butylene glycol, nepeta cataria (catnip) oil, cymbopogon schoenanthus (lemongrass) oil, eucalyptus globulus (eucalyptus) leaf oil, melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) oil, lavandula angustifolia (lavender) oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) oil, mentha piperita (peppermint) oil, rosamarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf extract and salix nigra (black willow) extract.
Notes: I have tried all three of the Purple Prairie bug repellents and had success.  They all smell nice, which is a plus.  I prefer the Bug STUFF over the bug SPRAY only because the “stuff” is thicker (a spray lotion) and stays on better.  Sprays are more misty and I can’t seem to ever have enough on me to thwart the bugs.  I suppose if you lived somewhere not swarming with biting insects like here, you could get away with a spray.  I have liked the Bug Balm stick too although I have trouble using it on wiggly kids so I keep it for me.  This spary lotion features lemon eucalyptus which is recognized by the CDC as an effective repellent.Overall I am really pleased with the Purple Prairie line of products.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $8  for 4 oz spray bottle

LuSa Organics Natural Bug Spray – Hey you, Shoo! 
Ingredients: Aloe vera juice, witch hazel distillate, essential oil blend (lemon eucalyptus, cedar,rose geranium), and polysorbate-20 (confirmed free of 1,4 dioxane).
Notes: LuSa Organics is one of my FAVORITE companies.  Family owned and operated, and Rachel (she’s the bee’s knee’s) is the master of all things natural and pure.  I am a sucker for their sugar scrubs, lip balms (some of the best lip balm in the universe) and they are known for their amazing Booty Balm and Wipes Juice.  So when they came out with a bug repellent, I was happy happy happy. I have one coming in the mail and I’ll update here on it’s effectiveness. I’m sure it’s rad.  LuSa Organics tells me they are working to improve the formula even further so I’ll update that here if that happens soon.
Skin Deep Rating: n/a
Price: $9

Miessence Buzz Free Zone Personal Spray
Ingredients: certified organic aloe barbadensis (aloe vera) leaf juice, aqua (purified water), certified organic cymbopogon nardus (citronella) essential oil, leptospermum liversidgei (olive tea tree) essential oil, certified organic melaleuca alternifolia (tea tree) essential oil, certified organic leptospermum petersonii (lemon scented tea tree) essential oil, azadirachta indica (neem) extract , citrus aurantium amara (bitter orange) fruit extract, sclerotium rolfsii gum
Notes: 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 too much on this brand.  They are pretty responsible when it comes to ingredients and using organics.  Their products price points tend to be high though…
Skin Deep Rating: N/A (couldn’t find it)
Price: $16.50 for 4.2 oz.

Brittanie’s Thyme Organic Insect Repellent
Ingredients: Distilled water, Acetic (organic white vinegar), Organic Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonite, Eugenia Aromatica (organic clove), Cymbopogon flexuosus (organic lemongrass), Mentha piperita (organic peppermint), Thymus vulgaris (organic thyme), Pelargonium graveolens (organic geranium), Cedrus atlantica (organic cedarwood) essential oils. Gluten Free/Vegan
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: I couldn’t find a listing for this product but the others in the line rate a 0-1
Price: $8.50 (great price for 4 oz of a USDA Certified product)

Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
Ingredients: glycine soja (soybean) oil, ricinus communis (castor) seed oil, rosmarinus officinalis (rosemary) leaf oil, cymbopogon schoenanthus (lemongrass) oil, thuja occidentalis (cedar) leaf oil, mentha piperita (peppermint) oil, cymbopogon nardus (citronella) oil, eugenia caryophyllus (clove) flower oil, geranium maculatum (geranium) oil, tocopherol
Notes: 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. It’s just … greeeeeasy.  Also, good price and easily found in drug stores.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $8

Bite Blocker® Organic Xtreme Insect Spray
Active Ingredients: Soybean (Glycine Soja) Oil (3%), Geranium Maculatum (Geranium) Oil (6%), Castor (Ricinus Communis) Seed Oil (8%) Inactive Ingredients: Water (Purified), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Glycerine, Lecithin, Wintergreen Oil, Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonate (Baking Soda), Benzoic Acid
Notes: This brand also comes in a lotion and wipes.  However we haven’t yet had a chance to test them out. Check out their website for effectiveness information. Some of these Bite Blocker products contain Benzoic acid with their new formulations in 2009.  They also have a “Family Safe” version that doesn’t seem to have that but I’m not 100% sure the ingredients list on their website is complete.  Not my first choice but not terrible if you have it.  I’m not sure what gives them the authority to call this “organic” either.   Claims to protect from ticks as well.
Skin Deep Rating: 3
Price: ~$9

