Human mosquito magnets preparing to venture outdoors this summer may not have to resort to slathering potentially-harmful chemicals onto their bodies to be bite-free. Natural products could be a safer way to repel those pesky buzzing bugs. That is, if they actually work for you.
What’s Wrong With DEET?
Extensive toxicity testing has found that DEET, a common ingredient in popular bug repellents, isn’t harmful when your exposure to the chemical is brief, notes the Environmental Protection Agency, but the number of conditions for safe use of the bug repellent is lengthy, and the agency doesn’t say what exactly it considers to “brief” exposure to the chemical.
For instance, traditional mosquito repellants like those made by OFF! contain DEET and can be used on exposed skin but shouldn’t be used under clothing, over irritated skin or in enclosed areas, the EPA warns.
The repellent should be removed using soap and water when you return indoors, and clothes that may have DEET on them should be washed before wearing again, the government agency says. The EPA says it doesn’t expect consumers to have long-term exposure to the chemical, but not everyone follows the directions and washes bug spray off as soon as they’re out of mosquitoes’ reach.
Additionally, while several studies have shown that DEET is safe for the general population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported side effects including lethargy, headaches, tremors, involuntary movements, seizures, and convulsions in children and delays in fetal development after continued exposure to DEET.
The Alternatives: Citronella
Bugs are attracted to humans by our smells and the carbon dioxide we breathe out, and DEET works by confusing bugs’ sense of smell, according to the Illinois Department of Public Heath. But essential oils and other natural scents can deter mosquitoes from biting you as well.
Citronella, an ingredient that can be found in candles and Tiki torch fuel, is also used in some insect repellent sprays for the body.