Insect Repellent: FSA Eligibility
What is insect repellent?
Insect repellent, also known as bug spray, is a substance applied to the skin or clothing that discourages insects from landing on these surfaces. These products can play a major role in preventing the spread of insect-borne illnesses, such as malaria, Lyme disease, dengue fever, West Nile virus, encephalitis and other conditions that can be transferred to humans through insect bites. While insect repellents do not kill bugs outright that come into contact with a person's skin, they are effective in deterring insects from biting or remaining on the user's skin or clothing (Environmental Protection Agency).
How does insect repellent work?
Insect repellent must be designed to be safe for use on an individual's skin, so as a result, the range of potential pesticides and other active ingredients are considerably weaker and will deter bugs from landing on an individual's skin rather than killing them completely. As such, no bug spray will completely prevent mosquitoes, ticks and other invasive insects from biting, but some products are more effective than others when it comes to preventing bites.
The most common insect repellent since the mid-1950s is DEET, which was originally developed for the U.S. Army and works by affecting the scent receptors in biting insects, making it less likely for them to recognize humans as a potential food source. However, this active ingredient is linked to a variety of harsh side effects, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection agency maintain that DEET is safe to use for short periods of time when outdoors.
Additionally, individuals and families looking for more natural alternatives to DEET fortified insect repellents that have a reduced risk of harsh side effects should consider products made with picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Both of these products are similarly effective to DEET and are known to be much safer - picaridin is made to resemble the compound piperine, which naturally occurs in black pepper plants, while oil of lemon eucalyptus is derived from the gum eucalyptus tree. However, their effectiveness is largely driven by their concentration, as products with 20 to 30 percent picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus can be just as effective as DEET products with similar concentrations (WebMD).