Buzz Away Extreme™ Natural Insect Repellent
Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Geranium Oil, Castor Oil, Purified Water, Coconut Oil, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Lecithin, Sodium Bicarbonate, Benzoic Acid. In a blend of Essential Oils of Wintergreen, Citronella, Cedarwood, Peppermint, and Lemongrass. (Patented base HOMS)
Notes: 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 but we’ll go with it. 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. It’s more affordable price wise but I don’t love this one.  Has a really strong scent.  However, it does boast to have a 2 hour protection factor from ticks so for those of you seeking something to protect from ticks this might be the one for you. It does contain Benzoic acid though so if that’s troublesome to you be aware.
Skin Deep Rating: I can’t find any current listings for the sprays
Price: $6

Certified Organic Andiroba Outdoor Lotion by Green Beaver
Ingredients: Aqua/Water/Eau, Aloe Barbadensis Leaf Juice*, Glycine Soya (Soybean) Oil*, Carapa Guaianensis (Andiroba) Seed Oil*, Bentonite, Xanthan Gum, Citric Acid, Curcuma Longa (Turmeric) Oil*, Eugenia Caryophyllus (Clove Bud) Oil*, Cymbopogon Citratus (Lemongrass) Oil*, Sesamum Indicum (Sesame) Seed Oil*, Sodium Levulinate, Potassium Sorbate, Tocopheryl Acetate.* ingredients from Organic Farming.

Notes: A Facebook Fan asked me to check this one out.  I like the Green Beaver company so I took a peek.  While I haven’t tried this for effectiveness it utilizes the essential oils known for repelling bugs.  My only concern (and this may or may not be valid but hear me out) is the inclusion of Benonite.  I don’t know a lot about it but from what I have read it may not be wise for pregnant or nursing moms to use it.  This was in reference to the use of a benonite supplement.  Otherwise the ingredients look fine. This has an ECOCERT certification.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A

Price: $ 14.99 for 170ml

My Mama’s Love (Mimia Organics) Bug Off Me Insect Spray
Ingredients: Distilled water;  100% pure, steam distilled, organic essential oils of tea tree, lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, lemon and lemongrass.
Notes: A lot of people are big fan’s of this company, myself included.  She makes really nice, pure products. I was recently in touch with tehowner and she is sending me a sample to test out.  Will update here with my results!  I recommend all her other products already so I’m sure this will make the cut.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $8.50 for 4 oz

All Things Jill – Take A Hike Outdoor Joose
Ingredients: Witch hazel extract, Distilled water, Aloe vera juice, Essential oils of Cedarwood, Lavender, Rosemary, Eucalyptus, Pine, Lemongrass & Citronella
Notes: All Things Jill was a product line I’ve been a fan of for a while.  They changed some of their products and came out with a line called TREK™ which consists of their Outdoor Joose, Outdoor Lotion and other products like a gardening balm.  Same great product with certified organic ingredients.  Not sticky!
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $12 – $18

BabyGanics Shoo Fly Bye Natural Insect Repellent
Ingredients: Isoproyl Myristate, Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella) Oil, Rosemarinus Officinalis (Rosemary) Leaf Oil, Glycine Soja (Soybean) Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Mentha Piperita (Peppermint) Oil, Pelargonium Graveolens Flower Oil.
Notes: I’m including this BabyGanics product because it meets my criteria for safety.  I have not tried it so I’m not sure of the effectiveness.  I want to stress that because I approve one product in a brand line doesn’t mean the whole line meets my approval.  I get a lot of questions about BabyGanics products because of their readily available nature.  Read the labels in this case.  They tend to use chemical ingredients in their products to skirt around the marketing.  The “organic” nature of their marketing is a bit deceiving.  However bug spray is pretty easy to formulate without the need of chemical ingredients so this one gets a passing grade.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $12

California Baby® Natural Bug Blend™ Bug Repellent Spray
California Baby® Citronella Summer Lotion
Active Ingredients: Citronella, lemongrass and cedar essential oils, Inactive Ingredients: water, lecithin, soap bark, vegetable glycerin USP
Notes: 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.  Doesn’t provide a ton of protection (the spray) because you have to spray so much of it.  But might be ok for just short play time and not so much woods or extended outdoor time.  Easy to find in stores.  Not a huge fan of their customer service.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $14

Bug Repellent Balms

Badger Anti-Bug Push-Up – 1.5 oz – Stick (10% off with code “Safe10”)
Active Ingredients: 10% Ricinus Communis (Castor) Oil, and Essential Oils of 5% *Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella), 2% Cedrus Atlantica (Cedar), 2% Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass), 1% Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), & 1% Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium).  Inactive Ingredients: Olea Europaea (Extra Virgin Olive) Oil, and Cera Alba (Beeswax).
Notes: 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 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. Do not leave these in warm environments though because they will definitely melt.  Has the same citronella smell to it but not as overpowering as others.  Comes in a round tin too.  USDA Certified Organic.  Badger is always a go to brand for me.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $12

