To DEET or Not to DEET, That is the Question


To DEET or Not to DEET, That is the QuestionAre you concerned with the health aspects of DEET?  Are there better alternatives? Read on to see if you want to DEET or Not to DEET, that is the Question

DEET, (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) is the most effective insect repelling ingredient in most popular commercial insect repellants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 30 percent of the U.S. population applies DEET every year. In the more than 45 years that DEET has been used in the U.S., reports of adverse effects in humans associated with the external application of DEET have been relatively rare, given the billions of applications of the repellent. However, case reports of toxicity from DEET exposure have been documented in the medical literature, and range in severity from mild skin irritation to death.

In an article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002, Mark Fradin and John Day stated, “The worldwide threat of insect transmitted diseases underscores the need for effective insect repellents. Multiple chemical, botanical, and ‘alternative’ repellent products are marketed to consumers. We sought to determine which products available in the United States provide reliable and prolonged complete protection from mosquito bites.

“Our studies involved 15 volunteers to test the relative efficacy of seven botanical insect repellents; four products containing N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide, now called N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET); a repellent containing IR3535 (ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate); three repellent-impregnated wristbands; and a moisturizer that is commonly claimed to have repellent effects. These products were tested in a controlled laboratory environment in which the species of the mosquitoes, their age, their degree of hunger, the humidity, the temperature, and the light-dark cycle were all kept constant.

“DEET-based products provided complete protection for the longest duration. Higher concentrations of DEET provided longer-lasting protection. A formulation containing 23.8 percent DEET had a mean complete-protection time of 301.5 minutes. A soybean-oil-based repellent protected against mosquito bites for an average of 94.6 minutes. The IR3535-based repellent protected for an average of 22.9 minutes. All other botanical repellents we tested provided protection for a mean duration of less than 20 minutes. Repellent-impregnated wristbands offered no protection.

“Currently available non-DEET repellents do not provide protection for durations similar to those of DEET-based repellents and cannot be relied on to provide prolonged protection in environments where mosquito-borne diseases are a substantial threat.”

If you have ever tried Skin So Soft you didn’t need these folks to tell you it doesn’t work. And until recently, neither did any of the other non-DEET repellants.

I don’t like DEET. It melts fly lines and some other plastics, makes me feel gross, and in spite of the literature cited above I just don’t feel good about putting a toluene derivative on my skin. When the bugs are bad I use it, because it works. But it sure would be nice to have an alternative that was effective.

John Kumiski


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