Everything is stupid, and so are we. Welcome to Jezebel’s Stupidest Summer Ever, a season-long celebration of our worst, most idiotic thoughts and opinions.
There’s a special irony in writing a product review blog for bug spray while, simultaneously, your finger is so comically swollen from a mosquito bite that typing becomes a challenge. But that is the situation I find myself in now, and one portion of the impetus for this special-edition Stupid Summer Product Diary. The full impetus being: Whenever I spend any time in the New York summer–a season where native New Yorkers will claim the oppressively humid weather is “gorgeous” and “nice,”–I get eaten alive by bugs. Mosquitos, mostly, although there’s usually a nice smattering of fly bites that don’t do much except exacerbate the reminder that this is an insect’s world, we’re just living in it.
Insects love me; for every one or two bites my friends will receive at a bar’s outdoor patio, I’ll wake up the next morning to find six or seven. On top of that, I get what’s colloquially referred to as “skeeter syndrome,” an allergic reaction that typically afflicts children (actual children, not dumb 20-somethings like myself) but will sometimes flare up in adults who have recently made a permanent move to a new state or country (me) and are exposed to an unfamiliar mosquito population’s secreting, blood-decomposing enzyme juice (I have been exposed). If that grosses you out to no end, what can I say! She’s just feeding her young.
But, to paraphrase Mad Max in Fury Road, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take being a blood bag anymore! (Max did not say this, but that’s basically his arc throughout the first third of the movie.) So for the past four weeks, I tried out four different bug-repellent protects to see how effective each of them was. None of the products I tried was a particularly obscure one; they are all relatively cheap and readily available on Amazon or your local supermarket. (These repellents won’t help with already-existing bites–I recommend calamine lotion and/or Zyrtec for that endeavor. ) I’ve spotted three of the ones I tried (or similar brands) at local bodegas. There are some wilder solutions to the bugs out there on the market, like candles, but I stuck with the simple stuff.
Cutter Backwoods Dry Insect Repellent Spray (25 percent DEET), 4 oz ($6.82)
Yes, DEET. The deets. How safe is DEET? Pretty darn safe, actually, as long as you’re using as directed. It’s also guaranteed to be the strongest defense against mosquitos based on chemical power alone. This Cutter Backwoods stuff, which I’ve ordered online for around $7 and bought at a bodega for even cheaper, is 25 percent DEET, which is honestly a little higher than I would normally want it, just because, well, it did originate as a military weapon. But it’s the most widely-available DEET spray I’ve found. (In the past I’ve also used DEET-based lotion and wet wipes, both of which last a little longer and provide more coverage but tend to cost more in the long run.)
I had already racked up 10 mosquito bites by the time I started using this spray in mid-June, so you can imagine my relief when it worked! Anywhere on my arms or legs where I sprayed this stuff didn’t garner any new bites. The two main problems I had were with coverage and smell. It’s a lot harder to spray your hands or feet than to apply lotion to them, so I ended up with a couple extra bites on my ankles in spite of my efforts. Additionally, this smell of this spray is strong. Like, remind-you-that-this-was-once-a-pesticide strong. You can avoid this a little bit with the lotion, which doesn’t smell quite as heavily like a pine tree crossed with a radioactive spider. But again, it’ll cost you more, and as far as lotions go, it tends to be pretty thick and globular. Overall, DEET sprays like this are a reliable, cheap, and quick way to rid yourself of entomological pests.
Sawyer Products SP564 Premium Insect Repellent with 20 percent Picaridin, Lotion, 4oz ($6.99)
Picaridin, or icaridin, is the second-most effective bug repelling chemical after DEET. It also has a much more pleasant smell, especially in lotion form; it’s like a light, mild sunscreen. It also lacks the prickly, tingling sensation that can sometimes come with DEET application, so your skin will thank you.
Furthermore, picaridin products tend to run cheaper than DEET ones and, for me at least, work just as well. No bugs got to me with this stuff, not even on my feet or hands. I will say the one disadvantage is that the lotion can be runny and will dribble onto your shirt sleeves if you’re not careful, but what’s summer without a bit of unidentified lotion or grease or sweat on your person? A boring summer, that’s for sure.
ZekPro 12-Pack Mosquito Repellent Bracelet Band ($13.99)
AHHH THE BAD PLACE. Sorry, let me explain. If you order one of these 12-packs of Hell’s summer camp bracelets and you open the baggy a few inches away from your face, as I stupidly did, the memory will never leave you. The concentrated smell of whatever is on these bracelets was enough to make me nearly jump through the roof. I might’ve blacked out for a second. Consider yourself warned.
When you wear these bracelets, however, they are weak af. Sure, you may think, What an unconventional AND practical fashion statement this could be. But although they are supposed to be effective for a whopping 320 hours, really all that means is that once they leave the airtight baggy, whatever DEET dust is on the bracelet’s plastic surface will rub off within two weeks. If you choose to wear it, most of that dust will rub off on your wrist, and nowhere else. I ironically chose to test this out the same day I met up with a friend at a trendy outdoor bar, and while it was a bold accessory, it didn’t do shit to stop the bugs. I came home with five new bites, including one on my upper arm that was partially covered by my shirt sleeve. A bug crawled up my arm (the arm with the bracelet!) in order to bite me. So I shan’t be wearing these any longer. I’m going to take the 11 other bracelets and arrange them in a pentagram in the center of my apartment, in the hopes of hexing away the cockroaches.
Alba Botanica Anti-Bug Spray, Deet-Free Insect Repellent, 4 oz ($14.47)
There are boatloads of natural/organic/“chemical-free” repellents on the market–a very popular one I’ve seen is lemon eucalyptus–but I chose this spray because I borrowed it from my colleague Frida at a party earlier this summer, and I didn’t get bitten at all, so I thought I’d go back and test it out for a week. Alba Botanica’s main active ingredient is castor oil (11 percent), mixed in with citronella oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil, lemongrass oil, cedarwood oil, and geranium oil. As you may have guessed, it actually smells pretty nice! I wouldn’t wear it as just perfume, but the notes of peppermint and rosemary don’t hurt.
Again, since this is a spray, coverage can sometimes be tricky, and the reason I ended up getting a giant mosquito bite on my finger is that I didn’t rub enough formula on my hands. It also doesn’t last very long; the bottle directions say to reapply every two hours, as opposed to Cutter’s 10 hours and Sawyer’s 14 hours. This is especially a nuisance considering that it costs more than twice as much than either the DEET or the picaridin formulas. That said, it does work as an effective repellent, so if you’re really hesitant about applying stronger chemicals to your skin, this is a solid plan B.
So, in conclusion, here are my ~personal~ rankings for bug repellents, from favorite to least favorite:
- Picaridin lotion (or wipes)
- “Natural” (castor oil) bug spray
- DEET wet wipes
- DEET lotion
- DEET spray
- Repellent bracelets THE BAD PLACE
Good luck and godspeed on your own personal crusade against The Bugs.