Graham Gardens Bug Bar (Use code “SafeMama10” for 10% off Bug Bars at GrahamGardens.com)
Ingredients: Extra virgin olive oil, Organic castor oil, Candalilla Wax, Citronella Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Catnip Oil, Neem Oil, Rosemary Oil, Catnip, Lavendar, Peppermint, Rosemary, Sage, Wormwood (organic oils used)
Notes: 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, and the scent is actually quite pleasant.  Spray tend to sweat off so if there is any water play involved it washes off.  Not with the BugBar.  It’s water resistant (thats my own observation). She has some really lovely products. Price point is a bit high but the tube is larger than the Badger and it contains some organic ingredients.
Skin Deep Rating: 0
Price: $16.50

Purple Prairie Bug Balm (Use code “SAFEMAMA” for 10% off)
Ingredients:organic sunflower oil, cera alba (beeswax), organic theabroma cacao(cocoa) seed butter,organic cocos nucifera (coconut) oil, neem oil, essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, catnip, lemongrass, rosemary, lavender, eucalyptus &  teatree.
Notes: Again, Purple Prairie nails it with their Bug Balm stick.  It’s hard to tell from the photo but these are larger than a lip balm.  Great for covering spots like fingers and toes.  I prefer the wide solid balms to these little travel size ones simply because it takes forever to apply product if you have your legs exposed.  But this is a great product to have in your playground kit with a sunscreen stick for emergency situations!
Skin Deep Rating: N/A for this product but the other bug products are a 0
Price: $6

Healing Tree Organics No More Bugz! Insect Repellent Balm (use code “SAFEMAMA” for 10% off)
Ingredients: Organic soybean oil,  beeswax and ricinus communis (castor) seed oil.  Organic essential oils of citronella, peppermint, lemongrass, cedarwood, geranium, lemon eucalyptus and rosemary
Notes: Haven’t tried this, but I am expecting some samples and will update my results. Uses natural and organic ingredients and comes again in a wide mouth applicator.  She also has some travel sizes.
Skin Deep Rating: N/A
Price: $10

Insect Repellent Wipes

Bite Blocker® Herbal Wipes
Ingredients: Soybean (Glycine Soja) Oil (2%), Geranium Maculatum (Geranium) Oil (5%) Inactive Ingredients: Water (Purified), Cocos Nucifera (Coconut) Oil, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Sodium Bicarbonate (baking soda), Vanillin
Notes: This brand also comes in a lotion and spray, both of which pass the SafeMama™ criteria. However I haven’t yet had a chance to test them out. Check out their website for effectiveness information. I don’t have a ton of luck with wipes, I prefer the sprays.  But I know many of you want an alternative and this one should do the trick.  Relies mainly on soybean oil to thwart bugs.
Skin Deep Rating: 1
Price: $8

Buzz Away Extreme Towelettes
Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Geranium Oil, Castor Oil, Purified Water, Coconut Oil, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Lecithin, Sodium bicarbonate, Citric Acid, benzoic Acid. In a blend of Essential Oils of Wintergreen, Citronella, Cedarwood, Peppermint and Lemongrass. (Patented base HOMS® formula*)
Notes:  Basically the same insect repellent as their spray, but in a handy towelette.  There is, again, benzoic acid present in this formula as well.  This brand boasts tick protection for up to 2 hours so these would be great to have on hiking and camping trips or if you live near wooded areas that have a tick population.
Skin Deep Rating: 2
Price: $9 for 25 wipes

Wearable Repellents

DEET Free Bug Band
Ingredients: Geranium Oil, Polypropylene plastic band
Notes: 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. I still got bit wearing these though – I don’t think it was that effective rally. 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.
Price: $5

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.

Commercial Brands For In a Pinch

The above products meet my safety criteria but I know, sometimes you just need to know what you can buy at the store that’s not totally horrible.  Luckily there are some DEET free products on the store shelves that can be handy in a pinch.  These aren’t perfect, and I’ll point out their hazards, but sometimes you need something “good enough for now”.

Cutter Natural Insect Repellent

Ingredients: Geraniol (5%), Soybean Oil (2%), Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (.4%), Potassium Sorbate (.1%) (I couldn’t find a full ingredients list on this but I was inspecting it at a neighbors house.  Also contains citric acid, and a couple of other non-concerning ingredients.

Notes: Obviously this isn’t all natural, and does contain Sodium Lauryl Sulfate (which is an irritant and some people can experience rashes if you are sensitive to it) which can run a risk of 1,4 dioxane contamination (carcinogenic).  But in the grand scheme of things, the fact that SLS is the only troublesome ingredient I think it would be ok for occasional use.

Skin Deep Rating: N/A


Repel makes a similar product but I can’t find a complete ingredients list online so I’ll make a field trip to the store to check it out.  Will add here when I do.

Other natural tips for deterring buggies naturally at home:

Enjoy the outdoors! Remember to also choose a safe sunscreen for sunny days! Read SafeMama’s 2011 Safer Sunscreen Cheat Sheet report for our top sunblock picks. (Being updated for 2012)