Editor's note: This story was originally published in June 2017.
I am very itchy. And I’m about to make you very itchy, too. My apologies.
I spent the last week testing out 16 mosquito repellents in the woods by my house. First I tested these repellents by spraying or applying each on half a cutie, a quarter of a banana and a eighth of a potato — all foods mosquitoes are supposed to love. I sat back and watched who came crawling or flying to eat the fruit.
Then I tried out each remedy on a limb of my body at dusk. With my trusty dog as my companion, we frolicked in the mosquito-heavy woods, especially by the wet weather creek. I took notes on ease of use, scent (or stench), how it felt to the touch, how the mosquitoes reacted and whether we got bitten.
In addition to the ones sold specifically for their mosquito-fighting powers, we tried out two beauty products that had become internet sensations to see if there was any truth to the rumors.
As seen on the internet
Johnson & Johnson’s Creamy Baby Oil with Aloe Vera and Vitamin E
This baby oil, and specifically the version in the green tube, caused an internet sensation. So much so that Snopes tried it out. Before you rush to the store to get it, know that it’s impossible to find. It’s been discontinued, Johnson & Johnson told us, because of a lack of sales. What? They are hoping to bring it back.
We borrowed some from an editor who brought it back from a trip to Georgia when it was still on the shelves. She gave us just enough to try it, not the whole tube, because, after all, it’s precious gold.
Main ingredients: water, cetyl alcohol, glycerin, cocoglyserides, soybean oil, cornstarch, mineral oil, shea butter extract, cocoa seed butter, cotton seed oil, aloe barbadensis leaf juice and “fragrance.”
Price and store: Not available, but you can find it on Amazon for $40 or more.
Scent: Light and fresh, slightly floral.
Feel: It does not leave a stickiness or oiliness after applying.
Fruit test: A few ants arrived, but not a lot.
Body test: No insects landed that arm and I didn’t get bitten on that arm.
Results: It really did appear to work for me. One question: It would take a lot to cover your whole body with it. When I was wearing it (and three repellents on my other limbs), I did get bitten on the rear, where no repellent had been used. Always protect the rear.
Avon Skin-So-Soft Bath Oil
About 10 years ago, this was all the rage. Avon does make a different specific insect repellent, but the Skin-S0-Soft oil was supposed to be magical.
Main ingredients: Mineral oil, isopropyl palmitate, fragrance, carrot seed oil.
Price and store: $27, Avon.
Scent: Fresh and delightful.
Feel: Oily, it is bath oil after all.
Fruit test: The ants came calling; the flies also found the fruit.
Body test: Why not just put out a shingle that reads “Dinner is served”?
Results: I got three bites in a row on that arm. Misery.
SuperBand Insect Repelling Wristband
This one is a springy band you put on an arm or an ankle. It is supposed to last up to 200 hours after you open it.
Main ingredients: Geraniol, lemongrass and citronella oil.
Price and store: $0.97 for two, H-E-B.
Scent: A strong citronella smell follows you wherever you go.
Feel: It’s like wearing a bracelet, but a little itchier.
Fruit test: The ants and flies were heavily attracted to it.
Body test: It seemed to be working until I got bit in the neck while taking a photo of it.
Results: The price was right and it was the easiest to use, but it didn’t work.
You clip in a disk into a fan that you wear on your waist and twist it on. It is supposed to last 12 hours. There’s also a lot of “CAUTION” language on the package.
Main ingredients: Metofluthrin and “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $7.94, H-E-B.
Scent: A strong citronella scent will follow you everywhere.
Feel: It’s a bit heavy on the waist and gets in your way as you swing your arms.
Fruit test: No bugs came to visit.
Body test: I saw bugs fly toward me, then fly away.
Results: No bites, but it is a big clunky.
All about the DEET
If you’re looking for DEET — the chemical warfare of repellent ingredients — these are some of your options.
Repel Sportsmen Max
This had an easy-to-use spray that can be used on clothes without damaging them.
Main ingredients: 40 percent DEET, 60 percent “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $3.98, H-E-B.
Scent: It just smells like alcohol with a slight citronella smell.
Feel: Not sticky or greasy.
Fruit test: The insects were not interested.
Body test: One bite.
Results: With this much DEET, I expected no bites. I was disappointed.
Ben’s Tick & Insect Repellent Wilderness Formula
This spray is water-based and made for going deep into the woods.
Main ingredients: 30 percent DEET, 70 percent “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $7.98, H-E-B.
Scent: A light chemical smell that isn’t overpowering.
Feel: It’s got a slight stickiness to it.
Fruit test: No insects visited.
Body test: I felt the sting, followed by an itch around the ankle. And then I found the bite.
Results: I wanted Ben’s, which shares a name with my son, to be better.
Off! Deep Woods
This pump spray is designed to fight off all kinds of bugs.
Main ingredients: 25 percent DEET, 75 percent “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $4.57 H-E-B.
Scent: Pleasant floral smell. Delightful.
Feel: A bit sticky.
Fruit test: No bugs came calling.
Body test: I saw no bugs. I saw have no bites.
Results: This was a winner. It smelled nice, was affordable and was easy to spray. It wasn’t as easy to spray on clothes as some of the aerosol-based sprays.
