Experts are now saying that it is okay for all pregnant women to use insect repellents that contain DEET.
DEET is the most tested insect repellent available on the market. Concerns over the safety of DEET first emerged during the 1980s after reports of encephalopathy following DEET exposure, particularly in children. However, the role of DEET in either the illness or deaths was and remains purely speculative, says a recent meta-study about the safety of DEET.
A 2015 paper on insect repellent said, “During the 1980s and 1990s there were several reports of encephalopathy following DEET exposure in children. However, risk assessments by both the US Environmental Protection Agency and independent publications, as well as a clinical trial, found no association between encephalopathy and DEET use, and no toxological risk or severe effects except after inappropriate use (ingestion, direct inhalation, or eye exposure).”
The Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences looked into the health effects of DEET, as well, and found that over 40 years of use, from 1961 to 2002, eight DEET-related deaths occurred. Three were of people intentionally drinking it, two were of adults wearing it, and three were of girls under 6 who underwent “heavy” use.
DEET is the safest bug repellent, according to both the CDC and the EPA. It is also one of the few OK for use on babies as young as 2 months, and on pregnant women in their second and third trimesters.
Because people are worried about this type of thing, most bottles of DEET tell you to wash it off after use. This step is to minimize excess exposure.
Picaridin has not been safety-tested nearly as much as DEET, though it may be just as effective. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is most often a synthesized, lab-made compound also known as PMD. According to the CDC, neither type is suitable for use on children younger than 3, because they are severe eye irritants and children that young tend to rub their eyes a lot. PMD is not the same as the “pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus, which is not recommended for use as a repellent as it has not been tested for efficacy.