Insect repellent helps reduce your exposure to mosquitoes that may carry West Nile virus or other diseases, and allows you to continue to play, work and enjoy the outdoors with a lower risk of disease.
Use of Mosquito Repellent
Use repellent when you go outdoors, even if it is only for a few minutes. Many of the mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus bite between dusk and dawn. If you’re outside during these hours pay special attention to using repellent.
The most effective repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or permethrin. You can use DEET directly on skin and on clothing. You can use permethrin on clothing but not directly on skin. Both have proved to be very effective against a variety of biting insects.
Follow the directions on the product you are using. Sweating or getting wet may mean that you need to re-apply more frequently. Repellents with a higher concentration of active ingredient (such as DEET) provide longer-lasting protection.
How the Percentage of DEET in a Product Relates to Protection Time
A recent study indicates the following:
- A product containing 23.8 percent DEET provided an average of 5 hours of protection from mosquito bites.
- A product containing 20 percent DEET provided almost 4 hours of protection.
- A product with 6.65 percent DEET provided almost 2 hours of protection.
- Products with 4.75 percent DEET and 2 percent soybean oil were both able to provide roughly 90 minutes of protection.
You should use a higher percentage of DEET if you will be outdoors for several hours. You can use a lower percentage of DEET if time outdoors will be limited. You can also re-apply a product if you are outdoors for a longer time than expected and start to be bitten by mosquitoes.
Product labels often indicate the length of time that you can expect protection from a product. If you are concerned about using DEET, you may wish to consult your health care provider for advice.
The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) can also provide information through a toll-free number, (800) 858-7378 or http://npic.orst.edu.
General Considerations for Using Products Containing DEET Safely
- Always follow the instructions on the product label.
- Cover exposed skin or clothing. Don’t apply repellent under clothing.
- Do not apply repellent to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
- Wash treated skin with soap and water after returning indoors.
- Do not spray aerosol or pump products in enclosed areas.
- Do not apply aerosol or pump products directly to your face. Spray your hands and then rub them carefully over the face, avoiding eyes and mouth.
Using Products Containing DEET Safely on Children
DEET products can be applied safely to children when used according to manufacturer’s recommendations. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents with DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months old.
Repellent products that do not contain DEET are not likely to offer the same degree of protection from mosquito bites as products containing DEET. Non-DEET repellents have not necessarily been as thoroughly studied as DEET, and may not be safe for use on children.
Always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label when using repellent.
- Do not allow young children to apply insect repellents to themselves.
- When using repellent on a child, apply it to your own hands and then rub them on your child. Avoid children’s eyes and mouth and use it sparingly around their ears.
- Do not apply repellent to children’s hands. (Children may put their hands in their mouths.)
- Keep repellents out of reach of children.
- Do not apply repellent to skin under clothing. If repellent is applied to clothing, wash treated clothing before wearing again.
In addition to wearing repellent, you can protect yourself and your family by taking these precautions:
- Wear clothing with long pants and long sleeves while outdoors. Apply DEET or other repellents such as permethrin to clothing, as mosquitoes may bite through thin fabric. (Remember: don’t use permethrin on skin.)
- Use mosquito netting over infant carriers.
- Reduce the number of mosquitoes in your area by getting rid of containers with standing water that provide breeding places for the mosquitoes.
Using DEET Safely on Pregnant or Nursing Women
There are no reported adverse events following use of repellents containing DEET in pregnant or breastfeeding women.
Risks of Using Repellents Containing DEET
Use of these products may cause skin reactions in rare cases. If you suspect a reaction to this product, discontinue use, wash the treated skin, and call your local poison control center. There is a national number to reach a Poison Control Center near you: (800) 222-1222.
If you go to a doctor, take the product with you. Cases of serious reactions to products containing DEET have been related to misuse of the product, such as swallowing, using over broken skin, and using for multiple days without washing skin in between use, for example.
Whenever possible, wash skin between applications of DEET. Always follow the instructions on the product label.
Insect repellents containing picaridin have been used for many years in Europe and Australia, but it is relatively new in the United States. Some people prefer repellents with picaridin because they are lighter on the skin and have less odor than products with DEET.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-based repellent, is also registered with EPA. This type of repellent provides protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET. However, oil of lemon eucalyptus has only been tested on domestic mosquitoes and its effect on mosquitoes that spread malaria and some internationally occurring diseases in unknown.
More Information about Repellents
For more information about using repellents safely please consult the EPA Web site (www.epa.gov/pesticides/factsheets/alpha_fs.htm) or consult the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), which is cooperatively sponsored by Oregon State University and the U.S. EPA. NPIC can be reached at http://npic.orst.edu or (800) 858-7378.
Updated on: August 23, 2018