If you have itchy welts after being bit by no-see-ums, you know a good insect repellent is vital. Some no-see-um repellents are more effective and last longer than others.
The majority of topical repellents interfere with an insect's senses in order to prevent it from finding humans, and some ingredients have been certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as safe and effective. DEET is the most widely used topical repellent, although some people dont like its scent, and it might damage your sunglasses.
Picaridin, a synthetic repellent used in pepper plants, has been shown to be equally effective as DEET, and it protects you for eight to fourteen hours at that concentration. Also, picaridin has little odor, wont damage plastics, and is unlikely to cause skin irritation.
The oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and its active ingredient (PMD) are the only ones registered with the EPA. When used at a 15% concentration, PMD and DEET have demonstrated comparable effectiveness over six hours.
The CDC recommends other insect repellent products that include allethrin (a synthetic form of a chrysanthemum extract), which provide a perimeter of protection outdoors. You may treat clothing with permethrin, another synthetic insecticide that happens once on you.
According to the CDC, most repellents (including permethrin) are safe for children aged two months and older. However, some products containing OLE and PMD should not be used for children under the age of three.
The Best No-See-Um Repellants
Are you in a hurry? Here are the top no-see-um repellents.
Sawyer Products Ultra 30% Insect Repellent Lotion: 1. The Best DEET Repellent Lotion: Sawyer Products Ultra 30% Insect Repellent Lotion
Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Repellent Lotion: Sawyer Products 20% Picaridin Repellent Lotion: Sawyer Products 20%
3. The Best Plant-Based Repellent Spray: Repel Plant-Based Insect Repellent
4. The Best Travel-Friendly DEET Wipes: Repel Insect Repellent Wipes
Sawyer Products Permethrin Insect Repellent: 5. The Best Permethrin Repellent For Fabrics
Thermacell Patio Shield Mosquito Repeller: 6. The Best Repellent Device For Backyards
Read on for the best no-see-um repellents that will help prevent nasty insects from biting.
- Some reviewers say it has a slight smell
This insect repellent lotion works with a controlled release technique to help protect you from bites for up to 11 hours. It's also non-greasy, non-staining, and sweatproof, although some reviewers say it has a slight fragrance.
One useful review: Used in Jamaica where I was eaten alive the last time I went. Used under my sunscreen during the day and alone in the evening. Only a few bites.
DEET, an active ingredient, has been shown to last up to 11 hours as a protection agent.
- Protects against no-see-ums for up to eight hours
- Available in a variety of sizes
- Some reviewers find its less effective than DEET
With one application, this lotion repellent with a 20% picaridin concentration will protect you from no-see-ums for up to eight hours, and it also protects against mosquitoes for up to 14 hours. The lotion is EPA-registered for effectiveness and is available in several sizes, as well as in spray-on forms and single-use packs for travel.
This is a great review, as it lasts all day and night, and is absolutely effective. We live in Louisiana. They have severe mosquito bites in summer. This stuff seems to make me invisible to them.
Picaridin | Active Ingredient: Picaridin | Protection time: Up to 8 hours for no-see-ums, up to 14 hours for mosquitoes
- Uses EPA-registered plant-based repellents
- Non-greasy formula
- Needs to be reapplied every six hours
- Not for use on children under the age of three
The oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and PMD are the only plants-based ingredients registered by the EPA. The spray is recommended for children under the age of three and has a strong herbal scent.
One helpful comment: We use jugs of this in Florida. It works for mosquitoes and no-see-ums. My husband and daughter get huge welts from bites and this is the finest product we have found to prevent them. We use it with our grandchildren as well.
Active Ingredient: Lemon Eucalyptus oil | Protection time: Up to 6 hours
- Resealable wipe packs are convenient for use away from home
- Leftover sheen on skin may be undesirable
Each pack includes 15 wipes in one, giving you a total of 90 wipes. Reviewers describe the wipes as a little sheen on the skin.
One helpful review: I live near the beach in Texas and mosquitos can be awful. I also fish all the time and the repel wipes are easy to apply where you need protection. [...] A great product, and a handy package for carrying in the boat, golf cart, or a pocket or purse.
DEET | Protection Time: Up to ten hours | Active Ingredient: DEET
Fabric-Treating Repellents & Spatial Devices
- Lasts through six washes
- Non-staining formula
- Not for use on skin
This popular repellent spray for clothing (with more than 15,000 five-star ratings) bonds to fabric fibers for up to six weeks or six washings, whichever comes first. One 24-ounce bottle is enough to treat five outfits consisting of a shirt, pants, and socks.
One useful note: Having treated my clothes (following instructions) and allowed them to dry before my visit to Costa Rica, I was unaffected by any insects - mosquitoes, flies, and no-see-ums. I'll be using this technique on all of my garden clothes this coming season.
Permethrin, an active ingredient | Protection time: Up to 6 weeks or 6 washings
- Creates a 15-foot bubble of protection
- Doesnt require applying any sprays or lotions on your skin
- Not practical for use on hikes or excursions
This Thermacell repeller protects you from no-see-ums and other flying insects by heating up a small mat treated with allethrin, while removing the repellent without causing any scent. The flame-free device comes with one fuel cartridge that lasts 12 hours, three mats that last four hours each, and has 27,000 five-star reviews.
Summertime in South Carolina's lowcountry is associated with mosquitoes and biting gnats (formerly known as no-see-ums). The Thermacell Patio Shield does a fantastic job of keeping them away and it looks very stylish and unobtrusive.
Allethrin, an active ingredient, has a protection time of up to 12 hours.
This Head Net Is Also Fantastic, Made With Very Fine Mesh
- Super tiny holes filter the smallest insects
- Fine mesh is easy to see through
- Machine washable
- Only covers your face and head
After 5,000 reviewers took to the site, this insect head net received a 4.6-star overall rating, with many raving about its breathability and easy to see through. The machine-washable net simply fits over your favorite hat for instant protection.
One helpful note: Before this head net, I received 20 bug bites on my scalp. Those nasty no-see-ums landed on my hair and crawled around biting me. Not so with this head net. I now feel safe to be outside during the spring infestation.
Van Roey, K., Sokny, M., Van den Broeck, N., Heng, S., Sluydts, V., Sochantha, T., Coosemans, M., and Durnez, L. (2014). Picaridin repellents reveal differences in repellent sensitivity between Southeast Asian malaria vectors and arboviruses. PLoS neglected tropical diseases, 8(12), e3326. https://doi
Lee M. Y. (2018). Essential Oils as Repellents against Arthropods. BioMed research international, 2018, 6860271. https://doi.org/10.1155/2018/6860271
Bibbs, C. S., Fulcher, A., and Xue, R.-D. (2015). Allethrin-Based Mosquito Control Device Causing Knockdown, Morbidity, and Mortality in Four Field-Caught Mosquitoes (Diptera: Culicidae). https://doi.org/10.1093/jme/tjv065
Colucci, B., and Muller, P. (2018). Evaluation of standard field and laboratory methods to compare protection times of the topical repellents PMD and DEET. Scientific Reports, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-30998-2
This article was originally published on June 19, 2021.