Comparing Insect Repellents: Permethrin Vs. Deet. Vs. Picardan

Comparing Insect Repellents: Permethrin Vs. Deet. Vs. Picardan

August 30, 2023

Picaridin vs. Permethrin vs. DEET: What’s the Best Insect Repellent?

From mosquitoes to gnats to ticks, there are many types of irritating and potentially dangerous pests to protect yourself from. But there are also many insect repellants designed to keep them at bay, each made with different combinations of ingredients. Many insect repellents include DEET, picaridin or permethrin as their active ingredient to repel mosquitoes and other bugs. Which is the best type of mosquito spray for you and your family? Let’s take a look at insect repellants made with picaridin vs. DEET vs. permethrin to see which might be the best choice for you.

What Is DEET?

Let’s start by taking a look at what DEET, picaridin and permethrin are exactly. We’ll begin with DEET, a common active ingredient in insect replants that is able to deter a range of pests, including mosquitoes. Its full chemical name is N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide. DEET is often cited as one of the most effective active ingredients in bug sprays. Interestingly, the way DEET works is essentially by tricking these insects’ sense of smell: It makes it harder for them to smell humans when it’s sprayed on their skin.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding DEET over the years, leading many people to wonder, is DEET safe? The Minnesota Department of Health describes DEET as “slightly toxic to birds, fish and aquatic invertebrates” but “not expected to harm these animals in the environment.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) states that despite concerns, after conducting multiple reviews, “We continue to believe that the normal use of DEET does not present a health concern to the general population, including children.” (Although it should be noted that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends not using any bug spray, whether it contains DEET or not, on kids who are less than two months old.)

Some people continue to have concerns about DEET’s potential impact on both people and the environment. According to Scientific American, a study conducted on Everglades National Park employees in the 1980s to determine the effects of DEET found that a quarter of the subjects had negative health effects that they attributed to DEET, including rashes, skin irritation, dizziness and difficulty concentrating, among other effects. In some European countries, DEET is banned altogether due to concerns over possible bad reactions and toxicity. In addition, it should be noted that DEET can be damaging to some plastics, spandex and other synthetic materials.

What Is Picaridin?

Picaridin, also known as icaridin, is a synthetic chemical compound that, like DEET, is a common active ingredient in bug-repellant sprays and wipes. Also like DEET, picaridin:

  • Can repel a wide range of flying insects and other pests, including mosquitoes, ticks, fleas and more.
  • Must be sprayed directly onto skin and clothing to work.
  • Does not kill or harm pests but makes it harder for them to sense or recognize their prey, so they’re not attracted to those wearing it.
  • Is considered safe by the EPA when used as directed.

In the case of picaridin vs. DEET, some people prefer picaridin because it is odorless, less greasy and isn’t as likely to cause skin irritation in some people. Another plus is that picaridin has not shown itself to be damaging to synthetic materials the way DEET can be. In addition, there has been less debate and general concern over the safety of picaridin compared with that of DEET. However, as Consumer Reports notes, picarian’s safety has “not been as well studied” as DEET’s has. As a result, its potential effects on both people and the environment may not be as widely known or understood as some consumers might like.

What Is Permethrin?

Finally, let’s look at bug repellents containing permethrin. Permethrin is a pyrethroid, with pyrethroids being a type of synthetic insecticide. Pyrethroids are essentially designed to mimic extracts found in chrysanthemum flowers that are naturally repellant to insects. Permethrin can deter mosquitoes as well as fleas, lice and even termites. It is relatively cheap but also effective, so it is used on a large scale within the agricultural industry, and other industries.

Permethrin can come in the form of a number of types of products, including sprays, powders and liquids. Permethrin is different from the other chemicals discussed because it’s not made to be sprayed directly on human skin - just clothing and gear. If you’re going camping, for example, you might spray your tent with permethrin. Also unlike DEET and picaridin, permethrin can kill insects that come into contact with it, as it interferes with their nervous systems. Permethrin is not believed to affect the nervous systems of humans or dogs (in fact, it is the substance used on many flea collars), but it can be toxic to cats.

In addition, permethrin has been shown to be toxic to other animals. According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), it is very toxic for fish and other animals that live in either salt or fresh water, as well as to beneficial insects like bees. Some aerosol products made with permethrin might also contain other ingredients that can harm birds if they breathe it in. The NPIC also notes that permethrin was deemed “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans” in 1991, meaning it could not be resolutely decided either way; however, the EPA stated that it was “likely to be carcinogenic to humans” if consumed. That said, the EPA has said that permethrin and other pyrethroids don’t pose “unreasonable risks” to humans as long as they’re used as directed.

Permethrin vs. Picardian vs. DEET Safety and Efficacy: The Bottom Line

When it comes to the best mosquito spray or insect repellent for you and your family, there are pros and cons to all of the most common products on store shelves. The right one for you depends on how you plan to use it, and how comfortable you are with both the pros and the cons. Due to some of the potential risks, as well as the “unknowns” of some ingredients, more and more people are turning to more natural pest-control solutions. After all, you want products that really work, but you don’t want to take risks with your safety or the safety of your pets (not to mention the beautiful natural landscape in and around your property).

At MosquitoNix®®, we offer products that are effective at keeping away mosquitoes, ticks and other pests, but that are also made with ingredients you can trust. The eco-friendly mosquito-control solution we use in our misting systems and fogging systems is natural and non-toxic. We even offer portable solutions like our On the Go Portable Misting System so you can use less bug spray when camping, picnicking and more. You can use these products to help provide your whole family (including your pets) with effective protection. Contact us at MosquitoNix® to learn which products or systems are right for your needs.

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