Cutter Unscented Insect Repellent
This might be ideal if you want just a little DEET and not a heavy scent, but in an aerosol can that is easy to spray on clothes, which is important because I got bit through my jeans with another product.
Main ingredients: 10 percent DEET, 90 percent “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $2.98, H-E-B.
Scent: It’s not quite unscented, but it’s not offensive.
Feel: It’s a bit sticky, and it burns if you get it in a cut.
Fruit test: It was a bug-free fruit plate.
Body test: No bites or insects spotted.
Results: It’s one of the most affordable sprays and easy to use. It did the job.
Off! Family Care Unscented with Aloe Vera
Don’t be misled by the words “family care.” You still have to keep it away from children. It only is designed to last two hours.
Main ingredients: 7 percent DEET, 93 percent “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $4.57, H-E-B.
Scent: A light, floral scent that is delightful.
Feel: Nice and light, a slight stickiness.
Fruit test: No action here.
Body test: I saw no insects. I felt no insects.
Results: I liked this one a lot, and most important, it worked.
Going natural (aka No DEET on me)
Maggie’s Farm Natural Insect Repellent
Maggie’s Farm offers an easy-to-use spray can that goes over clothes well.
Main ingredients: Isopropyl alcohol, hemp seed oil, glycerin, but also oil of corn, soybean, lemongrass, geraniol, citronella and clove.
Price and store: $5.98, H-E-B.
Scent: Smells like rubbing alcohol.
Feel: Very cold going on but not sticky.
Fruit test: No bugs here.
Body test: I saw no bugs and added no new bites. I also didn’t constantly smell myself.
Results: If you want something natural, that works and is available in a grocery store, this might be for you.
Bug Protector Balm
This balm looks like a giant tube of ChapStick. It’s only good for putting on skin, not covering clothes.
Main ingredients: Oil of lemongrass, geranium, cinnamon and peppermint with castor oil, beeswax, vanillin, lecithin and Vitamin E.
Price and store: $2.98, H-E-B.
Scent: It was some of the best-smelling stuff. You’ll smell like sugar cookies.
Feel: Think about applying a balm to your skin. Then know it’s never coming off, after multiple washings.
Fruit test: The bugs came. They saw. They conquered.
Body test: I smelled like cookies, and the bugs appreciated that with multiple bites delivered.
Results: Maybe this works as a perfume, but not as a bug repellent.
Buzz Off from Austin Natural Soap
The ingredients sound great, and it’s an Austin company. We had to try it.
Main ingredients: Rubbing alcohol, jojoba oil, essential oils of lemon eucalyptus, cedarwood, tea tree, lavender and wintergreen.
Price and store: $5.99, People’s Pharmacy.
Scent: It was so stinky, I couldn’t stand it. I had to head to the shower after a few minutes.
Feel: It felt fine, not sticky or oily.
Fruit test: The bugs didn’t want it.
Body test: I didn’t get bitten, but a fly wanted to get with me and wouldn’t leave that arm alone.
Results: The smell was so overpowering, I couldn’t wait to take it off. I think if I had been in a crowd, people would have been looking at me.
Coleman’s Botanicals Insect Repellent
Does the camping gear outfitter know how to get rid of bugs with its botanical spray?
Main ingredients: 30 percent lemon eucalyptus, 70 percent “other ingredients.”
Price and store: $4.88, H-E-B.
Scent: It smelled fresh and lemony.
Feel: It was incredibly oily and left my skin very shiny.
Fruit test: The bugs weren’t interested.
Body test: Well, I got bitten, through my clothing, while wearing this one.
Results: It was hard to spray and so oily. It also got over everything.
Buzz Away Insect Repellent
At $10.49 for a bottle and with a very strong scent, it had to work, right?
Main ingredients: 5 percent Citronella oil, plus oils of cedarwood, peppermint and lemongrass, and eucalyptus, water, grain alcohol and castor oil.
Price and store: $10.49, People’s Pharmacy.
Scent: It came with a strong lemongrass and citronella scent you cannot deny.
Feel: It was very sticky.
Fruit test: The bugs were afraid of this overpowering scent.
Body test: I saw no bugs. I felt no bugs.
Results: It definitely worked and the scent wasn’t unpleasant, but it was so strong.
All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent
Would this small pump create a natural armor against the insects?
Main ingredients: Oils of soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium.
Price and store: $5.49, People’s Pharmacy.
Scent: It had a strong a citronella and lemongrass smell.
Feel: It stayed on the surface with both a sticky and oily feel.
Fruit test: No insects came calling.
Body test: I saw bugs, but they stayed away.
Results: This one works as a repellent, but the scent and the feel of it would keep us from using it often.
EcoSmart Insect Repellent Pump Spray
It promised to dry quickly and without oiliness, and it did that.
Main ingredients: Geraniol, oil of rosemary, cinnamon, lemongrass and wintergreen
Price and store: $4.98, H-E-B.
Scent: It’s supposed to have a “fresh natural scent.” I thought of it as rubbing alcohol mixed with licorice.
Feel: Great feel. It’s like you didn’t spray anything there, except for the lingering scent.
Fruit test: The fruit remained undisturbed.
Body test: I saw bugs come up to me, but they didn’t bite.
Results: This one works and was one of the more affordable natural lines, but I don’t know that I could handle the scent.