One chemical found in many repellents is DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). Developed and tested in the 1940s and 1950s by the U.S. Army for use in jungle warfare during World War II, DEET is extremely efficient at repelling mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers and blood-feeding flies such as black flies and deer flies.
In addition to popular forms such as aerosols and pump sprays, DEET is also found in towelettes, lotions, creams and gels. The chemical keeps insects away for hours after application and can be applied over sunscreen.
But as long as DEET has been around, it has raised questions over its safety from citizens and scientists alike. Below are symptoms of using sprays that contain DEET in different parts of the body.SKIN
- Hives or mild skin redness and irritation. These symptoms are usually mild and will go away when the product is washed off the skin.
- More severe skin reactions that include blistering, burning, and permanent scars of the skin. These symptoms may occur when someone uses products that contain a large amount of DEET over a long period of time. Military personnel or game wardens may use these types of products.
- Temporary burning and redness, if DEET is sprayed into these parts of the body. Washing the area will usually make the symptoms go away. Burns to the eye may require medicine.
- Moderate to severe stomach irritation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low blood pressure
- Very slow heartbeat
- Insomnia and mood changes. These symptoms may occur with long-term use of large amounts of DEET (over 50% concentration).
- Clumsiness when walking
- By far, the most serious complication of DEET poisonings is damage to the nervous system. Death is possible for people who develop nervous system damage from DEET.
- DEET is especially dangerous for small children. Seizures may occur in small children who regularly have DEET on their skin for long periods of time. Care should be taken to use only products that have smaller amounts of DEET. These products should be used only for short periods of time. Products containing DEET probably should not be used on infants.
So what are some alternatives to DEET?
One of the newest arrivals on store shelves is picaridin, a substance derived from pepper that is popular in Europe and Australia. Studies by its manufacturer suggest that picaridin lasts for two to eight hours and is just as effective as DEET, but is less oily and completely odorless.
Below are symptoms of swallowing sprays that contain pyrethrins.
- Breathing difficulty
- Loss of alertness (stupor), from the blood oxygen level being out of balance
- Tremors (if a large amount is swallowed)
- Seizures (if a large amount is swallowed)
- Upset stomach
The EPA strongly recommends that consumers carefully read the instructions on bug spray products before applying them in order to ensure that they are applied safely, particularly on children.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises that DEET be sprayed over clothing, rather than directly onto the skin. Other steps to ensure that you're applying bug spray in the safest way possible include:
- Never apply bug sprays over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
- Do not apply on hands or near the eyes and mouth, especially of young children.
- Do not allow young children to apply DEET products themselves.
- After returning indoors, wash bug spray-treated skin with soap and water.
- Heavy application is not necessary to achieve protection, so apply it sparingly.
- Do not spray in enclosed areas.
- Some bug spray products cannot be used on children under three years old, so always check the label to make sure.