The 411 on DEET and Non Toxic Bug Spray

I’m not sure where along the road DEET began to get a bad reputation but I decided to look further into this topic and see just for myself if that rumor was true. I live in Texas where the mosquitoes are out in droves and we NEED bug spray. I based all my research from the EPA, CDC, EWG, and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Before I begin sharing my findings I want to be very clear that the sole purpose of this post is to share facts and only facts. So, let’s get down to it!

DEET [N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide]

Quick History

DEET was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946 but was not registered for public use until 1957. There are currently 120 products containing DEET registered with the EPA. DEET was designed for direct application on the skin to repel against mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, and other insects. DEET has undergone extensive research by the EPA since it’s conception 72 years ago to ensure it’s effectiveness and safety to the general public.

What exactly does “EPA Registered” mean?

Basically, companies have to submit an application of registration including their formula to be reviewed by the EPA along with research showing that their product does what the label says it’s going to do. This is a long extensive process that takes months and even years to ensure products meet the current and regulatory standards. It is in place to hold companies accountable and ensure that consumers are safe.

DEET Concerns

*Research has concluded that these symptoms can occur when a person is exposed to high concentrations of DEET.

  • In very rare cases DEET can impair the nervous system with symptoms including seizures, tremors, and slurred speech.
  • Skin irritation such as rashes and blisters
  • Can damage plastic, cameras, backpacks, rubber, and vinyl clothing
  • Can cause dizziness and headaches

More in-depth information here

Using DEET Safely

  • not recommended for children under 2 months
  • Use only on exposed skin
  • follow label instructions
  • do not apply over open wounds and irritated skin
  • do not allow young children to apply product themselves
  • do not apply to young children’s hands or near eyes and mouth
  • do not over apply
  • wash off once done

More in-depth safety tips here

What exactly does DEET concentration mean?

“The concentration of DEET in a product indicates how long the product will be effective. A higher concentration does not mean that the product will work better; It means that it will be effective for a
longer period of time. Therefore, products containing lower concentrations of DEET may need to be reapplied, depending on the length of time a person is outdoors.” – Centers For Disease Control

CDC Recommends using 20% – 50% DEET concentration (active ingredient) for adults and 20% – 30% for young children.


Other Effective Bug Repellent Options

Picaridin has been sold in the US since 2005 and has proven to be close to or as effective as DEET without the neurotoxicity concern that DEET carries.

IR3535 has been used in the US since 1999. It’s another good alternative but isn’t as effective as DEET or Picaridin when fighting off mosquitoes. However, studies found that IR3535 performed better than DEET and picaridin at protecting against deer ticks.

Do all natural bug repellents really work?

Unfortunately, research has proven that they are not an effective alternative.

“EWG research indicates that unregistered, botanically based bug repellents are often not the best choice. The most common ones contain castor oil, cedar oil, citronella oil, clove oil, geraniol oil, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil and/or soybean oil. While effectiveness varies, and there may be a few exceptions, most botanicals repel bugs for a short time, if at all.” – Environmental Working Group 

If you are looking for a botanical all-natural bug repellent Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD is definitely the best option. According to the EPA 20 – 30 percent concentration Oil of Eucalyptus/ PMD performs much like 10 to 20 percent of DEET providing two hours of protection.

The CDC advises against the use of PMD for children younger than 3 years old because it’s dangers have yet to be thoroughly researched.

“Scientists do not know enough to determine differences between PMD and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, but one study found that Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus provided longer protection than the equivalent concentration of synthetic PMD. We conclude that Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus has disadvantages and is not appropriate for all situations, but is a good choice for people who want a botanically based bug repellent.” – Environmental Working Group 

In Conclusion

“The human health risk assessment concluded that there are no risks of concern because no toxic effects have been identified when used as a dermally applied insect repellent, and there is no dietary or occupational exposure for DEET. However, a Final Decision on the DEET registration review case will occur only after the EPA has completed an Endocrine Disruptor Screening under FFDCA section 408(p). Under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, EPA has prioritized chemicals for screening and DEET is lower on the priority list than chemicals currently being tested. “- EPA

“Studies in EPA’s database indicate that DEET repels ticks for about two to ten hours, and mosquitoes from two to twelve hours depending on the percentage of DEET in the product. “- EPA

“EWG researchers have analyzed the science in depth and found that, with proper application and precaution, our recommended active ingredients – Picaridin, DEET, and IR3535 – effectively reduce risk from life-altering disease and have very low toxicity concerns.”- EWG

“When used as directed, DEET is considered safe by many public health organizations, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization.” – EWG

The EPA said it had “no evidence that would lead [it] to believe that DEET is uniquely toxic to infants and/or children,” but it added that its personnel still had “concerns regarding these seizures, especially for children who are more susceptible to seizures in general and who receive a higher dose of DEET due to a greater surface area to body weight ratio.” – EWG

“Still, after reviewing the evidence, EWG has concluded that DEET is generally safer than many people assume and remains a viable option for people in areas infested with disease-carrying pests. As rates of bug-borne illnesses rise, people need bug repellents that work well when it counts.” – EWG

“EWG recommends that consumers who are in high-risk areas for bug-borne disease or who need long-lasting, effective bug protection avoid botanically based bug repellents, aside from Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. ” – EWG

Need help finding the right repellent that best fits your needs and standards?!  >Click here <

If you are still unsure about the information shared in this post I think the best thing you can do is talk to your healthcare provider about any further questions or concerns. I hope that this post was as helpful to you as it was for me and that you walked away with some good knowledge!



  • says:

    You actually make it seem so easy with your presentation but I find this matter to be really something which I think I would never understand. It seems too complex and extremely broad for me. I’m looking forward for your next post, I’ll try to get the hang of it!

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