While some insect repellents can have a chemical-like odor—potentially making people wary of their safety—remember that these products prevent bug bites that could carry infectious diseases. As long as you opt for EPA-registered insect repellents, you can consider your bug spray safe, even for pregnant or breastfeeding people.
“Good bug spray should be both effective and free of ingredients that can cause skin irritation or health risks,” says Dendy Engelman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist based in New York. “Avoid ingredients like phthalates, parabens, alcohol and synthetic fragrance. Ingredients including eucalyptus/citriodiol, lemongrass and citronella are more natural bug repellents that are safe to use.”
As with just about any product you apply directly onto your body, one thing to be vigilant of is a potential allergic reaction, says Dr. Engelman, noting that DEET products in particular have been linked to dermatitis in some individuals.
“Signs of an allergic reaction, or dermatitis, are irritation, redness, itchiness and small bumps,” notes Dr. Engleman. “In rare cases, bug spray could cause difficulty breathing and dizziness—so be careful where and how much you spray, and try not to inhale it.”