DEET is a popular insect repellent—an estimated 30 percent of Americans use it every year—yet it sounds like a good number of people are wary of it, too. A Google search of “DEET dangers” found a Mercola article saying DEET kills mosquitoes, although it doesn’t (Perhaps they’ve confused DEET with DDT?). A site called FitSugar says “DEET pumps through your nervous system and has been proven to kill brain cells,” neither of which is true. Weird! Guess DEET does really suffer from a “perception problem,” as the Los Angeles Times reported in 2011.
Despite assurances about the chemical, consumer concerns persist. Is there a reason to worry?
EWG’s science review concluded that although DEET certainly isn’t perfect, its safety profile is actually better than a lot of people think. Given that DEET is highly effective, reasonably safe and has been used billions of times, we concluded that it’s a reasonable choice when you need a repellent that really works.
But 100 percent DEET? Bad idea.
DEET is considered to be a safe insect repellent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Many people worry that it could be harmful to health, possibly because it is a synthetic chemical, but research shows that these worries are unfounded.
Experts will continue to study DEET for health concerns. But the existing research suggests that applying DEET is a safe, effective way to protect yourself and your family from potentially disease-carrying bugs.
People do the darnedest things in hopes of avoiding mosquito bites. They burn cow dung, coconut shells or coffee. They drink gin and tonic. They eat bananas. They spray themselves with mouthwash or slather themselves in clove/alcohol solution. And they rub themselves with Bounce.
Here are a few key answers to some of the biggest myths surrounding DEET, and how you can choose better alternatives.
Poor DEET—nobody wants to invite it to their birthday party. And that's very sad, because DEET is the most tested insect repellent available on the market. “Concerns over the safety of DEET first emerged during the 1980s after reports of encephalopathy following DEET exposure, particularly in children. However, the role of DEET in either the illness or deaths was and remains purely speculative,” says this recent meta-study on the safety of DEET.
Despite its risks, the popular insect repellent is often still the best option.
Every year, approximately one-third of the U.S. population uses mosquito repellants containing DEET to ward off mosquitoes and other pests. At present, DEET is used in more than 230 products with concentrations up to 100 percent. Duke University Medical Center pharmacologist Mohamed Abou-Donia has spent 30 years researching the effects of pesticides.
Products such as DEET are effective at repelling insects, but they contain chemicals many of which are toxic to the human body. Many of them recommend washing hands thoroughly immediately after handling the product. In my search for a more natural way of repelling mosquitoes, I came up with the following methods...
It’s a very effective insect repellent, and true to its name as a repellent, it doesn’t kill insects, it just keeps them from landing on you. There’s a theory that it prevents bugs from smelling you, so they’re uninterested in coming closer.
DEET, a chemical in bug sprays, affects the behavior of highly diverse organisms -- but how it works remains unclear. New research in C. elegans shows that the compound exploits unique receptors and neurons to interfere with the animals' response to odors.
If DEET is so effective, why the need to search for new repellents? The safety of DEET continues to be raised but despite being used by millions of people every year, there are very few reported cases of adverse health impacts if repellents are used as directed.
Developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1944, DEET was used to protect troops in tropical countries, and licensed for public use in 1957. But despite its long history, no one really knows how it works—only that it does. Vosshall originally suspected that DEET blocks Orco but now thinks that the chemical bamboozles their sense of smell in more complicated ways.
Yet another review of the science answers: Yes.