DEET (chemical name, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient in many insect repellent products. It is widely used to repel biting pests such as mosquitoes and ticks. Every year, an estimated one-third of the U.S. population use DEET to protect them from mosquito-borne illnesses like West Nile Virus or malaria and tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Products containing DEET currently are available to the public in a variety of liquids, lotions, sprays, and impregnated materials (e.g., towelettes, roll on). 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 people’s skin to repel insects. Rather than killing them, DEET works by making it hard for these biting bugs to smell us. After it was developed by the U.S. Army in 1946, DEET was registered for use by the general public in 1957. Approximately 120 products containing DEET are currently registered with EPA by about 30 different companies.
On this page:
- Safety review of DEET
- Benefits of DEET products
- Using DEET products safely
- Using DEET on children
- What to do in the event of an apparent reaction to DEET
- DEET Registration Information
After completing a comprehensive re-assessment of DEET, EPA concluded that insect repellents containing DEET do not present a health concern. Consumers are advised to read and follow label directions when using any pesticide product, including insect repellents. Based on extensive toxicity testing, the Agency believes that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children. EPA completed this review and issued its reregistration decision (called a RED) in 1998. (More about REDs)
The Agency has just completed an interim review of DEET under the Registration Review Program to ensure that it continues to meet safety standards based on current scientific knowledge. The Agency has not identified any risks of concern to human health, non-target species or the environment. We’ve made our proposed interim registration review decision available for public comment at www.regulations.gov under docket number EPA-HQ-OPP-2012-0162. The public comment period on this Proposed Interim Decision opened on June 4 and will close on August 4, 2014.
EPA continues to believe that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children. As always, consumers are advised to read and follow label directions in using any pesticide product, including insect repellents. Currently registered uses of DEET are also not expected to result in adverse effects for listed and non-listed endangered species, or critical habitat. As such, EPA concludes “no effect” for listed species and no adverse modification of designated critical habitat for all currently registered uses of DEET.
The Proposed Interim Decision concluded that: (1) no additional data are required at this time; and (2) no changes to the affected registrations or their labeling are needed at this time. The human health risk assessment concluded that there are no risks of concern because no toxic effects have been identified when used as a dermally applied insect repellent, and there is no dietary or occupational exposure for DEET. However, a Final Decision on the DEET registration review case will occur only after the EPA has completed an Endocrine Disruptor Screening under FFDCA section 408(p). Under the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program, the agency has prioritized chemicals for screening and DEET is lower on the priority list than chemicals currently being tested. The agency will consider and respond to public comments on the Proposed Interim Decision for DEET, and then anticipates issuing an Interim Decision for DEET in late 2014.
DEET's most significant benefit is its ability to repel potentially disease-carrying insects and ticks. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) receives more than 20,000 reports of Lyme disease (transmitted by deer ticks) and 100 reports of encephalitis (transmitted by mosquitoes) annually and as of June 10, 2014, eight states had reported to CDC West Nile virus infections in people, birds, or mosquitoes. Each 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 in EPA’s database indicate that DEET repels ticks for about two to ten hours, and mosquitoes from two to twelve hours depending on the percentage of DEET in the product. More information on specific products and their protection times can be found here: http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/search_results.cfm
FIFRA requires that pesticides be used according to the approved label. Always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label. According to the CDC, DEET products used as directed, should not be harmful, although in rare cases using DEET products can cause skin irritation. All DEET product labels include the following directions to help reduce the chance of DEET irritating your skin or eyes:
- Read and follow all directions and precautions on this product label.
- Do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
- Do not apply to hands or near eyes and mouth of young children.
- Do not allow young children to apply this product.
- Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing.
- Do not use under clothing.
- Avoid over-application of this product.
- After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water.
- Wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
- Use of this product may cause skin reactions in rare cases.
The following additional statements will appear on the labels of all aerosol and pump spray formulation labels:
- Do not spray in enclosed areas.
- To apply to face, spray on hands first and then rub on face. Do not spray directly onto face.
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.
EPA continues to believe that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children. As always, consumers are advised to read and follow label directions in using any pesticide product, including insect repellents.
If you suspect that you or your child is having an adverse reaction to a DEET 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.
- DEET Reregistration Eligibiltity Decision (RED)(134 pp, 456 k, About PDF)
- DEET RED Fact Sheet (5 pp, 25 k, About PDF)