By Jeffrey A. Morrison, M.D.
It’s summer time! Time for fun outdoor activities like cookouts, camping and family gatherings. Summer is also full of dangerous pests–mosquitoes, ticks and biting insects.
The combination of a warm winter and a cool, wet spring has created an optimal breeding environment for unwelcome insects. Not only are they annoying, think of itchy bites and incessant buzzing, but they also carry serious infections like Lyme disease and West Nile virus.
DEET (Diethyltoluamide), a widely used insect repellent, is made to be applied to the skin or fabrics. It is generally considered safe when used as directed on the bottle. Directions for use focus on only applying to intact skin and avoid applying to the hands, near the eyes or mouth of young children who may accidentally ingest it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics position on the use of DEET in children is that it is generally considered safe. However, DEET can be absorbed through the skin, so I recommend applying it only to clothing, like pant legs, shirt sleeves or on a hat.
The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) classifies DEET as slightly toxic or Category III. Symptoms of toxicity to DEET include skin irritation, headaches, irritability, loss of coordination, low blood pressure and seizures.
So, should you freak out about DEET?
I say, use with caution! The goal is to apply the least effective amount, wash it off the skin after it’s not needed, and wash DEET treated clothing before re-use.
If you want to enjoy your summer outside while avoiding exposure to toxic insecticides, consider my list of better natural insect repellents:
- Essential oil of lavender or eucalyptus
- Catnip, citrus, or neem oil
- Boric acid
- Pyrethrin (extract of chrysanthemum flowers)
Jeffrey A. Morrison, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The Morrison Center for Integrative Medicine in New York City, award-winning author of Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind, Board Certified in Family Practice and Integrative Medicine and Vice President of the American College for the Advancement in Medicine (ACAM).