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The Dets About DEET

Posted by Molly Williams on

The Dets About DEET by  Molly Williams

Summer is here, and it’s brought the motherlode of bugs with it. We’ve been impacted by our fair share of ticks, black flies, and bloodthirsty mosquitoes in the past but this year seems particularly awful. So bad even Cory is using bug spray continuously, and it’s brought up another debate - the DEET debate.

What is it and when was it made?

DEET stands for N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide and it’s widely used by Americans each year. It was originally created in 1940s for the United States Army, and years later entered the consumer market as the best way to repel insects. DEET is certainly effective against mosquitoes, and offers a long lasting protection that is often lacking in natural versions. The DEET interrupts the mosquitos neurons in their antennae and causes them to become disoriented and avoid the protected area.

It sounds like it works - what’s the problem?

The problem is a study done in the 1980s introduced a series of negative implications of DEET while following Everglades National Park employees. They found skin irritation, numb lips, nausea, rashes, and headaches were common side effects while using DEET. This started a wave of concerns about the toxicity of DEET, and if it’s healthy for our bodies.

Later an additional study was done that showed rats exposed to prolonged use of DEET actually experienced brain cell death and behavioral changes. There were also cases of death in a neurotoxicity report related to DEET but they found it was unclear if the DEET was the direct cause of death ruling the results semi unclear.

However recent studies have shown the chemical is completely safe to use on skin, and side effects are rare.

That wasn’t helpful. Are you saying it’s okay to use?

It’s undeniable that DEET is one of the strongest resources against mosquitoes, and for some areas in the world that have Zika Virus and Malaria the risk of side effects is certainly worth gambling with. From our research, we can tell there’s a lot of unknowns and enough studies to make us question the safety of DEET.

Our recommendation would be to use a DEET product only when absolutely necessary (in an area with disease carrying mosquitoes) - not as a day to day option. There aren’t many long term DEET studies, and that makes us apprehensive about the negative impacts on brain health with prolonged use.

There are also limited studies on DEET use around our pets despite the ASPCA making a statement that says the chemical should never be used around animals.

A good rule of thumb is if it’s toxic to the plants and animals around us it’s probably not great for us either.

Tell us what you think. Do you use DEET products and did you learn anything new from this post? We want to hear from you!


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