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6 Things You Should Know About Bug Repellent

By Cassidy Randall, MADE SAFE

A new report from Made Safe, Bug Repellent: What's In It?, examines common active ingredients in conventional insect repellent and their impacts to human health and the environment, as well as more natural options.

There have been studies regarding the efficacy of some repellent chemicals individually. But researchers have yet to fully understand exactly how each chemical repels insects and how they may affect our bodies and the environment, let alone what the impact may be of the myriad ingredients in combination. Made Safe sees this as a call for total mixture testing, taking into account real world exposures and usage to more fully understand potential toxicity.

Here are highlights from the report:

1. Insect repellents are made up of two types of ingredients.

  • Active ingredient are the active repelling chemicals and must appear on the label.
  • Inert ingredients, which are everything else in the products and can be all kinds of things from solvents and preservatives to anti-caking or foaming agents and fragrance and are not listed on the label.

2. Some common active ingredients are chemicals of concern:

  • DEET: linked to skin irritation, neurotoxicity and shown to cross the placenta. Shows up in groundwater, surface water and drinking water.
  • Cyfluthrin: linked to neurotoxicity and harmful to aquatic invertebrates, fish and honeybees.
  • Permethrin: linked to neurotoxicity and harmful to aquatic invertebrates, fish and honeybees.
  • Pyrethroids: a class of chemicals linked to neurotoxicty; some have been linked to endocrine disruption; some have been classified as possible carcinogens.

Read more on chemicals of concern in bug repellent.

3. Some inert ingredients can be harmful, too:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved approximately 3,000 chemicals as inert ingredients, including some that are harmful chemicals like naphthalene (linked to cancer), xylene (linked to depression of the nervous system) and triethanolamine (linked to respiratory problems and liver and bladder cancer in animal studies).

4. Some plants have pharmacological and biological properties that make plant extracts effective insect repellent, including:

  • citronella
  • clove oil
  • geraniol
  • lemongrass
  • lemon eucalyptus
  • linalool
  • neem
  • thyme

Read more on plant-based alternatives and other tips to keep bugs at bay.

5. MADE SAFE has certified the first-ever bug repellent made entirely with safe ingredients:

Kosmatology Bug Repellent Balm: made with a mixture of herbs, essential oils and coconut oil.

6. Choose the repellent that's right for your needs:

Knowing your area and if you are at risk for a mosquito-borne or tick-borne illness can help you make the right bug repellent choice for you and your family. Go to Consumer Reports' Guide to Mosquito and Tick Diseases for information for your area.

With the rise of Zika virus and concern for other mosquito-borne diseases, Made Safe recognizes there is a time and place for the use of bug repellant products that would not pass our screening process. We urge people to become informed and stay on top of advice from the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

MADE SAFE (Made With Safe Ingredients) is America's first certification to screen out known toxic chemicals in consumer products across store aisles, from baby bottles and bedding to personal care, cleaners and more.

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