Not An Allergen.
N, N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide (DEET) has a lot of things going for it — among other things, it is not a common skin allergen. That this is the case, with such rare reports (under a dozen) of adverse skin reactions in multiple decades of use in by hundreds of millions of people, is impressive and underscores DEET’s non-allergenicity. It is more common to experience an allergic or irritant reaction from other allergens in a formulation — such as fragrances and preservatives — than from DEET itself. And citronella, a popular natural, “safer” alternative for DEET, is not only ineffective against mosquitos (or far less effective than DEET), but is published as a common skin allergen.
DEET’s bad reputation can be attributed to less than 50 significant cases of toxicity (not skin allergenicity) in over 50 years of use — again, that’s widespread use, among hundreds of millions of people. And in these cases, improper or inappropriate use of the chemical (in some older studies, the DEET was inhaled or consumed) was the main problem.
If you have a history of sensitive skin, don’t guess: random trial and error can cause more damage. Ask your dermatologist about a patch test.
On the prevalence of skin allergies, see Skin Allergies Are More Common Than Ever and One In Four Is Allergic to Common Skin Care And Cosmetic Ingredients.
To learn more about the VH-Rating System and hypoallergenicity, click here.
Regularly published reports on the most common allergens by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group and European Surveillance System on Contact Allergies (based on over 28,000 patch test results, combined), plus other studies. Remember, we are all individuals — just because an ingredient is not on the most common allergen lists does not mean you cannot be sensitive to it, or that it will not become an allergen. These references, being based on so many patch test results, are a good basis but it is always best to get a patch test yourself.
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