Is DEET Dangerous? {And Some Healthy Bug Spray Recipes}

Summer is back and so are mosquitoes!

Wait! Before you go crazy with that commercial bug spray, you might want to take a closer look at the toxic ingredients that can enter your bloodstream through your skin. A majority of bug sprays you can buy at the store are full of ingredients that are far from natural or healthy.

While diseases transmitted by mosquitoes are certainly concerning, the pesticides and chemicals used to kill and repel biting insects are just as concerning. Just take DEET for instance…

DEET is actually a chemical known as N,N-Diethyl-m-toluamide that was first used around 1950. According to these sites [1] [2] DEET has some serious effects on health:

Although DEET is approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is a known eye irritant and can cause rashes, soreness, or blistering when applied to the skin. Additionally, DEET has been linked to neurological problems; according to the EPA, at least 18 different cases of children suffering adverse neurological effects, as well as the deaths of two adults, have been associated with DEET. Researchers at Duke University Medical Center have found that DEET causes diffuse brain cell death and behavioral changes in rats. [1]

As a precaution, manufacturers advise that DEET products should not be used under clothing or on damaged skin, and that preparations be washed off after they are no longer needed or between applications.[14] DEET can act as an irritant;[4] in rare cases, it may cause severe epidermal reactions.[14]   DEET is an effective solvent,[4] and may dissolve some plastics, rayon, spandex, other synthetic fabrics, and painted or varnished surfaces including nail polish. [2]

Studies have also linked DEET to insomnia and mood swings. I don’t know about you, but that chemical sounds a bit toxic. I’d suggest trying out some natural insect repellent options. {Find more articles on DEET here}

Natural Bug Repellent Alternatives

Try a few of these safe, natural bug repellent recipes for your family the next time you have a barbecue or camping trip! *Note: these recipes tend to work best on days when those blood sucking critters are only mildly to moderately hungry. If they are starved, your best bet is to stay covered up with loose clothing.

Herbal Bug Repellent  (made with fresh or dried herbs)

{This repellent is prepared similar to an herbal infusion, only you apply the product topically instead of consuming it.}

You will need:

  • Distilled or purified water
  • witch hazel or rubbing alcohol
  • fresh or dried herbs: peppermint, spearmint, citronella, lemongrass, catnip, lavender, basil, etc. Try to use at least one herb from the mint family.


  1. Boil 1 cup of water and add 3-4 TBSP of fresh herbs or 1.5 – 2 TBSP of dried herb total in any combination from the above. A suggestion is to use 1 TBSP each of peppermint, spearmint, catnip and lavender, also throw in a couple of dried cloves. But feel free to play with what you have.
  2. Mix well, cover and let steep until cool. (covering is important to keep the volatile oils in!)
  3. Strain herbs out and mix the “tea” with 1 cup of witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Store in a spray bottle in a cool place. If stored in the fridge, this could double as a cool body mist ๐Ÿ˜‰ Don’t forget to label it.
  4. Use as needed. You may need to be re-applied often. May I add that this smells good and is very refreshing for your skin!

Herbal Oil Insect Repellent (with essential oils)

{This repellent is easy to make and the essential oils are easy to come by. As a bonus, this oil will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.}

 You will need:

  • 1/2 cup soybean base oil (while I don’t recommend cooking with soybean oil, it does have natural insect repellent properties which makes it great for this recipe)
  • 15 drops of each essential oil: lemongrass, geranium and catnip
  • 10 drops of eucalyptus essential oil
  • option: a few drops of vanilla


  1. Add all ingredients directly into the container you plan to store your oil in. A spritzer, pump or squeeze bottle would work great.
  2. Allow the oils to synergize,  about an hour or two is good.
  3. Store in a cool place, though refrigeration is not required. Use within 6-12 months.
  4. Apply to skin as needed. Again, this oil smells good and makes your skin happy.

Other Natural Ideas to Try

  • Vinegar of the Four Thieves – a strong herbal tincture that has a great story behind it. I encourage you to read more about it HERE.
  • Avoid eating bananas before you head out, mosquitoes and other flying critters will label you “Dinner”!
  • Rub fresh or dried leaves of anything in the mint family all over skin to repel insects (peppermint, spearmint, catnip, etc). Basil is also said to repel mosquitoes, so if you have some growing in garden, it’s worth a shot. 
  • Avoid using a lot of fragrance on your body (perfumes, scented lotions, shampoo, fabric softener, etc). If you think you smell attractive, so do the mosquitoes. Use scent-free body products before heading outside so that your homemade insect-repellent will be able to do its job.
  • If you don’t have time to make your own natural bug repellent, try places like Etsy or Apple Valley Natural Soap to find a great, natural alternative to commercial sprays

 What natural bug repellents have you tried? What worked? Which do you think is worse… the biting bugs or the chemicals used to make them go away?

    Jasmine (aka Happy Mrs Bass) is a God fearing, always learning, stay-at-home-wife to the best husband in the world!  She is continually learning to slow down, enjoying the important, simple things in life…
    She really enjoys creating things “home-made” and showing others how to do the same!  Which is why she started Like A Mustard Seed blog and her Etsy shop!  In the past couple of years, her new found loves have become herbal fix ’ems and things “all natural”!

    This post is linked to:
    The Better Mom    The Modest Mom    What Joy Is Mine    A Mama’s Story

    Post Signature
    DISCLAIMER: I am not a medical professional. This post is for educational purposes only. The information has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent disease. DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affiliate links. In order for me to support this website, my research, and blogging activities, I occasionally may receive monetary compensation for my endorsement and/or links to products or services. However, I only recommend products or services I trust.


    1. says

      I tried a natural bug spray (with essential oils) when we went to MO to look at some property. It did not deter the ticks at all! I have since learned that cedarwood essential oil does a great job.

    2. says

      Jill….I switched to a more natural product after learning about Deet a couple of years ago. My favorite is Badger Anti-Bug Balm which is sold in natural stores. Main essential oils are citronella, rosemary, cedar & lemongrass. It works for me and smells good, too. Thank you for getting the word out at WJIM.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge