Why you should avoid DEET bug spray and what you should use instead.


If you’ve ever been to Florida in the middle of summer you’ve probably met some of our lovely friends… the mosquitoes. This year it seems to be worse than ever, and now that we have little boys who love to play outside finding a safe repellent is vital.

The gold standard in insect repellent for many years has been a chemical called DEET. But what exactly is DEET and is it safe for my family? 

DEET is bad news

DEET (chemical name, N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) is the active ingredient in many repellent products. It is widely used to repel biting pests such as mosquitoes and ticks. The CDC and EPA maintain that it is safe to use, which they follow up with a LONG list of “safe usage guidelines” that would appear to point to the contrary. This “safe” ingredient remains approved for use in the public despite countless reports of negative side effects after using products with this ingredient. The information given by these government agencies is conflicted. On one hand they will tell you there are no issues, and then on the other they will tell you not to get them in your mouth, eyes, lungs, not to put on too much, not to use too high of a concentration, not to spray it inside and various other restrictions. If it is so safe then why all the rules?

Basically its a game of toxic-roulette. Maybe you’ll be fine and maybe you won’t. Maybe your sweet little babes will suffer no harmful effects, or maybe they will have a severe reaction like neurotoxicity, encephalopathy, respiratory distress, seizures or even death. Or at best your child might be one of the one quarter of users who experience rashes, skin irritation, numb or burning lips, nausea, headaches, dizziness and difficulty concentrating.

Yet the CDC continues to recommend a bug spray with a concentration of 20-30% DEET for adequate bug repellent. They maintain that when used properly, and for short periods of time on the skin, DEET is relatively safe at doses found in sprays, lotions, and liquids.

This is from the CDC.gov website…

Since 1961, at least six cases of toxic systemic reactions from repeated cutaneous exposure to DEET have been reported. Six girls, ranging in age from 17 months to 8 years, developed behavioral changes, ataxia, encephalopathy, seizures, and/or coma after repeated cutaneous exposure to DEET; three died. Another six systemic toxic reactions have been reported following ingestion of DEET. Additionally, episodes of confusion, irritability, and insomnia have been reported by Everglades National Park employees following repeated and prolonged use of DEET.”

Does this sound safe to you? Sorry CDC, this is just not good enough for me and my family.

The good news is that there is a natural alternative that is 100% safe and just as effective as DEET without all the harmful side effects.

But lots of natural alternatives just don’t work…

Many natural companies sell bug sprays that include essential oils as the active ingredients. Brands like doTerra, Honest, and Fit are among some reputable brands offering their natural alternatives to OFF and the like. These can be psuedo-effective if the bugs are light, and if applied very frequently, but they just haven’t quite been strong enough to match up to florida bug season in my opinion.


The secret ingredient is Yarrow!

Why? Because they’re missing the secret ingredient. Hellooooo Yarrow. Yarrow is a powerfully medicinal wild herb that is MORE EFFECTIVE THAN DEET! It is effective against mosquitos, no-see-ums and even ticks.

When I learned about yarrow I hit the lab to come up with a bug spray that would include the powerful potency of yarrow, along with the added benefits of essential oils to make a broad-spectrum, and highly effective natural insect repellent that I would feel good about spraying on my kids.


Yarrow grows in the wild or it can be grown in pots in your yard. It looks very similar to Spanish Needle (which in and of itself is a great herb!), but they are not the same, so finding a good herb reference book is important if you plan to go foraging for your own. This blog is a good place to start. Also if you’re attempting to find this plant in public places like parks, you’ll want to double check to make sure they’re not spraying pesticides in that area. You can also buy it dried online, but make sure you’re not getting powdered yarrow as that will not work well for our purposes.

I started making this bug spray last year for my Etsy shop and it has been wildly popular online and locally here in my community. I even have a friend who uses it on her dog!

Here’s how I turn the plant into bug spray

To make this magical stuff I use organic yarrow herb that I solar-infuse for 6 weeks in organic alcohol (about 1:2 herb to alcohol). Sarah Pope of the healthy home economist details how to make this tincture at home. After waiting 6 weeks I strain the herbs through a fine sieve. The result is a beautifully aromatic tincture that is potent and can be used for a variety of medicinal purposes.

Don’t have 6 weeks to wait for the solar-infusion? Lucky for you I’ve already done the work and you don’t have to!

I then dilute the tincture with distilled water, mix it with a blend of citronella, cedarwood, lemongrass, and geranium essential oils (in grapeseed oil as a carrier) and blend with non-gmo lecithin. The lecithin allows the oil, tincture and water to remain suspended while sitting, and then blend together perfectly when gently shaken. This suspension makes it so the spray will remain liquid and not turn into an emulsion. We want a nice liquid bug spray, not lotion.


You gotta have cute bottles!

Finally I package it in these beautiful dark amber spray bottles from SKS-Bottle.com. The amber helps to preserve the efficacy of the spray even in sunny areas. The final product dries quickly on the skin, smells amazing and best of all it is non-toxic, safe for the entire family, and it WORKS!

Wanna buy it?

Don’t have all the ingredients on hand, or don’t have time to make it yourself? You can buy it ready made in my etsy shop.

Note for pregnant mommas: Yarrow taken orally during pregnancy is considered to be unsafe. However topical yarrow (especially in the dilution used in this bug spray) is generally considered to be safe for moms who are pregnant. However, ALWAYS speak with your doctor, midwife, or herbalist before using any herb, topical or otherwise, during pregnancy. I have personally used this bug spray during pregnancy and never had any adverse effects, but my anecdotal experience doesn’t necessarily mean its right for everyone. So just double check to make sure.


1 thought on “Why you should avoid DEET bug spray and what you should use instead.

  1. Tonye Tariah-Health Strategist

    This is awesome! I’ve been looking for a bug repellent that actual works for a long while! I’ll definitely be checking my this out, especially for our crazy Illinois summer season! I’m a nature girl so I need a repellent that’s pretty hardcore!😉🌸👣🌍


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