Do insect repelling wrist bands really work?

Chris Cook - Contributing Columnist

All across Ohio we have a heightened awareness of mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika and West Nile Virus. Summer’s biting pests can be not only downright annoying, but they can truly be dangerous with the diseases they transmit. With this comes the challenge of selecting the right mosquito repellent to protect you and your family.

Have you ever felt lost as you stand in a store and look at literally an entire wall of options? One of the more recent additions on the market are arm, wrist, or ankle bands that claim to repel insects. The bands certainly seem to be a convenient, quick, and less messy way to drive away mosquitoes. But do they really live up to the claims? Research has demonstrated that bands that contain no DEET at all are not effective, and that bands containing DEET are minimally effective for times of less than 20 minutes.

Diethyl-meta-toluamide, also called DEET or diethyltoluamide, is the most common active ingredient in insect repellents.

One of the more defining studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine, A Comparative Efficacy of Insect Repellents Against Mosquito Bites, looked at 16 different products ranging from sprays to oils to wrist bands. The study concluded that DEET based spray-on products provided complete protection against biting insects for the longest duration. It also determined that “wearable” non-DEET repellents such as wrist bands cannot be relied on to provide adequate protection.

Based on efficacy research, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends products with one or more of the following active ingredients for protection against mosquito bites:

DEET — Products containing DEET include, but are not limited to, Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon.

Picaridin — Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, and Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (the synthesized version of OLE) — Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off!

Botanicals — “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended.

IR3535 — Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.

What about kids and the use of topical repellents? DEET-containing products have a very long track record of being safe and effective. The CDC recommends the use of these topical (skin applied sprays) bug repellents for children and adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations are aligned with the CDC — to effectively protect children from mosquito-borne illnesses, you should use a product containing one of the four ingredients listed above. The AAP also recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30 percent DEET when used on children and that insect repellents are not recommended for children younger than two months.

Studies also note that multiple factors play a part in determining how effective any repellent will be. These factors include the species of the biting organisms and the density of organisms in the immediate surroundings; the user’s age, sex, level of activity, and biochemical attractiveness to biting arthropods; and the ambient temperature, humidity, and wind speed. As a result, a given repellent will not protect all users equally. However, the studies universally agree that alternatives to skin-applied repellents, such as arm or wrist bands, have proved to be ineffective.

Madison County Public Health does not recommend the use of wrist bands or wearable devices as the primary means for preventing mosquito bites or reducing the likelihood of Zika or West Nile Virus transmission. Our advice for a safe summer is in line with CDC guidance — use skin-applied products that have been proven to repel biting pests — look for DEET, Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and IR3535.

Chris Cook

Contributing Columnist

Chris Cook is the health commissioner for Madison County Public Health. He can by email at or call 740-852-3065, ext. 1523.

Chris Cook is the health commissioner for Madison County Public Health. He can by email at or call 740-852-3065, ext. 1523.