Guru Kate: Is Deet dangerous for skin?

DEET works by … actually, people are still a little confused how DEET works. Sure, we know that it makes mosquitoes, flies and ticks unable to locate and bite us, but why?

One recent study suggests that it clogs the biters’ noses, and they’re unable to sniff us out. Although scientists previously thought that, this study was the first one to test it. However, more studies need to be done before we can be too sure.

We do know, however, that it works, and that it’s been working for over 50 years. In those 50 years, people have noticed some less than desirable side effects. For example, the Material Safety Data Sheet  (MSDS) cautions readers that N, N-Diethyl-M-Toulamide (abbreviated “DEET”) is classified as a mutagen.

Remember back to the ink-on-the-skin article, where we subjected small children with gel pens to cancerous mutations? That’s what a mutagen does. And DEET has been reported to do more than that.

According to the MSDS it has also “caused adverse reproductive and fetal effects in animals,” may cause respiratory and digestive tract infection, and has been known to cause eye and skin irritation — which is funny, considering skin is exactly where DEET goes.

Knowing all that, you are likely either thinking, “I’m still going to use DEET; I’ve lived up until now without any problems,” or, “Wow, there is no way I’ll ever use DEET again, and I won’t let anyone around me use it either.”

Now just hold your horses.

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The MSDS also notes that there are no known chronic effects from using a 25% solution of DEET. Awesome! Also, consider the alternatives to using DEET. You would either be using a non-MSDS-evaluated naturopathic route with an unknown success rate or be contracting many mosquito bites this summer.

There aren’t mosquito-carried diseases in Alaska … yet. However, if you plan on going to the lower 48 any time this summer, consider the following: Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

Ticks (which are also repelled by DEET) carry the first two diseases, and mosquitoes transmit the last one. Climate change is even giving the buggers who carry these diseases even better range over the country.

So if you’re as overly cautious as I am, you might want to check with some locals on your trip to see if they know of any recent outbreaks. Oh yeah, and pack the DEET.