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Is Bug Spray Eco-Friendly? What You Need to Know About DEET

While DEET gets a bad rap, it's backed by both the EPA and EWG as a safe and effective insect repellent. But, it's not the only option.

Written by
Brenna Marshall

Ah, summer. The days continue to get longer and longer. More time is being spent outdoors at beaches, National Parks, and pools. You get to dine alfresco with friends and enjoy s'mores around a campfire.

With all the happiness and delight that summer brings, there are also a few not-so-fun things to be prepared for. Depending on where you live, an increase of biting bugs—like mosquitos and ticks—are either a slight concern or a big problem come summertime. And that means it's time to stock up on the bug spray.

Aside from the annoyingly itchy red bumps, these insects can also carry diseases. Because of that, it's important to protect yourself (and your littles!) against them.

DEET Bug Spray: How Toxic Is It for You and the Environment?

Bug sprays can be a controversial topic. Especially when it comes to the ingredients and how they affect you, animals, and the environment in general.

Namely, DEET is the buzzword that gets the worst rap. DEET, is used as the active ingredient in many insect repellents, and the unease around it comes from the thought that it's toxic to you, toxic to animals, and toxic to the environment. But, are all these arguments founded? Let's dive in.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have reported that the use of DEET as an insect repellent when used normally and properly is safe for adults and children with no age restriction of its use. They've also concluded the effect on animals and the environment is minimal enough that it's not of concern. According to the Cleveland Clinic, it "breaks down quickly in the environment, so it’s not considered harmful to wildlife."

However, the EWG does recommend using DEET in concentrations of 20-30%, because it's best to "avoid overexposure" and that amount is sufficient for a "full day’s protection." It's been proven effective in repelling bugs from biting, and in turn, helps consumers avoid Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

Effectiveness aside, not everyone is on the DEET bandwagon. While it's great at repelling bugs and is easily accessible, the Cleveland Clinic notes it's also been known to cause issues like rashes or irritated skin in some people. It also has a strong smell that can be overbearing.

If it's not the right option for you and your family, there are plant-based alternatives you can try instead.

Plant-Based Bug Spray: What Are My Options?

1. Citronella Oil

According to the EPA, citronella oil is a non-toxic biochemical. It's registered as an insect and animal repellent that poses limited risk to wildlife and the environment.

If you'd like to try a citronella oil-based bug repellent this summer, check out the Kinfield Golden Hour Deet-Free Bug Spray from the Brightly Shop. It's free of parabens, phthalates, and sulfates, and the first-of-its-kind formula uses a unique strain of Indonesian citronella to effectively repel mosquitos.

Another perk: There's no offputting smell. The vanilla and citrus scent is a nice change from the harsh odor of DEET. If you want to give it a try, just be sure to snag a bottle quickly—we've already sold out once this month and it's only available in the shop for a limited time.

2. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

According to the Mayo Clinic, oil of lemon eucalyptus is considered one of the most effective active ingredients in insect repellents—and it's completely plant-based. The only downside? You can't use it on children under three years of age.

Once applied, Mark Fradin, MD, a dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who has researched insect repellents, told Harvard University that it should last for about four hours—a staying power that's similar to DEET-based repellents. 

Is There a Right Choice for Bug Spray?

The right choice for bug spray is whatever you choose. What works for someone else may not work for you, so choosing the best option for you and your family is key.

The good news is, DEET-free or not, there's plenty of options to safely protect yourself from insects this summer without negatively impacting wildlife and the environment.