Insect repellent: What’s Picaridin?

The heavy duty commercial insect repellents this summer seem to have a newish active ingredient: Picaridin.  Thing is, it’s hard to find too much solid information on it, aside from here:

(Excerpted) (from a CDC press conference in 2005)

This morning we’d like to emphasize that Americans now have more options than ever to use in protecting themselves from mosquito bites, which remains a mainstay of protection against West Nile Virus and other mosquito-borne diseases. Today, the CDC is releasing new guidance about effective mosquito repellents now available in the United States. This updated guidance includes addition of two active ingredients, the Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, which have been shown to offer long-lasting protection against mosquito bites.

Repellents containing DEET, may I emphasize, these repellents containing DEET continue to be a highly effective repellent option and are also included in the CDC guidelines.

DEET, actually, we have the most experience with over the years and it’s been shown to be an extremely safe and effective repellent and remains a very important option for consumers.

Picaridin, which is one of the ones we’re now adding to our list of recommendations as far as effective repellents, is also known as KBR 3023, and this is an active ingredient that has been available in Europe, Australia, Latin America and Asia for some time.

Evidence indicates that it works very well, often comparable with DEET, and with Picaridin there’s been, as I emphasize, there’s been a long-standing experience in other parts of the world which have shown it to be safe and effective.

One product containing 7 percent Picaridin is being distributed in the U.S. this year, and I’m confident that other products containing Picaridin will be on the market also shortly.

The other ingredient that we’re adding to our list of recommendations is oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as P-menthane diol, or PMD, for short. PMD is a plant-based repellent that gave protection time similar to low concentrations of DEET products in two recent studies, and is available in a variety of formulations throughout the United States.

CDC says Picaridin is safe.  That’s good.  But they also say DEET is safe.  Which doesn’t exactly encourage me. 

It’s encouraging that lemon eucalyptus oil is getting some mainstream press–until they say this:

Now I must emphasize that oil of lemon eucalyptus, although it appears to have a efficacy similar to low concentrations of DEET, the experience with oil of lemon eucalyptus is less than the many years of experience that we’ve had with DEET over the years, but it does appear to be a good alternative to DEET.

We have less experience with lemon eucalyptus. Because it’s plant-based and no one has bothered to study it, because no one can make the kind of money on it they can on something synthetic. So they’re carefully implying that this aeons-old long-established natural remedy doesn’t have the safety track record of things like DEET and Picaridin.  Nice.

Then there’s this (Picaridin fact sheet)

Unfortunately, I don’t really understand any of it.  But that’s a good website; I’ve bookmarked it, and it has info regarding a whole mess of different pesticides.

Does anyone in the whole green movement know anything at all about this stuff, what it means, how it works, and what its danger level is?



Posted on July 16, 2009, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Picaridin is completely harmless. It’s non soluable which means it makes it difficult to absorb into the skin so it sits as a shield on the surface. It lasts as efficiently as deet products and works really well (in my opinion) with the AVON skin so soft bug repellants. I build fences on golf courses so you can imagine how useful it is for me. Depending on what the chemical is mixed with depends on the danger level and all products must label their bottles accordingly. that said always use products in moderation, and stop if you feel any out of the ordinary symptoms. Good research 🙂

  2. I’ve been reading every article I can when I stumbled upon yours– great job btw. I’ve avoided DEET (and just about everything that could be potentially harmful) as a rule since the birth of my daughter, who is now 12. As a rule, it’s important to know that things that are natural can be harmful. There have been mention of the potential dangers of the lemon eucalyptus variety of repellant, namely in children three and under, and also when it’s near the eyes (who puts this stuff on their eyes, anyway? LOL). I’m naturally suspicious of the picardin because the commentary on research is that it’s safe because it’s been used in foreign countries for a long time. I want to know more about those studies because (as you said) these people also say that DEET is safe, and I’m inclined to be suspicious about that, too. I think the most reliable articles so far are university based (Duke, Yale, and OSU had great ones), and the American Academy of Pediatrics has great info, too. Another article uses cost-benefit analysis: risk in terms of location versus risk in terms of chemical exposure. So, if I go to South America or India (etc) I’ll go ahead and go DEET. But as far as Northern California goes, I think picardin for camping and lemon eucalyptus for a couple hours hiking in the redwoods. I’m not sure if my two cents helps at all, either way it was nice to find a blog written by a fellow green mom. Cheers!

  3. Piciradine is a synthetic chemical that mimics the chemical structure of pepper. I have been using it this summer (2014) in preference to DEET. I cannot stand DEET, I feel as if I have been slathered in Crisco and I think prefer the mosquito bite, if it were not for the disease vectors. I am not sure of the health effects of piciradine other than my best educated guess, but it is what I am going with. I can say it keeps the Mosquitos off of me, and once dry I don’t notice any greasy feel.

  4. I stumbled upon this just recently When I first went camping with my daughter (age 2) I did everything I could to get to the bottom of ‘repellents’. Overwhelmed and thoroughly disgusted with the constantly conflicting “expert” information. I stopped and condensed this logically. Firstly; Your skin is an ORGAN…think about it, organs process – they absorb, catalyze, re-manufacture, extrude, and eliminate. This is your skin. It also adjusts to your whims: Hot water ‘makes’ it absorb by forcing pores to open…etc. In fact the toxins you might be worried about in the water your drinking is NOTHING compared to what you absorb in your shower! Whatever you put on or are exposing your skin to is ingestion – your eating a way. Would you want to eat pesticide? Not me. So I do not spray onto my skin. And if you think the CDC is on YOUR side, your wrong – they are on the Federal side of “prevent an outbreak at any cost…” Picaridin is a synthetic form of the base molecule of piperine which is what gives natural black pepper its ‘punch’. Its not really ‘safe’, or ‘natural’, but its far far far and away better than slathering Deet onto yourself. Remember ANYTHING you put on your skin you are ingesting! Dig deeper and you will find that Deet is one of the worst things you can expose yourself to in many many ways. Children have gone into convulsions within minutes of exposure to Deet and not recovered fully.
    What do we do? Mosquitos exist and they live to suck some blood (only the females) because after one dose of blood they then, and only then, are able to breed and fertilize eggs. I found that natural deterrents are best in your own body chemistry. Garlic ,onion Vitamin B’s in proper combination and appropriate Iron levels in the blood repel. The bugs land but don’t bite. There are many people who actually have blood makeup (like too high iron) that are repellent to mosquitos, not to mention black flies, chiggers, ticks, deer flies and on and on. I do use oregano oil and peppermint oil which adds to the effect of keeping them off. But I’m so exhausted thinking about all the advice and chemical crap we are forced to keep buying and advised to use. It just makes you wonder why there is such a thing as cancer….

    • Makes you wonder why there is cancer? Cancer has been around since before humans existed in their current form.

      I’m all for being natural but the fear of some things made to keep you safe confounds me. Can you show any example (documented) that DEET has caused these convulsions or is it strictly anecdotal. Keeping in mind that even essential oils and other natural items can do the same or worse.

      Keep in mind, the diseases that mosquitos and ticks carry are also natural.

  5. It’s upsetting this is on the first page of my Google search. Please edit this before someone gets hurt. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is NOT the same as lemon eucalyptus oil.

    OLE has a ~70% concentration of PMD, which is the repelling factor, whereas LEO has ~1%. I understand it’s confusing, but directing someone to the regular essential oil instead of the refined version that your quote mentions, is putting them at higher risk.

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