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Bug Spray Dilemma: Is DEET Really That Bad?

As soon as I set foot in the woods, mosquitoes flock to me. If you too become a feeding ground for these buggers, I'm sure you're looking for a powerful bug spray that will keep you from getting bit. Many sprays contain the chemical DEET, which I'm sure you've heard can be harmful to humans. The EPA says that if used as directed, bug sprays containing DEET are not harmful to us, although long-term exposure is. When you spray it on your skin, it gets absorbed and eventually enters the bloodstream. It pumps through your nervous system and has been proven to kill brain cells, causing neurological damage. If you have heavy exposure to DEET, you may experience memory loss, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and shortness of breath. Mosquito bites aren't looking so bad now, huh?

DEET could be considered a poison, but the EPA feels that small doses are OK for us. So if you're using a product containing DEET, follow the directions on the bottle. Don't over-apply, and as soon as you go inside, wash your skin off with soap and water.

Does DEET freak you out? To see your other options


Look for insect repellents that are DEET-free. The ingredient Picardin, is found in many new bug sprays, especially ones geared towards kids, and is found to be just as effective as those containing DEET. It's only recommended to apply this type of repellent twice a day though, so this makes me wonder how safe it is.

You may want to check out natural alternatives, like one called Herbal Armor. It's made with six essential oils including citronella, lemongrass, and geranium. It works for up to four hours, and it smells pretty good. If you're against citronella because you don't want to smell like a candle, you can try Crocodile Natural Insect Repellent. It's made with organically grown herbs. I speak from experience when I say that these all natural bug repellents don't work as well as those that contain DEET, but at least you'll feel good knowing they're not harmful to your health.

Fit's Tips: Some sunscreens contain DEET, so check your bottles.

specialk92883 specialk92883 5 years
anyone ever heard of garlic? eat garlic and mosquitos will leave you alone. i have also read that certain foods attract mosquitos, such as bananas. a simple diet change and you shouldn't have to spray or rub on any pesticides.
Robert327 Robert327 6 years
There really is an alternative to DEET and all forms of pesticide out there for mosquito sprays. One in particular that works and smells really nice as well is from a company called Organnica. We are a small company in Berwyn, IL and we sell our repellents at farmers markets around Chicago. It's called Swerve. It smells like a citrus cologne, and is all natural. We've been using it for years and even cutting the grass the other day I didn't get bit. My sister in law's entire junior level football team uses it for practice, the moms have totally accepted it and it works great. Check us out on facebook by searching for Swerve All Natural Mosquito Spray and Household Pest Repellent.
insanitypepper insanitypepper 9 years
Bug bites make me miserable. Bring on the DEET.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 9 years
DEET is the only thing that works for me when I go camping. I make sure not to overapply and use non-DEET products whenever I can. I will have to try pyrethrin this summer.
Spectra Spectra 9 years
I've found that pyrethrin is a good alternative to DEET. It comes in a spray that you spray on your clothes (not your body). You let the clothes dry and the repellent lasts for 2-3 washes. It's perfect if you're going camping or will be traveling somewhere where you'd have to be putting bug spray on constantly. It's all natural, comes from chrysanthemums.
underyourwaves underyourwaves 9 years
I think I'm wiling to risk it. I swear I'm insect nectar. Last year, I got over 100 (closer to 150) mosquito bites. I wanted to die. A lot.
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 9 years
Thanks for the info, silly3. I will be traveling to Africa next year and definitely want to avoid mosquito bites. I will have to check out the Ultrathon!
NatureMadeLisa NatureMadeLisa 9 years
I would be curious to hear the definition of "long term use" from the FDA.
tlsgirl tlsgirl 9 years
I get so eaten alive by mosquitoes that I'm okay with a little DEET risk. Especially since I've been using it for such a long time and have never had an adverse effect from it.
swt-strwbrry-sgr swt-strwbrry-sgr 9 years
Ultrathon is great!
Renees3 Renees3 9 years
Dude I have mosquito ISSUES! Everytime I go camping or something I get eaten alive. And if I'm around no one else gets bit. They turn into HUGE welts. I hate it.
silly3 silly3 9 years
Several years ago, I visited a travel nurse for shots before spending the summer in the Dominican Republic. She recommended 3M Ultrathon Insect Repellent, pointing out that it was developed for the military. It contains DEET but has a polymer base instead of a water base, making the DEET much less able to absorb into your skin. I needed a very small amount of it to keep the mosquitoes at bay. More information (obviously biased since it's the 3M website):
Safest Bug Sprays For Babies and Kids
Natural Bug Repellents
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