Comparative efficacy of insect repellents against mosquito bites

N Engl J Med. 2002 Jul 4;347(1):13-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa011699.


Background: The worldwide threat of arthropod-transmitted diseases, with their associated morbidity and mortality, underscores the need for effective insect repellents. Multiple chemical, botanical, and "alternative" repellent products are marketed to consumers. We sought to determine which products available in the United States provide reliable and prolonged complete protection from mosquito bites.

Methods: We conducted studies involving 15 volunteers to test the relative efficacy of seven botanical insect repellents; four products containing N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, now called N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET); a repellent containing IR3535 (ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate); three repellent-impregnated wristbands; and a moisturizer that is commonly claimed to have repellent effects. These products were tested in a controlled laboratory environment in which the species of the mosquitoes, their age, their degree of hunger, the humidity, the temperature, and the light-dark cycle were all kept constant.

Results: DEET-based products provided complete protection for the longest duration. Higher concentrations of DEET provided longer-lasting protection. A formulation containing 23.8 percent DEET had a mean complete-protection time of 301.5 minutes. A soybean-oil-based repellent protected against mosquito bites for an average of 94.6 minutes. The IR3535-based repellent protected for an average of 22.9 minutes. All other botanical repellents we tested provided protection for a mean duration of less than 20 minutes. Repellent-impregnated wristbands offered no protection.

Conclusions: Currently available non-DEET repellents do not provide protection for durations similar to those of DEET-based repellents and cannot be relied on to provide prolonged protection in environments where mosquito-borne diseases are a substantial threat.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Culicidae*
  • DEET* / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insect Bites and Stings / prevention & control*
  • Insect Repellents* / administration & dosage
  • Insect Vectors*
  • Insecticides* / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Plants*
  • beta-Alanine* / administration & dosage
  • beta-Alanine* / analogs & derivatives*


  • Insect Repellents
  • Insecticides
  • beta-Alanine
  • DEET
  • insect repellent M 3535