Synthetic vs. Natural Insect Repellents

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Synthetic vs. Natural Insect Repellents

By now we’ve all heard about the dangers of using DEET in insect repellents, but what is it and is it unsafe? Let’s discuss synthetic vs. natural insect repellents, so you can decide which options work best for you and your family.


What is DEET?

Diethyltoluamide, is a chemical commonly known as DEET, and it is the most common insect repellent currently on the market in the U.S. It was developed by Samuel Gertler of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1944. The U.S. Army began using it to protect soldiers in insect-infested areas in 1946. By 1957, it became widely available by the general public. Since then, not much has changed in the synthetic insect repellent industry.


Is DEET safe?

According to a 2002 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, “DEET has a remarkable safety profile after 40 years of use and nearly 8 billion human applications. When applied with common sense, DEET-based repellents can be expected to provide a safe as well as long-lasting repellent effect. Despite the substantial attention paid by the lay press every year to the safety of DEET, this repellent has been subjected to more scientific and toxicological scrutiny than any other repellent substance.”


But why do so many questions about DEET’s safety persist?


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) identifies DEET as an effective way to reduce risk from life-altering disease (from mosquitoes and ticks, etc.) and have very low toxicity concerns. However, they also note that precaution and proper application is important. Furthermore, they also list their top picks for natural insect repellents.


[CALLOUT: A 2018 Consumer Reports survey of 2,052 adults found that 25 percent of Americans said they avoid using insect repellents with DEET.]


What about the synthetic Picardin?

Another newer synthetic option is Picardin, which is a synthetic compound developed from black table pepper. It was created in the 1980s by Bayer and is the most widely used insect repellent in Europe and Australia. It was approved for use in the U.S. in 2005, so it is relatively new to the market here. Studies have shown that it is as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes. Unlike DEET, however, it is effective against the greatest range of insects including flies and ticks. It is also odorless and non-greasy. According to EWG, “Picaridin does not carry the same neurotoxicity concerns as DEET, but has not been used as extensively by people. Overall, EWG’s assessment is that picaridin is a good alternative to DEET with many of the same advantages and without the same disadvantages.”


Which natural insect repellents work best?

If you have made the choice to avoid DEET and other synthetic repellents, there are some natural options worth considering. 


Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is a great plant based mosquito repellent. It was first used in the 1960s by the Chinese. Even the CDC compares its effectiveness to DEET, which is difficult for a natural product to achieve. 


Citronella is another natural alternative, made from oil distilled from lemongrass and other grass varieties. It was first registered with the EPA in 1948 as McKesson’s oil of citronella for human applications to repel gnats and mosquitoes.Citronella is safe and non-toxic for both humans and animals. It works by masking scents that mosquitoes are attracted to, such as carbon dioxide and lactic acid. Citronella can be used in natural insect repellents or in candles to keep the pests at bay.


Gone to Green’s Top Selling Natural Insect Repellent

All Terrain - Synthetic vs. Natural Insect Repellents

All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent – Our best selling natural insect repellent is All Terrain Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent for Kids. Here are a few of the benefits:

  • DEET-free
  • GMO-free
  • Over 26% active ingredients – among the highest 
  • Uses six repelling oils – among the highest (soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium)
  • Independently proven non-irritating & allergy tested
  • Good for children and those with sensitive skin
  • Won’t damage clothing or equipment


Do you have a favorite natural insect repellent? Find more of our favorites at GonetoGreenMarket.com

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