To DEET or not to DEET … that is the question

October 1, 2021
By Tonya Bramlage

Developed by the U.S. Army in 1946, DEET is a synthetic chemical that provides one to six hours of total protection against mosquitoes. DEET has been used by hundreds of millions of people with an estimated 30 percent of the U.S. population among those each year. For over 50 years, DEET has been the undisputed champion of insect repellents for every imaginable outdoor event from pickleball to beach combing, weekend croquet matches, sunset celebrations, and more. DEET may be hard to beat when it comes to repelling biting insects, but there are indeed alternatives for protection.

Picaridin is a synthetic compound developed from a plant extract in the genus Piper. Manufactured by Bayer in the 1980’s, the very same plant genus that produces table pepper, is found in Picaridin.  Both Europe and Australia have made it their countries best-selling insect repellent since 1998, but it wasn’t approved for sale in the United States until 2005. The Environmental Protection Agency has completed several comprehensive assessments of both DEET and picaridin over the years and concluded that neither repellents pose health concerns for users as long as consumers follow the labels directions.

DEET imparts a notable greasy feel to the skin upon application. It emits a very distinctive odor making it unpleasant for many users. It has the ability to dissolve certain plastics and some synthetic materials creating a particular hazard for sunglasses and plastic eyeglass lenses. Unlike DEET, picaridin is odorless, non-greasy, and does not dissolve plastics or synthetics. A growing number of commercially produced repellents now contain picaridin as a main active ingredient.

The percentage of DEET or picaridin in a repellent determines its protection time, with the higher concentrations offering the longest protection. The duration of complete mosquito protection ranged from one to two hours for concentrations between 5 and 10 percent four to five hours at around 20 percent, and only marginally longer up to 50 percent with no improvement at higher levels.

“Slow release” formulas can extend protection time to eight hours or more. Studies further show that both are effective at repelling black flies, while DEET is more effective at preventing tick bites. Conversely, picaridin seems to be better at repelling other biting insects most notably for Boca Grande residents, no-see-ums and sand fleas.

The insect composition of your travel adventures both near and far will require some personal field testing in order to determine which repellent works best for your needs. Natural and herbal formulas use only naturally derived ingredients and offer users the full benefits of bio optimized skin care protection. Using the highest quality and state of the art ingredients, independent companies such as Medella Springs, Southwest Florida’s own LolaBlu, and Lemon Bay Soap Companies are each one uniquely committed to pioneering a model of organic natural products that repel the pesky biters. Whether you DEET or not, its up for your review.