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The Insect Repellent DEET

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DEET (chemical name, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient in many insect repellent products. It is used to repel biting pests such as mosquitoes and ticks, including ticks that may carry Lyme disease. Every year, approximately one-third of the U.S. population is expected to use DEET. Products containing DEET currently are available to the public in a variety of liquids, lotions, sprays, and impregnated materials (e.g., wrist bands). Formulations registered for direct application to human skin contain from 4 to 100% DEET. Except for a few veterinary uses, DEET is registered for use by consumers, and it is not used on food.

DEET is designed for direct application to human skin to repel insects, rather than kill them. After it was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946, DEET was registered for use by the general public in 1957. Approximately 140 products containing DEET are currently registered with EPA by about 39 different companies.

Safety review of DEET completed in 1998

After completing a comprehensive re-assessment of DEET, EPA concluded that, as long as consumers follow label directions and take proper precautions, insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern. Human exposure is expected to be brief, and long-term exposure is not expected. Based on extensive toxicity testing, the Agency believes that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population. EPA completed this review and issued its reregistration decision (called a RED) in 1998. (More about REDs)

How to use DEET products safely

Consumers can reduce their own risks when using DEET by reading and following products labels. All DEET product labels include the following directions:

Using DEET on children

DEET is approved for use on children with no age restriction. There is no restriction on the percentage of DEET in the product for use on children, since data do not show any difference in effects between young animals and adult animals in tests done for product registration. There also are no data showing incidents that would lead EPA to believe there is a need to restrict the use of DEET. Consumers are always advised to read and follow label directions in using any pesticide product, including insect repellents.

What to do in the event of a potential reaction to DEET

If you suspect that you or your child is having an adverse reaction to this product, discontinue use of the product, wash treated skin, and call your local poison control center or physician for help. If you go to a doctor, take the repellent container with you.

Benefits of DEET products

DEET's most significant benefit is its ability to repel potentially disease-carrying insects and ticks. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) receives more than 20,000 reports of Lyme disease (transmitted by deer ticks) and 100 reports of encephalitis (transmitted by mosquitoes) annually. Both of these diseases can cause serious health problems or even death in the case of encephalitis. Where these diseases are endemic, the CDC recommends use of insect repellents when out-of-doors. Studies submitted to EPA indicate that DEET repels ticks for about three to eight hours, depending on the percentage of DEET in the product.

Deet Registration Information

DEET Reregistration Eligibiltity Decision (RED) (456 KB, PDF, 134 pages, About PDF)

DEET RED Fact Sheet (25 KB, PDF, 5 pages, About PDF)

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