The DEETs about safer bug spray

Spring has sprung. And as much as we all love the warm weather and the amazing things that come along with it, spring ushers in a whole new category of products for which Protect Our Breasts recommends we be vigilant. The first of our “springy” topics this week is bug spray, specifically DEET.

DEET (chemical name: N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the most common pesticide (we are trying to kill pests after all) in the majority of insect repellents and is one of the few that is applied directly to our skin. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately one-third of the US population use DEET every year. In spite of this, government organizations’ evaluation and action regarding the health implications of DEET has been slow and incomplete since the 1980’s. Although DEET has not been decisively labeled as a carcinogen or endocrine-disruptor, there are countless studies conducted by scientists that point to the negative effects DEET can have on the human body. These studies suggest that precaution is the best route to take regarding bug repellents that contain DEET.

 Concerns have been raised by scientists regarding DEET’s toxicity both when used by itself and in combination with other chemicals. DEET is absorbed rapidly through the skin with 48% of the applied dose completely absorbed in six hours. In 2002, Canada banned bug repellents with more than 30% DEET as well as products that combine sunscreen and insect repellent. When overused, DEET has had a wide array of serious side effects for both children and adults ranging from lethargy and skin irritations to seizures and other neurological effects.

 PAN (Pesticide Action Network International) does not recommend using DEET. The Healthy Child Healthy World chemical encyclopedia states that the immediate health effects of DEET when swallowed, absorbed through the skin, or inhaled are “very highly toxic.” It is evident that the use of DEET is dangerous during such fragile life stages like pregnancy and infancy and since we know that those of us in our 20’s are also vulnerable to a host of environmental toxins, it makes sense that we be cautious and stay away from DEET as well.

Herbal insect repellents are alternatives to products containing DEET and can be equally as effective but usually need to be reapplied more often. Be sure to check the labels on herbal products to be wary of “greenwashing.” Make sure the product contains only natural oils and not the synthetic chemicals we want to avoid. Also, natural does not always mean safe. Experts recommend following the directions on the bottle and testing on a small area of your body first especially if you have sensitive skin. Herbal repellents can be very strong so a little goes a long way.

With DEET, it is better to be safe than sorry. Bring a sweatshirt or long sleeve shirt to the beach or cookout to prevent bug bites without having to apply harmful chemicals. To find safer bug repellent products, we recommend using the Good Guide and/or Skin Deep databases: ; By taking action and being aware of what we are putting on and therefore in our bodies, we can protect ourselves (and our breasts) during this time in our lives when it really matters.


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