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Is DEET Safe?

Beat the Bugs: DEET vs. Picaridin vs. All-Natural Bug Spray

I seem to be a magnet for mosquitoes. Whether I'm trail running or just hanging out at a friend's backyard barbecue, those suckers find me and start a feeding frenzy. If you too constantly suffer from the stinging bites of skeeters, you're probably wondering which bug spray will work the best without causing your body harm.

To find out, continue reading.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends using an insect repellent that contains active ingredients that are approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Those containing DEET and picaridin are the most effective and long-lasting, especially when concentrations of each ingredient are higher. According to the EPA, when used as directed for expected short-term (not long-term) use, these two chemicals aren't harmful to us. It's best to read labels and choose a product that fits your needs. There's no reason to use a 98 percent DEET spray that offers protection for 10 hours if you're only going to be outside for a short walk in the woods. A 10 percent concentration should protect you for about two hours. Lightly apply spray on exposed skin and clothing, and avoid overapplication (no need to douse yourself in OFF). When you come inside, wash the repellent off your skin.

If you're concerned about using chemicals on your body, there are many all-natural products available, such as Herbal Armor. If you look at those labels, you'll see ingredients such as oil of citronella, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and oil of geranium. These plant-based products may offer protection that is comparable to low concentrations of DEET products, so they definitely aren't the most effective. You may end up reapplying these products more often than directed.

You can further protect yourself by wearing light-colored clothing, long sleeves, pants, and socks, and by applying permethrin-containing mosquito repellent to your clothes.

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Join The Conversation
Michele-Foley Michele-Foley 4 years
@danicastone Past studies have shown that DEET can cause neurological damage when used improperly. We're talking high levels of DEET used over long periods of time; but the EPA's studies have shown that when used as directed DEET shouldn't have any harmful effects on humans. I hate taking chances though and go all-natural when I can.
danicastone danicastone 4 years
FYI... this comment wouldn't post until I unchecked "Post this comment to my Facebook feed." Some kind of bug there, I think. But not one that can be eradicated with DEET.
danicastone danicastone 4 years
WTF? Right below this, in the "related" articles, it shows me an earlier piece called "Bug Spray: Go DEET-Free!" that states: "Many bug sprays these days are made with a powerful chemical called DEET. Sure bugs hate it, but did you know that it's toxic to humans? When you apply it to your skin, it gets absorbed and eventually enters the bloodstream. It pumps through your nervous system and DEET has been proven to kill brain cells, causing neurological damage. With heavy exposure to DEET, humans may experience memory loss, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and shortness of breath. I'll take a mosquito bite over that any day." So which of the articles is right? Or perhaps they both are: maybe the EPA says it's safe AND it can cause neurological damage?
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