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What is Permethrin? (2023 Guide)

What is Permethrin? (2023 Guide)

If you’re looking for a solution to repel mosquitoes, ticks, flies, and other stinging insects, you’ve probably come across a permethrin insect repellent or even a piece of outdoor apparel with permethrin “baked in”. In this article, we’ll discuss what permethrin is, its benefits and drawbacks, and alternatives to this chemical compound. 

What is permethrin?

Permethrin is an insecticide that works to kill a broad range of pests, and has been used in both commercial farming and in consumer packaged repellents as an active ingredient. 

How does permethrin work?

Products with permethrin often contain piperonyl butoxide (PBO), which according to the Florida Department of Agriculture, works with permethrin to “overexcite” the nervous system of insects, causing them to die. It was originally created in 1979 for application on Cotton and was approved conditional upon it passing toxicology examination. It is sometimes used by mosquito repellent fleets who spray yards, as the droplets stay airborne and cause mosquitoes and other flying bugs to die when they fly into them. It also exists in some personal repellent sprays, but they are always insistent on making it known that these sprays are not intended to be used on your skin. More on that later, but it is surely something to be informed about.

The EPA has banned permethrin for wide area crop applications, as it is highly toxic to aquatic organisms. The NJ Department of Health has also published a fact sheet about this hazardous substance that details all of the potential side effects that come from exposure. These side effects from inhaling the particles include irritation to the lungs, nose, and throat. Repeated contact also reportedly can cause rashes, itching, and tingling reminiscent of “pins and needles”. We have never tried it for ourselves, but we have found that these warnings line up with product reviews from apparel manufacturers & repellent spray manufacturers.

Benefits of permethrin

While it is a relatively new solution, there are some advantages to using permethrin in your repellent repertoire:

  • Permethrin is relatively low cost, and there is low incidence of pest resistance.
  • Permethrin is highly effective for longer periods of time. Some manufacturers claim that after application to gear, the insecticide can keep insects away for up to two weeks with one application.
  • Permethrin insecticide is odorless (this can be a positive or a negative, we will let you decide!)
  • Permethrin won’t stain your clothes or gear
  • Permethrin lotion can be used to treat head lice infections. Severe inflammation and irritation has been reported from the Mayo Clinic, but positive results have been reported as well.

Drawbacks of permethrin 

However, permethrin does have its drawbacks, including:

  • When used as a lotion, spray, or in apparel, it can cause skin irritation, itching, and rashing. It is highly recommended to avoid skin contact with permethrin.
  • Personal insect repellent spray products with permethrin are not permitted to be used on skin. So if it is warm outside and you aren’t planning on layering clothes, you may be vulnerable to mosquito & tick bites.
  • When used as an apparel/gear spray, you will oftentimes have to spray your items more than 2 hours before use and let them dry. This can be frustrating, especially if you’re pressed for time.
  • Permethrin is highly toxic to freshwater aquatic organisms
  • When used as an airborne spray, it can cause throat irritation, nausea, headaches, 
  • Based on laboratory studies, permethrin could possibly cause cancer in humans. However, this was mainly found when high exposure occurred.  

Is permethrin safe?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is the regulatory body for pest repellents, permethrin is an approved insecticide for a couple of specific applications. These include being used as a mosquito adulticide, as an active ingredient in insecticide clothing, as well as for application on gear and clothing. It is not approved for direct application to skin, and it is no longer approved as a mass crop pesticide. 

Alternatives to permethrin

If you’re not sold on permethrin, here are some alternative repellent options:

  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)—This natural oil is the only plant-based ingredient approved by the EPA that can repel mosquitoes. Oil of lemon eucalyptus is as effective as DEET and permethrin, doesn’t have an odor, doesn’t leave behind a greasy residue, and protects against mosquitoes and ticks for up to six hours. This is our active ingredient of choice, and our best-selling insect repellent spray uses a highly effective 30% formula of OLE. Plus, it is approved for use on all ages and on gear/clothing!
  • DEET—This chemical compound is found in a variety of insect repellents. It’s approved by the EPA as an insect repellent and has been around for longer than permethrin and oil of lemon eucalyptus, but it’s known to harm gear because it’s a plasticizer. DEET can also be toxic to freshwater fish and can enter the waterways when you wash it off your skin, harming local marine ecosystems.
  • Citronella—While citronella is found in a variety of natural insect repellents, including candles, sprays, oils, and balms, it’s used at lower concentrations because it can cause skin irritation at higher levels.
  • IR3535—Short for Insect Repellent 3535, IR3535 is a synthetic insect repellent that can be applied to your skin to prevent mosquito bites. It works by altering an insect’s sense of smell and is effective against mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus, Zika virus, and Chikungunya virus.
  • 2-Undecanone—This chemical compound is a colorless oil that has a strong odor, which is known to repel insects. It commonly comes in the form of liquids, sprays, or gels.

Why Murphy’s Naturals

Murphy’s Naturals offers a selection of natural mosquito repellents that are alternatives to permethrin and DEET. We harvest oil of lemon eucalyptus through a renewable, sustainable, and ethical process with Citrefine to produce products like our Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent Spray (LEO Spray) that provides six hours of protection from mosquitoes and repels ticks for up to four hours. We also have candles, incense, moisturizing balms… everything you need to keep bugs away in your favorite outdoor environment.

Additionally, Murphy’s Naturals products are made in the United States and the company has a giveback program that donates 2% of revenue to organizations, such as the Triangle Land Conservancy and the Plastic Ocean Project. This aligns with Murphy’s mission to celebrate nature and inspire good through quality natural products.

We hope this guide to permethrin helps you on your journey to enjoy life outdoors, free of mosquitoes and other bothersome bugs!

Have fun out there :)

  • The Murphy’s Naturals Team

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