What Is Picaridin and How Does It Compare To DEET?

What Is Picaridin and How Does It Compare To DEET?

From the crisp air that invigorates your skin to the peace and quiet only found in Mother Nature — if you ask us, nothing is more serene than a day in the great outdoors. Whether you’re taking your little ones on their very first hike or setting up camp for the weekend, it can be a profound experience. However, the only thing that can put a major damper on all the fun is none other than buzzy, creepy crawlies who see humans as a free meal. 

For us parents, we know firsthand what skeeter bites mean for little ones as they simply can’t handle the itch — day or night. What’s more, some kids get it way worse than others, often developing an allergic reaction to the bite that causes the area to swell up, resulting in a whole lot of pain. When this happens, it’s not uncommon for children to develop a fear of going outside, all in an attempt to avoid getting bitten. 

Many insect repellents are available on the market made with ingredients to ward off bugs — like Picaridin and DEET. However, these insect repellants just might be doing more harm than good. 

Wondering which one is best? We can help. Read on as we explore the two insect-fighting chemicals to find the better of the two. Are you ready? 

Let’s dive in!

But First, Why Use Insect Repellent Anyway? 

One word: mosquitoes. 

The bloodsucking vampires are and always have been not only an annoyance but also a major health risk. They spread life-threatening diseases such as Malaria, Yellow Fever, Dengue, and West Nile Virus and are responsible for over one million deaths every single year. 

But that’s not all: in addition to spreading deadly diseases, these icky bugs can have a huge impact on a person’s health and wellbeing. For instance, mosquitoes can spread parasites that cause lymphatic filariasis (LF), which happens to be one of the world’s leading causes of disability. Otherwise known as elephantiasis, LF causes swollen limbs, immense pain, and social discrimination among millions of the world’s most vulnerable residents. 

Needless to say, keeping the deadliest creature on the planet at bay is of the utmost importance.   

And what’s the best way to prevent the little buggers from biting us, you ask? 

Simple — by using insect repellent. 

How Do Insect Repellents Work? 

To be clear, most bug sprays that you apply to your body are insect repellents — not insecticides. So if you’re wondering how bug spray kills the pesky pests, the truth is that they don’t... but they will help to keep them away from you. And when they are away from you, your risk of getting an itchy bite or contracting a mosquito-borne illness is greatly reduced. 

Most insect repellents accomplish this goal primarily by disguising your scent. 

You see, the scents of your favorite perfume or shampoo and even the carbon dioxide that you emit when you breathe are essentially chemical invitations to hungry biting bugs. Insect repellents are designed to mask those tantalizing chemicals, ultimately keeping hunting pests away. Along with covering up your scent, most insect repellents smell repulsive to bugs, which further dissuades them from coming anywhere near you. 

What Is In Insect Repellent? 

There are many synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals commonly used as the active ingredient in insect repellents. So, what exactly are they made of? Well, insect repellents primarily consist of a pressurized, concentrated dose of their active ingredient. The active ingredient is the chemical that masks our alluring scent and repulses the hungry critters. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has approved quite a few chemicals, with DEET and Picaridin being the most common. 

Picaridin vs. DEET: The Ultimate Showdown 

Nothing can kill our chill-out-in-nature vibe faster than becoming an all-you-can-eat bug buffet. When we arm ourselves with chemicals like picaridin and DEET, we can keep these hungry buzzing pests away — but which chemical reigns supreme in the war against hungry blood-sucking mosquitoes? 

Let’s compare!

What Is DEET? 

Invented for the United States military back in the late ‘40s, a repellent with DEET tells skeeters to buzz off loud and clear. It’s a colorless, water-resistant, and synthetic chemical. It is available in concentrations ranging from five percent to 100 percent, although concentrations above 30 percent have not been shown to be any more effective.

DEET is identified as one of the top chemicals to reduce the risk of life-altering disease from mosquitoes with low toxicity concerns. However, precaution and proper application are crucial as there are quite a few dangers associated with the beloved chemical.

Dangers with DEET

Here are some of the potential threats:

1. Allergic Reactions
For some, when DEET is applied to the skin (especially for an extended period of time), it can cause uncomfortable reactions like redness, swelling, rash, and hives. And in some cases, anaphylaxis can even occur. For these reasons, the EPA recommends washing your child’s treated skin and clothes with soap and water immediately after returning indoors. 

