What is an Insect Repellent?

Did you know that insect repellents are pesticides? According to pesticide law, a pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for:

  • preventing;
  • destroying;
  • repelling; or
  • mitigating any pest. (Mitigating means reducing the effect of something.)

​People often think of the term pesticide as referring only to something that kills insects, but "pesticide" is a broad term and includes products that don't kill anything, such as insect repellents. Products labeled as repellents are not designed to eliminate pests. For example, in the case of the skin-applied repellents, the product makes people less attractive to the pest.

Types of Insect Repellents 

Insect repellents applied to the skin are often what we think of when we want to avoid insect bites. These are the most broadly useful, since they stay with you regardless of your movements. Other types of repellents that EPA registers include:

  • Clip-on products that have a pad with the repellent and a fan or other mechanism that disperses the repellent near your body.
  • Lanterns, which use a heating mechanism to disperse repellent in the area.
  • Table-top diffusers.
  • Candles and coils.

To be registered by EPA, these products must have safety and effectiveness data, which EPA evaluates before allowing them on the market.

Other products on the market, such as devices that rely on sound waves, are not registered by EPA, so no safety or effectiveness data are available. They are subject to certain regulatory requirements as "devices," however. Read more about regulation of devices.

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