Thursday, June 4, 2009

Picaridin vs. DEET: Face-off of the buzzer beaters

Few things can ruin a backcountry sojourn faster than being turned into a fleshy pincushion by clouds of mosquitoes using you as a succulent blood buffet. As I like to say: Mosquitoes bite, but they mostly suck. In June 2006, I wrote a round-up of all the various insect repellents on the market (The Dope on Dope) and their relative effectiveness in preventing bug bites.

To recap: At the time, DEET was still considered to be the single-most effective insect repellent and was vastly superior to any natural-based repellent. But DEET isn't perfect. Its most unfriendly property is its ability to eat away at plastics and polyester; smear some on your sunglasses lenses and you'll likely be shopping for a new pair for the next trip. DEET also has a distinctive odor, which some consider unpleasant. (The vast majority of medical research indicates that it is safe to use health-wise.)

There was an upstart alternative that was just beginning to reach the market in 2006, however: picaridin. Like DEET, picaridin is a synthetic chemical—in this case developed by Bayer in the 1990s (DEET was created by the US Army in 1946). Available in Europe since 2001, picaridin is also marketed overseas under the names Icaridin, Bayrepel, and KBR3023. And unlike DEET, picaridin is odorless and will not eat plastic.

Studies indicate that picaridin is as effective as DEET in protecting against mosquitoes, though the amount of protection time correlates closely with concentration. With DEET, as concentration increases from 5-7 percent up to 20-30 percent, protection times per application roughly doubles from 60-90 minutes to 2-3 hours. As you increase concentration to 50 percent, protection extends to as much as 6 hours; concentrations higher than 50 percent appear to provide little additional protection. (The New England Journal of Medicine did a great study on this in 2002.)

It's a little bit unclear if the same trends apply for picaridin. In the U.S., picaridin was approved for sale in 2005. However, the EPA initially prohibited bug dope manufacturers from producing repellents with picaridin in concentrations greater than seven percent. In 2008, the rules were relaxed and insect repellents began appearing with picaridin concentrations of 20 percent.

Here's a couple of seemingly objective studies I've been able to track down in terms of picaridin studies/endorsements, all of which seem to indicate that picaridin truly is an equal of DEET:

Round-up of several studies in Australia: Concludes that picaridin in concentration of 19.2 percent was as effective as the same concentration of DEET.

Consumer Reports: Found that 7 percent picaridin is as effective as 10 percent DEET.

You can find picaridin-based repellents from the following manufacturers:

Cutter: The Cutter Advanced line features picaridin in concentrations of 7 percent (Cutter Advanced) and 15 percent (Cutter Advanced Sport).

Sawyer: The Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent and Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent offers concentrations of 20 percent. (For some reason, Sawyer doesn't have these listed on their website, hence the links to

Tender Corportation: Makers of the Natrapel line, which offers concentrations of 20 percent in both pump spray and wipe versions.

Both the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control endorse picaridin as an effective repellent and safe alternative to DEET.

Have you tried picaridin against the biting baddies of the Northeast? If so, please let me know!


Eric said...

We've been using picaridin-based products (Cutter 7% and 15%) since they became available a couple of years ago. We initially tried it because of its solvent-free properties, and we have not noticed any difference in effectiveness from DEET. We've used it here in buggy south Texas, Mexico, the Darien in Panama, south India, and we just returned from two weeks in the Bolivian Amazon. We've always had excellent results. In fact, we've stopped using permithrin-impregnated clothing (Buzz-Off and home prepared). Good stuff!

Twilight said...

I love it, but anything less than 15% is not that effective in super mosquito-y areas of the Bahamas, Costa Rica, the Adirondacks, and Michigan. I am very allergic to mosquito bites and am very attractive to them too (they've bitten through my jeans in MI and NY).

Olde Hog said...

As we have Mangroves surrounding us in Florida, no-see-ums (sand flies) ruin nearly every outdoor activity. Sawyers 20% is the only product I've found that totally eliminates bites from no-see-ums.

franticgardener said...

Mosquito traps may be a bit unwieldy if you're hiking, but for your home, I've read that Mosquito Magnets can control mosquitoes up to a one-acre area.
Here's an example of one:

Skid XRay said...

I am using it to counter-act gnats and the 7% solution is worthless.

Zelora said...

I found that when I switched from a DEET product to a picaridin product (husband bought it, I hadn't read the label) WITHOUT KNOWING IT, and used about the same amount of product I'd used with the DEET, I started getting lots of mosquito bites!
To be fair, it appears to me that the concentration of picaridin is lower than the DEET conc. in what I'd been using, so I probably should have applied it more heavily. But my response has been to run out and buy some DEET.

aidan said...

On A trip to the Peruvian Amazon, I found Picardin to be as effective as Deet against mosquitos (although I'm uncertain whether the protection time was as long), but I found that those of us wearing picardin did distinctly better than those wearing DEET against the blackflies (no-seeums) that surround you as soon as a boat slows/stops

Veronica said...

BugButton Natural Insect Repellent

sophie said...

I am so scared of being bitten by mosquitoes as I know it is one of the insects that carries different kinds of illnesses! Stay away from me, please! phentermine 37.5

DivingDiva66 said...

Avon's Skin So Soft has a great Picardin Product!!! :)

Steve Hoge said...

We have found picaridin quite effective against summer mosquitos in the Sierra and Rocky Mtn backcountry.

However, on a trip to New Zealand we found it had absolutely NO effectiveness against the infamous Kiwi sand flies. BEWARE!

carolynd said...

Going to South Africa in May and can't decide between a Picardin Product or Deet, can anyone help. Also what percentages should be used.

SDavis said...

I live near the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers in far Western Kentucky, and in a creek bottom. Mosquitoes are vicious here anytime it gets over 50 degrees. Two years ago I sought an alternative to DEET because of it's abilty to remove paint from a weather-proof electrical box. I have Grandchildren and don't feel right putting DEET and other chemicals on them, but we can't hide in the house, so I found some Sawyer 20% pump spray at Dicks Sporting Goods and will never use anything other except for emergencies. It works for us, Thank God.

mel said...

Avon Bug Guard products with Picaridin come in aerosol can, pump spray, and individually packaged towelettes. They carry the Good Housekeepting Seal. I am an Avon rep who gives excellent service from my online store at: Look for Bug Guard products on sale on my site. Thanks.

DRL said...

I've found that almost all insect repellents work fine for mosquitoes. Even the groovy natural stuff. However, for black flies in New England, which are far worse source of misery than any mosquitoes, only DEET has been effective. As far as I can tell the effect of Citronella is zero. I would be curious to know how DEET and Picaridin compare in June in Baxter State Park, ME or similar. Any scientific studies or anecdotal evidence out there? DEET is hell on climbing ropes and thus quite dangerous to climbers and mountaineers. It would be great if Picaridin was the answer.

Kerry said...

Avon has a whole line of bug sprays with Picaridin.

YvonnesAvon said...

The West Nile virus has been discovered in Las Vegas, 89107 zipcode. Avon has a great skin so soft bug guard product. See page 190-191 of brochure(campaign) 19
I live in las Vegas. If you need some bug guard, it's only$5.99 now!

jujuflu said...

My daughter is getting ready to do a science fair project comparing the two for their efficacy on ticks. I was looking here to see if you can compare them equally as
far as percent active ingredient goes.

jujuflu said...

The information I have read says biting flies are the one thing picaridin out perform deet on.

kitty kat said...

The Avon catalog shows their product to contain 10%. Sounds kinda useless for my yard. They also have a IR3535 product with 19.6% of whatever that is. Thanks for the posting!

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