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Is DEET safe? Health risks of bug spray’s active ingredient

DEET is the active ingredient in many bug sprays and works to repel insects. Concerning reports about serious side effects, health risks and whether DEET is safe exist. However these incidents typically involve improper usage of bug spray.

person applying bug spray on skin questioning if deet is safe and its health risks
Applying DEET correctly is key to safe usage of the product.

“People that have swallowed products containing DEET have experienced stomach upset, vomiting and nausea. Very rarely, exposure to DEET has been associated with seizures in people. Most of these reactions have happened after drinking products with DEET in them or using the products in ways that do not follow label directions,” according to the National Pesticide Information Center.

Less seriously, some people experience rashes or irritated skin when using a DEET bug spray. In addition, DEET can irritate the eyes if you apply it too closely to them. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents not use DEET on babies younger than two months. Additionally, parents should help their children apply DEET to help avoid getting in sensitive areas like the eyes or mouth.

RELATED ARTICLE: Mosquito repellents: How best to protect your kids

DEET during pregnancy

While the general consensus is that using DEET for pregnant women poses little health risks, there are some things to consider. This article from the National Library of Medicine takes a deep dive into all potential issues for pregnant women using DEET. In general, the benefits of using DEET during pregnancy may outweigh the risks.

“DEET is the most effective protection against mosquitoes and ticks that can carry malaria, Lyme disease, dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika virus and West Nile virus. Any of these diseases during pregnancy can have harmful effects on a developing baby,” according to the article.

The bottom line

“Overall, for most people, DEET is safe and effective when applied correctly,” said Melissa Koopman, physician assistant in Dermatology for Marshfield Clinic Health System. “You can minimize exposure to DEET by applying it just once a day, which should be sufficient to repel insects. A little goes a long way.”

For questions about bug spray, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

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2 responses to “Is DEET safe? Health risks of bug spray’s active ingredient”

  1. Vicki

    Is there a recommendation on what do use on babies or children under three years of age? Everything seems to go into small children's mouths so I'm concerned about using products containing DEET on my grandchild..

    1. Jordan Simonson

      Hi Vicki, This article may provide additional options: https://shine365.marshfieldclinic.org/kids-health/mosquito-repellents-kids/ -Thanks, Jordan

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