I'm going on a week-long camping and hiking trip, and my destination is bound to be infested with mosquitoes. I want to get a bug spray that really works, but I've heard the only ones you can count on contain DEET. Is this chemical really that bad for me? I really don't want to deal with tons of itchy bites and definitely don't want to catch West Nile Virus. — Doubting DEET Diana
I can understand your concern, as there has been a lot of bad talk about DEET. To find out if you should go DEET-free, read more
Many sprays contain the chemical DEET, which I'm sure you've heard can be harmful to humans. The EPA says that if used as directed, bug sprays containing DEET are not harmful to us, although long-term exposure is. When you spray it on your skin, it gets absorbed and eventually enters the bloodstream. It pumps through your nervous system and has been proven to kill brain cells, causing neurological damage. If you have heavy exposure to DEET, you may experience memory loss, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and shortness of breath. Mosquito bites aren't looking so bad now, huh? DEET could be considered a poison, but the EPA feels that small doses are OK for us. So if you're using a product containing DEET, follow the directions on the bottle. Don't over-apply, and as soon as you go inside, wash your skin off with soap and water.
Also bug sprays range in the percentage of DEET. OFF! Family Care contains seven percent, while OFF! Deep Woods contains 25 percent. So if you're a little freaked out about DEET, go for ones that have a low percentage. If you're really freaked out, you can always choose a DEET-free repellent such as Herbal Armor, but be warned that it may not protect you as well.