It’s Summer, and that means there’s a good chance that, wherever you are in the world, outdoor activities are likely met with a vicious attack from swarms of mosquitos. For years, the preferred weapon against this tiny, aerial enemy was bug spray containing the chemical N, N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide; DEET for all of us non-chemists. However, it didn’t take long for stories to surface about just how bad DEET was for the environment and for us humans. Reports of severe rashes, nausea, headaches and diminished mental acuity were just a few of the side effects floating around. In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency launched a pretty extensive study of the chemical and they were unable to determine any substantial risks to humans, animals (other than mosquitos) or the environment.
So, relax—DEET isn’t going to kill you.
But before you head out to the camping store and purchase a case of Deep Woods Off!, you might want to consider a more natural approach. The Center for Disease Control has released a study that shows that oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)contains the same mosquito repelling qualities as DEET. The oil has to be in the form of a repellent, though (pure OLE isn’t necessarily effective). In other words, OLE needs to be listed as an active ingredient in a product. Brands like Off! and Repel both have options.
The big question is whether or not the plant-based products are as effective as DEET. A recent consumer report tested several plant-based products. The top performer was Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. It successfully kept mosquitos at bay for more than 7 hours. Interestingly, many other plant-based products were tested (those containing peppermint, citronella, cinnamon, rosemary, lemongrass and more) did not perform nearly as well.
In short, you have plenty of options for keeping those pesky mosquitos away. It doesn’t appear that DEET will turn you into a flesh-eating zombie after all, but if you prefer more natural products, those that contain OLE are excellent alternatives. Whichever you choose, just make sure to read ingredient labels carefully and use the products as directed.