Would you knowingly spray a chemical on yourself or your children that has been linked to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction? A chemical that has been found by the National Institutes for Health to cross the placenta, that sacred barrier that protects unborn children from harmful substances? Of course not.
But, for years, consumers have accepted the potential neurotoxic health effects of DEET in insect repellents in exchange for the assurance that the chemical works well, lasts long—and protects against West Nile virus. Earlier this June, Michigan recorded its first cases of the disease in three crows in Ingham County. Within days, the state put out the call for preparedness. "Michiganders should take the precautionary steps of applying repellents during peak mosquito biting periods such as dusk and dawn and to drain standing water around their homes to remove mosquito breeding sites," according to a State of Michigan press release.
The State advises using mosquito repellent products containing active ingredients registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Fortunately, consumer demand for safer products, coupled with scientific research has created a thriving market for effective DEET alternatives. Picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and para-menthane-diol (PMD, synthesized oil of lemon eucalyptus) are all EPA-registered active ingredients; but don’t have known adverse human health effects.
Research shows that some botanical oils, such as soybean, geraniol, thyme, citronella, and clove, also protect against insect bites, but may require more frequent application. Protection times range from 1.5 - 5 hours versus 2 – 8 hours for EPA-registered active ingredients. Manufacturers are not recquired to register these botanical oils as active ingredients with the EPA due to the lack of any safety concerns.
Botanical/ Minimum Risk
(Exempt from EPA registration due to no safety concerns)
Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray
Burt’s Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
Cutter Natural Insect Repellent
Hom’s Bite Blocker
Jason Quit Bugging Me! Insect Repellent
Repel Natural Insect Repellent
If you do rely upon DEET-containing products, remember these tips:
For all insect repellents, the EPA recommends:
To help you find the right product for you, consult: