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Guidelines to Reduce Exposure

DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide)
Chemical Technical Summary for Public Health
and Public Safety Professionals

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Atlanta, Georgia
December 6, 2004

More information on insect repellents

To prevent the possibility of adverse effects, products containing DEET should not be used on children younger than 2 months of age. For children over 2 months and for adults, the use of a product with a concentration no greater than 30% DEET is advised. Use the lowest concentration DEET product that will provide adequate protection. Reapply the repellent only after effectiveness diminishes with time.

Lotions, liquids or stick forms of DEET might be safer to apply, as they are less likely than aerosol formulations to be inadvertently sprayed into the eyes or inhaled. Avoid long-term use or frequent total body application. Finally, do not apply DEET to the hands of children who might put their fingers in their mouths. When using DEET, avoid contact with the eyes and mucous membranes. Do not apply DEET under occlusive clothing such as diapers or tight-fitting clothes. Avoid spraying DEET onto synthetic fabrics, watch crystals, plastic eyeglass frames, or other plastic material, as the DDET could damage them. Do not apply DEET over wounds, broken skin, or eczema. Once returning indoors, wash the repellent from the skin. As with all potential poisons, store DEET-containing insect repellents out of the reach of children, as ingestion could be toxic or even fatal (Wingerchuck 1995; WHO 1991).

In its Reregistration Eligibility Document (RED) EPA has developed guidelines for use that must appear on all consumer products containing DEET (EPA 1999). These guidelines outline the safe use of the insect repellent for children and adults. They are as follows:

  1. Read and follow all directions and precautions on this product label.
  2. Do not apply over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  3. Do not apply near eyes and mouth. Apply sparingly around ears.
  4. Do not apply to children's hands.
  5. Do not allow children to handle this product.
  6. When using on children, apply to your own hands and then put it on the child.
  7. Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin or clothing.
  8. Do not use under clothing.
  9. Avoid over-application of the product.
  10. After returning indoors, wash treated area with soap and water.
  11. Wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
  12. Use of the product can cause skin reactions in rare cases.
  13. If you suspect a reaction to the product, discontinue use, wash treated skin, and call your local poison control center.
  14. If you go to a doctor, take the product with you.

Additional guidelines are needed if the product that is being used is in an aerosol or pump preparation. These are as follows:

  1. Do not spray in enclosed areas, and
  2. If used on the face, spray on hands first and then apply sparingly and avoid eyes. Do not spray directly onto face.

If these guidelines are followed, the risk of toxicity from normal use of DEET should be low.

For more information on insect repellents:

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