Know 6 Dangers of Insect Repellents Containing DEET and Start Using Safer Alternatives Backed By Science

Although the synthetic compound has been in use for more than 40 years, researchers note that it can present some harmful side effects.

The DEET is a chemical compound present in the most effective insect repellents of the market.

In an effort to prevent insect bites and insect-borne diseases such as Zika, West Nile virus, Keystone virus, and Lyme disease, you can automatically turn to products that contain DEET.

It is true that DEET-containing products are widely available.

Perhaps DEET is even your family’s first line of defense in avoiding insect bites. And it makes sense, given that insect-borne diseases continue to increase in the United States and Latin America.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diseases from mosquito, tick, and flea bites have tripled in the US, with more than 640,000 reported cases between 2004 and 2016.

A 2018 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases sought to determine recent patterns for pediatric Lyme disease in Pennsylvania.

After analyzing the electronic medical records of all patients diagnosed with Lyme disease between 2003 and 2013, researchers at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh (CHP) found that 773 patients met the CDC case definition for the disease. of Lyme.

The research highlighted the exponential increase in Lyme disease cases in Pennsylvania children. The data also shows that the disease also migrates from rural to non-rural zip codes.

Study author Andrew Nowalk, MD, PhD, an infectious disease specialist with the CHP Division of Infectious Diseases, indicates that Lyme cases in children’s hospital increased 50-fold between 2003 and 2013.

Current models aim at early detection of an epidemic.

The spread of vector-borne diseases is undoubtedly one of the health effects of climate change, and the data is scary.

Clearly, we must be cautious in protecting ourselves and our children from insect-borne diseases. And it’s more important than ever to take a closer look at our bug repellent product options.

Although DEET is known to be the most effective insect repellent, research shows that it can trigger toxic side effects in some situations.

And with over 500 DEET-containing products on the market, with different concentrations and ingredients, choosing the safest repellent for you and your children can be confusing.

The Environmental Working Group identifies DEET (in concentrations below 30 percent) as one of its top picks for reducing the risk of life-altering diseases from tick and mosquito bites with low toxicity problems.

But the organization emphasizes that caution and proper application are essential. It also identifies science-backed DEET-free options. (Information on this later).

So before you spray on that conventional and possibly troublesome bug spray, consider using more natural alternatives instead. (And if you stick to DEET, know at least how to apply it correctly.)

Dangers of DEET products

According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, most cases of serious side effects caused by DEET involve long-term, excessive, frequent, or whole-body application.

When applied with common sense and only to exposed skin for short periods of time, many researchers believe that DEET can be used as an effective and safe way to prevent insect-borne diseases.

Still, people today are not only dealing with DEET, but rather a toxic body burden threat that includes daily exposure to dozens, if not hundreds, of different chemicals.

In some cases, DEET can only cause minor to serious reactions and conditions, including the following conditions:

1. Allergic reactions

For some people, when DEET is applied to the skin, especially over a long period of time, it can cause adverse reactions such as redness, rash, swelling, and hives.

Case studies suggest that some people may be at risk for allergic reactions and even anaphylaxis from exposure to DEET.

One case involved a 53-year-old bridge inspector who suffered from severe itching of the skin (called pruritus) and erythema, involving redness of the skin, fever and blisters, after an insect repellent containing DEET was applied topically.

The next time she used a product containing DEET, she developed hives and puffy eyes. She called 911 and they gave her a Benadryl injection.

Nova Southeatern University in Florida published another case study describing a 22-year-old man who developed hives immediately after applying insect repellent and coming into contact with others who had used repellants containing DEET.

And according to reports made to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, symptoms associated with exposure to DEET are related to the route of exposure, with the highest rates caused by eye exposure, followed by inhalation, exposure skin and ingestion.

Although 70 percent of the cases reported for poison control (between 1993 and 1997) did not develop symptoms, some individuals experienced significant side effects and required medical treatment, including two deaths after skin exposure.

2. Seizures and brain malfunction

In some cases, ingesting DEET can cause seizures. There are also reports of DEET-induced seizures in children.

According to a case analysis published in Human and Experimental Toxicology, clinical reports of children under the age of 16 who suffered brain damage indicate that symptoms may be caused not only by ingestion of DEET, and repeated and extensive application.

It can also happen from a brief exposure to insect repellent. The most prominent symptom among the reported cases was seizures, which affected 72 percent of the patients and were significantly more frequent when DEET products were applied to the skin.

The researchers concluded that “repellants containing DEET are not safe when applied to children’s skin and should be avoided in children.”

3. Gulf War Syndrome

Gulf War Syndrome is a condition that affects Gulf War veterans and causes chronic headaches, fatigue, respiratory disorders, and skin conditions.

Researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that the occurrence of these symptoms may be related to simultaneous exposure to multiple agents that were used to protect the health of service personnel, particularly DEET, pyridostigmine bromide, and the insecticide permethrin.

When the toxic effects of these agents were tested in chickens, the researchers found that when used in combinations, they produced greater neurotoxicity than that caused by individual agents.

This may be because the antineuronal agent can “pump” more DEET into the central nervous system, causing neuropathological injury and nerve damage.

Although this condition specifically affects those who served in the Gulf War, it may indicate a concern for anyone who is exposed to certain chemical mixtures including DEET.

4. Carcinogenic properties

While studies indicate mixed results, there is some evidence that DEET contains carcinogenic properties that can produce dangerous effects when inhaled or applied to the skin.

Scientists in Germany investigated the genotoxic effects of three widely used pesticides, including DEET.

When cells from tissue biopsies were exposed to DEET for 60 minutes, the pesticide showed potential carcinogenic effects on cells of the human nasal mucosa.

