While DEET has been commonplace, there are other nose-friendly alternatives.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
FORT WORTH, Texas -- For years, Lisa Sharp has put up with the smell of insect repellents containing DEET because she knew they would keep the mosquitoes away.
But this summer, she may ditch her old standby in favor of a new odorless product.
"DEET stinks," she said. "If the new repellent is effective, I'll use it."
After years of pushing products containing DEET, health officials have recently begun recommending two other mosquito repellents, one containing picaridin and another with oil of lemon eucalyptus.
The repellents don't replace DEET, said David Jefferson, environmental manager for Tarrant County Public Health in Fort Worth.
"It's a case of being another tool in the bag to use," he said.
Picaridin is registered with the Environmental Protection Agency and has been approved for efficacy and human safety, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia, mosquito repellents with picaridin are widely used.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-based repellent, is also registered with the EPA and in tests has been shown to provide protection similar to low-concentration DEET products.
Cutter Advanced, the first repellent containing picaridin to be sold in the United States, has been a big hit, said Vicki Boutwell, a spokeswoman for Cutter Advanced.
"Consumer response has been very strong, and sales have exceeded expectations," she said. "One thing we've heard from our retailers is sales are so brisk that it's hard to keep Cutter Advanced on the shelves."
Like DEET, picaridin works by blocking an insect's ability to locate people who have applied it.
Why they bite
Mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide, and when people exhale, mosquitoes sense it, said Richard Ashley, director of natural science for the River Legacy Living Science Center in Arlington, Texas.
"That tells them there's a warm-blooded animal to go to for their blood meal," he said.
Repellents containing DEET appear to be safe when used according to directions, the American Academy of Pediatrics says. The repellent is not recommended for children younger than 2 months. It should be applied sparingly and should not be used on the hands of young children.
Some consumers have raised concerns about the safety of DEET. But the product has been widely tested and shown to be safe, Jefferson said.
"It does its job and doesn't create any major problems unless ingested," he said.
Picaridin, which has also been shown to be safe, is a less aggressive chemical and does not have to be washed off after use, Boutwell said. It also won't scratch the plastic in sunglasses and other products, as DEET can, she added.
"If you got it on your flip-flops, it won't melt your shoes," she said.
Even before health officials recommended oil of lemon eucalyptus, consumers were turning to all-natural products for protection against mosquitoes.
DEET-free products work well, said Gary Daley, a pharmacist. Mosquito Magic, which comes in a soap, crystals or clip-on, has been popular for years. It uses mint, lemon grass and other oils to repel mosquitoes.
"It smells good," Daley said. "In fact, the ingredients sound like you could make candy out of it."
DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus have been proved effective protection against West Nile virus, which last year was found in 47 states.