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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Bug Repellent Safety
      Category : Health Centers > Poisoning and Toxicology

Bug Repellent Safety

Bug repellent safety refers to the proper use of chemicals applied to the skin or clothing to ward off insects. If they are not used correctly, these substances can sometimes cause serious side effects.

What is the information for this topic?

Many products on the market keep away insects. The ones that work the best contain the chemical diethyltoluamide, better known as DEET. DEET has been used for over 40 years. It is very effective against bites by:

  • mosquitoes
  • fleas
  • ticks
  • chiggers
  • biting flies
  • Neither DEET nor other repellents are able to deter stinging insects such as bees, hornets, and wasps.

    DEET is available in the U.S. in strengths ranging from 5% concentration to 100%. It comes in a variety of forms, including:

  • lotions
  • sprays
  • creams
  • gels
  • For the most part, DEET has a very safe record. An estimated 200 million people around the world use it every year without reported problems. But the chemical is absorbed through the skin, so it can cause a toxic reaction if used in high doses. There have been a few cases of neurologic problems in young children as a result of high doses of DEET. For this reason:

  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children not use bug repellents containing more than 10% DEET.
  • For most purposes, adults using insect repellent should choose concentrations of 30% or less.
  • The amount of DEET can vary from one product to the next, so it is important to read the label before choosing a bug repellent.
  • People should also be aware that:

  • Using DEET at the same time as a sunscreen can prevent the sunscreen from working as well.
  • DEET can damage plastics, synthetic fabrics, leather, and painted surfaces, so it should be applied carefully.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called EPA, offers these guidelines for the safe use of all types of insect repellents.

  • Apply to exposed skin or clothing only as the package directs. Do not apply repellent under clothing.
  • Do not apply to cuts, wounds, or broken skin.
  • Keep out of the eyes and mouth. Use only small amounts around the ears. When applying repellent to the face, spray it first into the hands, then rub onto the face.
  • Do not let children handle the repellent or get it on their hands. Adults should apply it to children.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas.
  • Use just enough to cover exposed skin. Avoid heavy application.
  • Wash with soap and water after returning indoors. This is especially important if insect repellent is used day after day. Wash clothes that have been treated as well.
  • Stop use and call the poison control center if a reaction is suspected.

    Author: Stephanie Slon, BA
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 02/11/02

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