Is DEET Safe?

April 29, 2019

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With the return of the hot weather, our nemesis the mosquito will once again be out in full force. For many years researchers and experts have said the truly effective way to prevent bites from mosquitos and many other pests is from using an insect repellent that contains DEET. Although experts agree that the chemical is safe and effective when used as directed, about 25% of Americans say they avoid using insect repellents with DEET with a third of those believing repellents containing DEET are not as safe as those that don't have the chemical. So is DEET safe to use on yourself, for kids and women who are pregnant?  The balance of data indicates that DEET is safe when used as directed. In 1998 the Environmental Protection Agency looked for evidence of the harmful effects of DEET. Since it has been available in 1960, there were 46 seizures and four deaths that were potentially linked to DEET exposure. However those instances were caused by ingesting or skin application not consistent with label instructions. That's a potential link to DEET exposure that is one per 100 million uses. In the late 1990s a report out linking child brain damage with DEET, which triggered a wave of fear among consumers. But the study was flawed in following the 14 cases of children 8 and younger that suffered brain damage associated with DEET.  Considering it didn't take into account other environmental issues and that 11 of the children in the report recovered completely, most discount these findings. Another alarming report was released a few years ago linking pregnant women with DEET exposure to low birth weights. However that study was flawed as well as the doses of DEET given to test animals was much higher than the any normal human dose, and those findings about low birth weight were not replicated in other animal studies. As always, consult your doctor before using any chemical repellent on yourself or your children. As for the environment, DEET is safe for the most part. Plenty of DEET gets into the air when you spray it (especially if you’re using an aerosol). But according to the CDC, the chemical is broken down by sunlight and by other chemicals in the air. In 5 hours time, one-half of the DEET released into the atmosphere will disappear this way. As for our water, DEET is degraded by aerobic microorganisms. In general, it does not stay in the environment for very long. When you consider the overall picture and decades of data, DEET is safe to use as long as you follow the application directions.

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SOURCE: Consumer Reports

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