2. Seizures and Brain Damage
Believe it or not, there are many reports of DEET-induced seizures in children. Unfortunately, it’s true: according to a recent case analysis, clinical reports of children under 16 years old experienced brain damage from DEET exposure. These reports indicate that symptoms can be caused by not only the ingestion of DEET and repeated application but also brief exposure to the popular chemical. 

The most prominent symptom among the reported cases was seizures, which affected a whopping 72 percent of the patients and was significantly more frequent when products containing DEET were applied to the skin. 
3. Negatively Impacts The Environment
The EPA says DEET may be toxic to birds, fish, and aquatic invertebrates. When testing the chemical on freshwater fish and insects, it was toxic at high levels. What’s more, a study conducted on wastewater-polluted streams in the U.S. found DEET in 73 percent of the stream sites sampled, suggesting the chemical can move into the environment where it can potentially harm aquatic life.  

In addition to these potential dangers, DEET can damage synthetic fibers as well as melt certain plastics and watch crystals. With all of this in mind, is DEET really something that you want to apply to your tiny tot’s sensitive skin? Probably not.  

What Is Picaridin? 

Picaridin has been widely used as an active ingredient in insect repellent in Australia and Europe since it was first developed in the 1980s but has been available in the United States only since 2005. 

A synthetic compound similar to a compound found in the black pepper plant, picaridin is thought to be just as effective as DEET, without most of the damage: it doesn’t irritate the skin and doesn’t come with a bad rep of being potentially toxic. Plus, it won’t erode plastic or synthetic materials and typically doesn’t leave behind a greasy residue. 

What’s more, unlike DEET, picaridin isn’t a neurotoxin and is regarded as a safe chemical for pregnant and breastfeeding women. 

Sounds pretty great, right? 

The only problem is that picaridin is a relatively new chemical which means long-term health risks are unknown, where DEET has had several decades of use and study. That being said, although seemingly a better option, picaridin is still a man-made chemical, just like DEET, and like all chemicals, potential health risks are possible.  Kids already see far too many chemicals in their day-to-day lives. 

Which Chemical Comes Out On Top? 

Unfortunately, it’s unclear. 

DEET has been used all around the globe for many years but comes with a few worrisome drawbacks, including irritation and toxicity. Plus, there have also been reported neurological effects such as seizures, dizziness, confusion, and more. 

Picaridin, on the other hand, doesn’t come with any of those drawbacks and has been shown to be just as effective in keeping bugs away as DEET. However, it’s a relatively new chemical, so long-term health risks are unknown at this time. 

So, which is better, you ask? Between the two, we’d reluctantly say picaridin is the superior chemical as it’s effective in keeping bugs away, and unlike DEET, it doesn’t melt plastic, and it’s not a neurotoxin. 

That being said, picaridin is still a man-made chemical, and like all synthetic chemicals, potential health risks are possible — which is exactly why we prefer all-natural and chemical-free insect repellents, like BuzzPatch

Here at The Natural Patch Co., we created non-toxic and DEET-free patches designed to confuse mosquitoes and hide your little ones from their senses. Made using non-woven fabric infused with a kid-friendly combo of essential oils like citronella and lavender, our innovative repellent patches are extremely easy to apply.  Plus, they smell great and are environmentally-friendly! 

BuzzPatch works by creating a virtual shield, almost camouflaging your kiddos from the pesky little bugs to keep them safe from itchy bites and mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue, and yellow fever. 

While most effective in the first eight hours, BuzzPatch continues to be effective for 24 to 72 hours from opening, and unlike DEET or picaridin, it’s perfectly safe to keep on the skin without any risk of toxicity or irritation from sun-up to sun-down. 

Say goodbye to mosquitoes the natural way and try BuzzPatch today.



Lymphatic filariasis (Elephantiasis) website | Lymphatic filariasis 

Skin-Applied Repellent Ingredients | US EPA

Severe allergic reaction to diethyltoluamide (DEET) containing insect repellent | NCBI

Using Insect Repellents Safely and Effectively | US EPA

Anticonvulsant-resistant seizures following pyridostigmine bromide (PB) and N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) | NCBI

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