How to apply insect repellent
7 tips for getting the best protection from your insect repellent
By Julia Calderon
Protecting yourself from the growing threat of insect-borne diseases requires a variety of strategies. A crucial step to take is to use insect repellent. But even the best insect repellent won’t be very effective if you don’t apply it correctly, so you need to make sure you’re using good technique.
“Spraying quickly won’t provide the right level of protection, but don’t overspray either,” says Chris Regan, who leads insect repellent testing at Consumer Reports. “Be sure to follow product label instructions, especially when protecting young children.”
There are a few other tips to keep in mind. We spoke with experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get their tips on how to apply insect repellent safely and effectively.
Apply sunscreen first
If you’re going to be out in the sun, rub your sunscreen on first, let it soak into your skin for 15 minutes, then apply the repellent on top.
If you need to apply more sunscreen later, you don’t necessarily need to reapply insect repellent unless you notice the bugs starting to bother you.
Note that we don’t recommend products that combine sunscreen and repellent, and neither does the CDC. This is because sunscreen needs to be reapplied more often than insect repellent, so you might end up applying more repellent than necessary.
Apply the repellent gently and evenly, but not too heavily
Mosquitoes and ticks can be aggressive biters, especially Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are the type primarily responsible for spreading Zika, dengue, and chikungunya viruses. They can find and bite off a penny-sized section of exposed skin. So you want to make sure you cover every inch.
Shake container and spray evenly onto your skin and uncovered clothing from a distance of approximately 4-8 inches, or as directed on the label. For lotions and wipes, also follow the instructions on the label; most call for a thin film over exposed skin areas. But don’t overdo it: when it comes to insect repellents, more isn’t better. A thin film is enough.
And it’s best to avoid inhaling repellent, so apply it in a well-ventilated space away from open flames and be aware of others around you, including children and pets.
Do not spray under your clothes
Wearing long-sleeved shirts and long pants can help you avoid mosquito bites. Spraying your clothes can also provide additional protection (simply apply to an inconspicuous area of the garment first to check for damage). But insect repellent labels say you should never apply the product under your clothes. According to the National Pesticide Information Clearinghouse, using a DEET-based repellent under clothing can lead to skin irritation.
For sensitive or hard to reach places, apply insect repellent by hand
Never spray repellent directly on your face or ears. Instead, spray some on your hands and spread it over your face, neck, and outside your ears, taking care to avoid your eyes and nostrils. Don’t forget to rub it on your head if you’re bald.
Bug sprays can aggravate cuts and open wounds, so avoid areas with broken or irritated skin.
Wash your hands after application, especially if you are going to eat.
Don’t forget the ankles and knees
Mosquitoes tend to be attracted to certain places on the body, including the ankles, feet and knees. And because ticks usually jump on you from plants on the ground, your exposed ankles are a prime target.
Be very careful with children
According to the CDC, you should never apply any type of insect repellent to children under 2 months old. Even for older children, never spray directly on their skin.
Spray on your hands first, then rub into the child’s exposed skin and face. Be sure to avoid his hands, as children tend to put their fingers in their eyes and mouths. And as always, avoid applying near the eyes, nostrils and mouth.
Reapply only when needed
Our top-rated repellents all provided several hours of protection against ticks and mosquitoes in our tests. Still, some people tend to attract more bugs than others, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, so if the bugs start biting again, that’s your sign it’s time for more.
Insect repellents can also wash off in water, so if you’re swimming or sweating a lot, you should consider reapplying them afterwards.
After going inside, wash your (or your child’s) repellent-treated skin with soap and water.
The truth about insect repellents
Insect bites are not only annoying, they can also transmit diseases. On the “Consumer 101” TV show, host Jack Rico visits Consumer Reports labs to find out how CR tests insect repellents to make sure you get the best protection.
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