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EWG’s Guidance on Bug Repellents

July 17, 2013

See what group has to say about DEET, other chemicals and botanicals.

The Environmental Working Group hasreleased a new guide to help “consumers find more effective, less toxic bug repellents.”
“While consumers are aware that bug bites may affect their health, many people are also concerned about the possible drawbacks of common repellents such as DEET,” said David Andrews, Ph.D., senior scientist at EWG. “It is hard to find objective scientific evaluations of the many different repellents on the market. EWG’s guide aims to fill that gap.”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of cases of Lyme disease has more than doubled over the last 15 years, with more than 24,000 confirmed reports in 2011. West Nile virus, first recorded in the US in 1999, infected more than 5,600 people last year. Since 1999, the CDC has counted 37,088 cases of West Nile virus and 1,549 related deaths.

Researchers at EWG reviewed the available safety and efficacy data of repellent chemicals in virtually every bug repellent for sale in the US and highlighted four ingredients as top picks: Picaridin,  IR3535, DEET, and Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus or its synthetic derivative PMD.

EWG’s researchers concluded that these four chemicals can provide long-lasting protection from ticks, mosquitos and other bugs. When used properly, each poses relatively few health concerns, said EWG.

In its news release EWG wrote: "Though DEET has been much maligned, and in rare cases, intense doses have been linked to nervous system impairment, an extensive review of the scientific literature found few reports of serious health hazards when the chemical was used sparingly, as the maker's instructions specify."

EWG said staffers who reviewed available scientific literature on botanical bug repellents could recommend only one – Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD, a processed form of the oil of the lemon eucalyptus tree native to Australia. This product has undergone efficacy and safety testing and has been registered with the US EPA, as have the other repellent chemicals EWG lists as top picks.

The EPA does not require most other botanicals to undergo registration and testing for effectiveness or safety. Consequently, EWG staffers found, there are few data to confirm or contradict the advertising claims of most botanically based products. Consumers should also be aware that many botanical bug repellents contain allergens in highly concentrated forms. 

EWG advises consumers that when it comes to bug-borne diseases, prevention is key. Repellents should not be the first choice for protection from bug bites, but selecting the appropriate repellent can be important for people in high-risk places. Picking the best repellent for each situation can be complicated: More intense concentrations of repellent chemicals don’t necessarily do the job when it counts. Repellents don’t need to contain 100 percent DEET to deter pests. Consumers should avoid anything stronger than 30 percent DEET.

EWG’s on-line guide provides detailed consumer advice on bug repellents currently available. It offers 20 different scenarios for adults, children and pregnant women and EWG’s recommendations on which ingredients consumers should choose in each of these situations.

In other news, EWG says it is nearing the launch of a mobile app that will give consuemrs instant access to the Skin Deep Cosmetics Database. It is due out in September.
 
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