The “DEETs” on Insect Repellents

What exactly is DEET?

DEET stands for N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, which is a chemical used as an active ingredient in many insect repellents. DEET is commonly used to protect individuals from mosquito-borne and tick-borne illnesses such as the West Nile Virus, the Zika Virus, Malaria, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

DEET is designed to be directly applied to the skin to prevent biting insects from smelling us, therefore repelling them.

Products that are designed to be applied directly to the skin can contain a concentration of 5-99% DEET.  Higher concentrations may have a longer repellent effect, but products with a concentration of 50% or higher provide no additional protection per the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Who can use DEET?

According to the CDC and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), DEET is safe to use in both adults and children above the age of 2 months. Although DEET has been shown to not flag any health concerns, products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under the age of 3 years old.

There is no restriction on the percentage of DEET that can be used on children from the age of 2 months to 12 years old, but it has been recommended to use products with a concentration less than 30% to prevent skin irritation. If skin irritation or rash does occur, discontinue product immediately and wash area of application with soap and water.

Insect repellents containing DEET are also safe to use on pregnant or breastfeeding women.  

How to use DEET safely:

  • Do not apply over cuts, scrapes, or broken skin
  • Do not allow children to apply product to themselves
  • Do not apply to hands or near eyes of young children
  • If applying to face do not directly spray on face, but apply to hands then rub onto face, avoiding the eyes
  • Do not breathe in, swallow, or get into eyes – DEET can be toxic if swallowed
  • Only use on exposed skin and/or clothing – do not apply under clothing
  • Read and follow all directions on product labeling
  • Do not apply in enclosed areas



  1. "DEET." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, 14 June 2017. Web. 19 June 2017.
  2. “Fight the Bite for Protection from Malaria Guidelines for DEET Insect Repellent Use” CDC. Center of Disease Control and Prevention. Web. 19 June 2017.