Now that the weather is finally warming up, we can actually see Summer approaching just around the corner. Summertime means kids out of school, days at the park and gossiping out on the porch in the late evenings. For everything good thing there is always a downside. Not only does the warm weather bring more people outdoors, but also brings out the dreaded biting, stinging insects!
It is important to protect yourself against those critters (for example, mosquitos may carry West Nile virus) and the best way to do so is with the use of insect repellents (We also advise staying indoors at dawn and dusk and wearing long sleeves and pants.) The most common ingredient found in insect repellents is N,N-Diethyl-M-toluamide, also known as DEET. Most commercial products are designed to be administered on the exposed skin and act to repel insects. Products currently available on the market are made in concentrations that range anywhere from 4% to 100%. The higher percentage does not confer a better effect, but rather just means that it may not require multiple applications throughout the day due to its longer effects.
There are multiple types of DEET products available that come in various forms such as lotions, sprays, liquids and other products like wristbands that have DEET built-in. Any of the agents are safe and effective to use but the application is what is of most concern. When applying DEET products to young children, it is important to keep away from hands, around the eyes or mouth. You also want to make sure to avoid application to irritated or broken skin. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), insect repellents containing a lower concentration, up to DEET 30%, can be safely administered to children greater than two months of age. More recommendations from the AAP can be found at AAP – insect repellent.
If you want to avoid using products with DEET, there are alternative options which include repellents containing picaridin, citronella oil or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Most conventional repellents contain DEET or picaridin. Repellent containing oil of lemon eucalyptus or citronella oil are considered biopesticide repellents, which are made from natural materials. Either of the listed products can be used but it is important to follow the directions on the product labeling when applying the various agents.
Safety is all in the technique!
- When applying a spray, it is important to do so in an open area so as to avoid inhalation of large amounts.
- When applying to the face, it is important to spray the product on your hands first and use that to apply to the face.
- Areas of the skin that are covered with clothing do not require application of insect repellent.
After coming indoors, it is important to make sure that all areas of application are washed thoroughly with soap and water. Toxic effects of DEET occur when there is accidental ingestion or over application of the products, especially with those having higher concentrations.
- Some symptoms to be aware of include confusion, imbalance, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
- Severe symptoms include coma or seizures. When applying the agents, it is important to follow the directions on the product.
For additional information on DEET or other products, feel free to visit the following sites:
- Illinois Department of Public Health
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Picaridin fact sheet
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus
With summer around the corner, always remember to practice safe application of insect repellent! If you have any questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact the Illinois Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222