Alternatives to DEET Insect Repellents
DEET is a really common active ingredient in most commercial insect repellents. It stands for N,N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide and despite being commercially available since the late 50s, there is a growing number of people looking for alternatives to DEET-based repellents, especially if they’re a real mozzie magnet and needing to apply an insect repellent multiple times a day.
So why are people concerned about DEET?
While DEET is strongly recommended by health authorities around the world, lots of consumers do have some concerns about its safety - understandably!
Back in 1998, the US EPA noted in the DEET Reregistration Eligibility Decision that there were potentially 14-46 seizures and 4 deaths associated with DEET toxicity between 1960 and 1998. They also noted that this “may underreport the risk as physicians may fail to check for history of DEET use or fail to report cases of seizure subsequent to DEET use.” .
For a number of people, DEET also causes skin irritations. It may also cause difficulty breathing, burning eyes or headaches.
Another common complaint (and one we hear ALL the time) is that DEET can damage plastic and painted products. DEET is a very effective solvent and will dissolve a range of plastics, synthetic fabrics, varnished and painted surfaces (including nail polish and car paint). It can also react with a number of hard plastics, remaining in the plastic itself and leaving the product soft and flexible. So even if you're not concerned abut the health effects of DEET, the damage it does can be a real pain at the very least!
So what can you use instead of DEET?
Contrary to popular belief, DEET is not the only active ingredient that can be used in an insect repellent!
Picaridin is another really common, newer insecticide used in commercial insect repellents in Australia. While it has been shown to be a less irritating alternative to DEET, Canstar Blue found that around 25% of consumers would still prefer to choose an insect repellent with natural ingredients. Additionally, Picaridin is not recommended for use on children under the age of 2. For mums with little bubs, it can therefore be pretty challenging to find a product that is safe to use on their little ones.
Another class of insect repellents are those that contain botanical extracts such as citronella, lavender and tea-tree oil. Good Riddance Insect Repellent is an insect repellent that falls under this class of repellent.
Quite often insect repellents containing botanical extracts will not last as long on your skin as DEET-based products because the active ingredients are essential oils and are highly volatile. This means that the product will evaporate very quickly and once it has evaporated, it will no longer offer protection. To find a longer lasting natural insect repellent, look for a product that has “fixatives” in it. In Good Riddance, we use a blend of shea butter and beeswax which hold onto the essential oils and prevent them from evaporating as quickly. This is also the reason why Good Riddance is a cream!
What should you consider when choosing alternatives to DEET?
While there is a perception that botanical extracts = natural = safe, there is quite a bit to consider when choosing a DEET-free (or Picaridin-free) repellent.
Firstly, consider the reason why you’re avoiding DEET.
For many, there is a concern about the health impacts of applying a DEET-based repellent multiple times a day. If this is the case, it’s likely that you’re living or working in a highly mozzie prone area. It’s important then that you choose a product that offers tropical strength protection, especially against the species of mozzies that are known to carry viruses such as Ross River and Dengue. If you have made the decision to choose a natural insect repellent, make sure that it is registered with the APVMA. This means the product has undergone clinical testing to prove that it offers a level of protection in line with DEET-based products and has been approved for sale in Australia as an insect repellent.
If you’re looking for alternatives to DEET because you’re experiencing irritation to DEET-based products, make sure you consider whether the new products you’re trying are suitable for sensitive skin. Many natural repellents contain citronella and tea-tree oil (including our Tropical range which has a blend of citronella and lemon-scented tea-tree oil as the active ingredients). These essential oils can be too harsh for sensitive skin, especially in the concentrations required to make a suitable insect repellent. Good Riddance Sensitive is currently the only natural insect repellent on the market specifically formulated for sensitive skin. The essential oil actives include lavender and the cream itself is highly nourishing and soothing. As an added bonus, the cream offers protection against midges and sandflies which are often extremely irritating for sensitive skin.
If you’re looking for a DEET-free alternative for a baby, Good Riddance Sensitive was specifically formulated to be suitable from 3+ months. This is generally around the youngest age it’s suitable to apply an insect repellent to a child so make sure you check the label of the products you’re using. For babies younger than 3 months, it’s best to protect them using mosquito netting placed over a pram.
For many consumers, though, the reason to avoid DEET is more to do with aesthetic reasons. It’s all too common for commercial insect repellents to be smelly, sticky and damaging to plastics. Unfortunately much of the natural insect repellent products available don't smell much better.
This was a big motivating factor for Jeannie, our founder, when creating Good Riddance. Jeannie was living in Darwin with her two young boys and they found themselves applying insect repellent multiple times a day. Jeannie’s boys’ health was a big priority and she was concerned about the toxic affect of applying large amounts of DEET on her young boys. So, she and Sean tried almost every insect repellent (natural or otherwise) on the market. They all stunk and were uncomfortable to wear - or in the case of many natural repellents, just didn’t work. As a cosmetic chemist, Jeannie knew there had to be a better solution so she spent years carefully formulating a product that used pure essential oil actives, smelt amazing (not like a bottle of pure citronella) and was actually a pleasure to wear.
Good Riddance has been registered with the APVMA and clinically proven as a natural option for getting rid of mozzies, midges and sandflies, including those that carry Ross River and Dengue viruses.
If you would like to learn more about Good Riddance, head on over to our online store here.