What is DEET?
DEET is the most common active ingredient used in many insect repellent products. Also known by its chemical name, diethyltoluamide (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide), it’s the most effective active ingredient in insect repellents. DEET repels not only mosquitoes but also other disease-carrying pests like ticks.
The history of DEET actually goes back more than 50 years. The US Army developed DEET in 1946, using it during WWII in areas with high mosquito activity like jungles, where there was a higher probability of soldiers being infected by mosquito-borne diseases.
Today, many commercial insect repellent products use DEET as an active ingredient in combination with other substances. It’s now available for anyone to purchase. Some research says that over 30 percent of Americans use DEET each year to protect themselves from insect and pest problems. This is a significant amount of people, showing how big the mosquito problem in the US actually is.
How does DEET work?
You should apply DEET directly to your skin or clothing. DEET doesn’t kill mosquitoes but instead repels them for a certain amount of time. To kill insects, you have to use a mosquito fogger with a special insecticide formula.
The interesting thing about DEET is that there’s no clear evidence of how DEET works or why mosquitoes dislike it. For now, DEET is the most effective active ingredient in insect repellents. There are no other substances that can keep mosquitoes from biting us as well as DEET does.
In mosquito repellent products, you can find DEET in concentrations of up to 100%. Most insect repellents contain DEET in concentrations of between 20 and 50 percent, though.
The higher the concentration of DEET, the longer the repellent is going to provide protection.
For example, 100% DEET will provide up to 12 hours of protection. A product with 20% DEET will protect you for a couple of hours. Natural insect repellents, like those that contain citronella oil, will provide just 30 minutes to 1 hour of protection.
The best way to find a suitable insect repellent for different outdoor activities is to know for how long you’re going to be outdoors. The longer you’ll need protection against mosquitoes, the higher DEET concentration you’ll want to buy. After the repellent has stopped working, you can always reapply it to renew the protection.
Products Containing DEET
DEET is available in a large variety of mosquito-repelling products. The most common of these are aerosol sprays. Insect sprays are the easiest to use and carry with you, providing long-lasting protection against mosquitoes. You can use aerosol sprays on your skin and clothing.
Besides aerosol sprays, you can also find DEET in different liquid repellents and lotions that need to be applied directly to the skin. DEET is used in mosquito-repellent wipes, towelettes, sticks, and bracelets. The DEET concentration in these products can vary from 10 to 100%, depending on the type of product. These usually don’t provide the same level of protection as sprays and lotions, though.
When using a lotion or a spray on your clothing, don’t over apply it. Otherwise, the fabric will soak up the repellent and may become stained.
Safety Concerns When Using DEET
There have been many studies about whether DEET is dangerous, but there is no evidence that DEET can cause any health issues. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found DEET safe for adults and children when used according to their instructions for use. Some people are allergic to DEET, though. So, you must be careful when applying DEET for the first time, checking carefully for any rashes or other changes to your health.
Here are some general safety tips you’ll need to follow when applying DEET to your skin or clothing.
Don’t apply DEET to wounds, cuts, or rashes
Make sure you don’t have any open wounds, cuts, or rashes on your skin before applying DEET.
Don’t apply to your mouth, eyes, or ears and don’t spray it directly on your face
If you want to use DEET on your face, spray it on your hands first and then apply it to your face. Avoid inhaling the repellent when spraying it near your face.
Apply DEET in a very thin layer and don’t over-apply. Make sure to read the instructions that come with the repellent. Each product will have different recommendations for use and for the amount of repellent that needs to be applied each time. Also, don’t use DEET more frequently than recommended in the product’s instructions.
Don’t use under clothing
Don’t apply DEET under your clothing. The fabric will absorb the repellent from your skin, keeping it from being effective.
Don’t apply DEET near food
Make sure there aren’t any open containers, food, or dishes close to the area where you’re applying DEET. This is especially true when using aerosol sprays since the repellent can be easily blown away by even a slight breeze.
Be careful when applying DEET repellent on young children
Don’t apply DEET to the hands or near the eyes or mouth of young children.
Also, don’t allow children to play with insect repellents. Store repellents out of the reach of children.
Wash your skin and clothes after returning indoors
After going indoors, wash your skin with soap and water. Wash any clothing you have applied DEET to, making sure that you don’t wear that clothing again until it’s been washed and the DEET is gone.