And according to a case study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, exposure to DEET, herbicides, and rubber gloves, which are recommended for farmers when mixing or applying pesticides, increase the chances of developing NHL .

Non-Hodgkin lymphoma is a group of cancers that develop in white blood cells.

5. Toxic for pets

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center advises that when pets are exposed to products containing DEET, it can cause significant clinical side effects.

If DEET is sprayed in a pet’s eyes, it can cause problems such as conjunctivitis, scleritis, corneal ulceration, and blepharospasm. If this happens, you should rinse it with your pet’s eyes for at least 15 minutes.

If your pet inhales the compound DEET, this can cause inflammation of the airways and difficulty breathing.

General exposure to DEET can also cause gastrointestinal problems or side effects such as disorientation, tremors, vomiting, tremors, and seizures.

6. Environmental impact

The US Environmental Protection Agency says that DEET can be mildly toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. When testing DEET on freshwater fish and insects, it was toxic at extremely high levels.

According to the National Pesticide Information Center, DEET is detected in wastewater and in places where wastewater travels to other bodies of water. Even low concentrations produce slight toxicity in cold-water fish.

When sprayed, DEET remains in the air as mist or vapor and must break down in the atmosphere. The time it takes to decompose depends on temperature, humidity, and wind.

DEET can also enter the environment through soil, where it is said to be moderately mobile.

If you choose to use DEET as your insect repellent, there are some precautions you can take to avoid potential side effects or adverse reactions.

According to the CDC, be sure to follow these instructions when using products that contain DEET:

  • Do not apply to irritated skin, cuts or wounds.
  • Do not apply to the hands or near the eyes and mouth.
  • Do not use in small children.
  • Do not wear under clothing.
  • Only apply to exposed skin (and minimize exposed skin by wearing long sleeves and pants).
  • Do not apply in excess.
  • Wash the product off your skin with soap and water after use.
  • Wash clothing that has come in contact with DEET before reuse.

Better alternatives to avoid DEET

The bug repellants that line your grocery and drug store shelves can be divided into two categories: those made with synthetic chemicals and those made with essential oils and plant-derived ingredients.

Because many consumers are reluctant to apply DEET to their skin, in fear of developing an allergic reaction or even more serious side effects, natural or possibly safer alternatives are available.

Here’s a breakdown of some of the best alternatives to DEET:

1. Lemon eucalyptus oil

Lemon eucalyptus oil is the only plant-based active ingredient for insect repellants approved by the CDC. Studies show it has protective effects against mosquitoes and ticks, and Consumer Reports tests confirm this.

In other research, when insect repellants containing eucalyptus oil were tested on five subjects exposed to mosquitoes, they provided a range of protection of 60 to 217 minutes.

Lemon eucalyptus oil should not be used by young children. Before using it on your skin, do a patch test on a small area of ​​skin to make sure it does not cause adverse reactions.

2. Citronella oil

Scientific evidence suggests that citronella oil is an effective alternative repellent against mosquitoes and has a protection time of approximately two hours.

The EPA has classified citronella oil as an insect repellent due to its high efficacy, low toxicity, and customer satisfaction, but it may not be as effective at higher temperatures.

And when citronella oil was evaluated for its protective effects against mosquito-borne diseases in rural Nepal, the researchers found that it “can be used as an easily accessible, affordable and effective alternative mosquito repellent.”

3. Picaridin

Picaridin is a synthetic compound that resembles the natural compound piperine, a compound found in the group of plants that produce black pepper. It is used on human skin to repel mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, flies, and chiggers.

Some studies show that people who develop allergic reactions to insect repellants containing DEET may not have the same reaction to solutions containing picaridin, making it an acceptable alternative for those who are sensitive to DEET.

When the researchers evaluated the safety of picaridin during mass community use for malaria control in rural Cambodia, they found that adverse reactions and abuse were rare.

They also found that these reactions were generally mild, supporting the safety of picaridin-containing products in avoiding mosquito illnesses.

4. Geraniol

Geraniol is an extracted oil that comes from plants like geraniums and lemongrass. It is known for its ability to repel mosquitoes and ticks.

Research published in the Journal of Vector Ecology suggests that geraniol may have significantly more repellent activity than citronella both indoors and outdoors, although both natural substances repelled significantly more mosquitoes than unprotected controls.

The researchers found that when used indoors, the repellency of geraniol candles was 50 percent, while geraniol diffusers repelled mosquitoes by 97 percent. Outdoors, the repellency rate of geraniol was 75 percent.

And a study in Morocco found that when a 1 percent geraniol spray was used on cows to prevent ticks, it showed a reduction in the average number of ticks per animal.

5. Soybean oil

Soybean oil is an active ingredient in some natural insect repellants used to protect humans against mosquitoes.

When researchers at the University of Florida compared the effectiveness of repellants against mosquito bites, they found that the only natural solution that approximated the effectiveness of DEET was a soybean oil-based repellent, which provided protection against mosquito bites. mosquito for 95 minutes.

Final thoughts

Although DEET is known to be the most effective insect repellent, research shows that it can have toxic side effects in some situations, affecting the skin, brain, and cells of humans and pets.

The Environmental Working Group considers DEET, picaradin and IR3535 insect repellents to be safe, but only when applied correctly.

Most cases of serious side effects caused by DEET involve long-term, deep, frequent, or whole-body application.

But for some people, DEET can lead to adverse skin reactions, seizures and brain malfunction, fatigue, breathing problems, and possibly even cancer.

DEET can also be toxic to our pets and have a negative environmental impact.

Some DEET alternatives that also protect against insect-borne diseases and have a better safety profile include:

  • Lemon eucalyptus oil.
  • Citronella oil.
  • Picaridin.
  • Geraniol.
  • Soy oil.