Why I'm never using DEET again

This is a story I know my sister hates people to know, but I asked her nicely if I could share it and she gave me her blessing. In my opinion, she has nothing to be ashamed of. The true shame lies in the fact that DEET is promoted heavily as being thé mosquito repellent out there, while it's actually a very toxic substance. Few people are aware of the risk involved with using this product, and as a result young and old are covering themselves with it.

And so did my sister a few years ago. We were on a holiday in France with the family. Our parents rented a cute little stone house in the middle of nature. Or was it the middle of nowhere? Both descriptions were valid in this case. The house looked better when booking it on the internet than it did in real life. It was kind of... basic. Really. Basic. My brother and sister had a bedroom on a sort of attic, where unfortunately they were bothered by a lot of insects. All of us had found one or two scorpions (yes, they too live in France) hiding in our suitcases with clothes, or curled up in the bathtub. But the room of my siblings also was the home of a lot of ants and mosquitos and some big spiders too.

My sis got the creeps and before she went to bed, she sprayed rigorously with a simple insect repellent you can get at any supermarket or drugstore. During that night, she got really sick. She had to vomit like twenty times and it just wouldn't stop. She was suffering so much, people in the next village probably heard her. When the sun rose above the hills we had the most beautiful view on, she was still so unbelievably ill. That was until someone, I don't remember if it was my dad or my mom, asked her if it wouldn't be best to wash the insect spray off her body. That didn't sound like a bad idea and so she took a bath, while my mom had to scrub it all off. And after that, the vomiting stopped. The peace and quiet returned. But this incident never left my thoughts.

When I researched DEET online afterwards, I realised we all had the biggest luck that someone that night questioned the bug repellent. Turns out, you have to be really careful when using DEET, as people can end up in a coma, have seizures or even die when having an overdose of it.

Cute on the outside, a little less charming indoors...

The US Environmental Protection Agency states DEET has no health risks, as long as it’s used according to the label. I don’t know about you, but on our label there weren’t all of the instructions to ‘reduce risk’ that are listed on the EPA website . For instance, I didn’t know you’re not supposed to put it on your hands, or that you shouldn’t put it under clothes, or that you have to wash it off with water and soap once you return indoors.
Further on, a study by French researchers showed DEET changed an enzyme responsible for certain functions of the nervous system, and they warned it might be neurotoxic, as you can read here and here.

If you want to read more, other studies, facts or articles about DEET can be found easily online, for instance here. Death, seizures, coma? Showed transmission through cordal blood, exposing your unborn child to this stuff? Sure, it always gets covered a bit by saying it’s only in “relative rare cases”, or that there were no effects found effects on these babies one year after their birth (as if that’s the only period side effects can show in their life). As long as people are using DEET correctly, not frequent and in small amounts, no one seems worried. But how do you control that? How many people read the warning labels? How many labels are having all of those precautions on them? And how many people with side effects actually report them? We didn’t, and I’m sure we’re not the only ones.

So yes, you can say things can only go wrong when you use too much, as probably my sis did too that awful time. The bugs were creeping her out so she got overenthusiastic with the spray. But, even if you use less, the fact that these risks exist when using more, certainly says a lot about the toxicity of this substance. My sister wasn't a kid anymore at the time, but imagine a little child being sick from this. Maybe a small body wouldn't have coped so long with the toxicity. After this first handed experience, seeing what DEET can do, I'm never letting myself or my family near it again. Not now, not ever.

Of course, sometimes you will have to protect yourself from bugs, for instance when you travel in areas where a mosquito bite can provide you with nasty diseases. Or just because you don't want to have to run inside on those wonderful hot summer nights, because you're being attacked by hords of mosquitos. Or when those bastards won’t let you sleep :-).

Good news is there are all natural bug repellents on the market, without toxins, and I've tested two of them this past holiday. I'll tell you all about them in my next post!

Are you still using DEET? Or do you choose to avoid it?


  1. Very good point, I always use natural products to for bugs, I am interested what you use!, And one question, can I make the next time my comment in Dutch?

    1. hoi Mieke, natuurlijk mag je in het Nederlands commenten!!

      Heel leuk dat je reageert! Volgende blog zie je de producten die ik heb getest!

  2. I don't often go abroad so hadn't really thought about DEET thank you for sharing your sisters story! Xx

    1. Yeah, it's not a typical cosmetic we think about to replace! But important for people to know I think, this isn't harmless stuff! So thanks for sharing this Ana, X!


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