- Are all natural bug sprays or insect repellents actually safer?
- And... are they just as effective?
Well, we'll let you make up your mind, but here's what we know:
What is DEET?
Most bug sprays contain an active chemical called DEET, which is a fancy way of saying diethyltoluamide! Die-thy-what? Exactly! Let's just call it DEET!
DEET was produced during World War II and used during the Vietnam War for soldiers operating for long hours in areas that had a lot of mosquitoes and where those mosquitoes sometimes carried malaria, dengue, or other diseases. Some of those diseases - like dengue - are not curable or even treatable... you just have to suffer through this "bone-breaking" disease for about a week! Eek! Obviously, the US Army wanted to prevent its soldiers from getting these kinds of diseases, and DEET became one way to do that.
After the war, DEET was commercialized for use in insect repellents, and concerns were immediately raised as to whether it was overkill for backyard BBQs!
Well, is it Safe?
Well, that's complicated, and it depends who you ask. The US EPA says it is safe to use in certain concentrations. The EPA does advise that you wash the DEET off as soon as you are indoors, that you not spray it on your face, that you do not use it on babies, and that you do not use it under your clothes. Those are some restrictions! Also, Canada requires lower concentrations of DEET in commercial products than the United States and has more health warnings attached to its use.
Here's the "catch": DEET has a secondary use... wait until you hear this! DEET is also used as a solvent! Yup. A solvent! It can dissolve plastics, synthetic fabrics, and paint! Eek!
I learned this first-hand on a trip to Madagascar recently. My friends brought a bottle of bug spray from a brand that uses DEET. By the end of the week, I took this picture of the cap. No, really! Look at the plastic melting around the bottom! Ew! I couldn't help myself, and I sent the picture to Mom telling her I'm so glad I was using Tailored Touches' stuff instead!
DEET works very simply, and it doesn't kill mosquitoes. It merely wards them off by smell! That's it! That's how it works. However, there are many natural plants and oils that also ward off mosquitoes. See our blog post on this topic.
So, there are alternatives that are also effective? Yes!!
Here at Tailored Touches, All Natural See Ya! Insect Repellent uses a blend of essential oils that bugs hate but smell good to humans. Way better, right?
In sum, DEET is a very strong chemical... but it was specifically developed for soldiers (1) tromping through heavy jungle areas for (2) long periods where they were (3) susceptible to diseases like malaria that can kill you!
DEET was not designed for your backyard BBQ or fishing trip! In fact, none of those things apply to most people's needs. DEET can be overkill AND maybe it's not the most healthy thing to be putting on your skin (remember the solvent part??) Bug sprays made from all natural plants and oils are just as effective if they are applied regularly.
The bottom line is: if you're traveling somewhere that's mosquito-borne-disease-prone and you'll be outside for longer than a few hours, then maybe the risks of malaria/dengue outweigh the risks of DEET! But for daily summer use, is it worth the risk of applying a chemical (a solvent!) to your skin and bloodstream?
Try a friendlier alternative, and let us know how it works for you!