Since Zika isn't as much of a concern, do we need to buy bug sprays with DEET, a known toxin? It really depends on who you ask. According to the CDC, bug sprays with DEET are proven to be the most effective, but this is partially because there's a larger body of research dedicated to studying them.
The risk of contracting Zika in the States is significantly smaller than it was last year, so you may choose to reach for a more natural approach. (If you are in or are traveling to a Zika zone, opt for the big guns: DEET.) It may be best to purchase an insect repellent that includes DEET in smaller amounts, no greater than 20 to 50 percent. Overexposure to DEET in humans has resulted in eye irritation, vomiting and nausea if ingested, and has also been shown as an environmental toxin. Over time, use of sun-protection products with DEET could disrupt biological ecosystems, including marine life.
Dr. Robin Berzin, mbg health expert and class instructor, confirms that no insect repellent will solve all our pest problems. "While DEET- and Picardin-containing bugs prays do appear to be the most effective, natural bug sprays are a great option too. No matter what, no bug spray is 100% effective, and covering exposed skin and avoiding areas with high concentrations of mosquitoes is ultimately the most effective protection."
It's worth noting that the EWG also does not recommend using a bug spray with 100 percent DEET, because DEET is toxic in high concentrations. In fact, they recommend capping DEET concentrations at 30 percent. For this reason it's also recommended to avoid sunscreens with DEET if you're wearing an insect repellent that also contains it, as it can lead to overexposure.
That said, there hasn't been much research on the effectiveness of essential oils for bug spray. Some research says that essential oils are highly variable in their sourcing, concentrations, and quality, so repellent effects could vary. Others maintain that the mixes they've used are potent and effective at repelling insects. And other chemical compounds, like limolene and camphor, which occur naturally in essential oils, are recommended by some.