Do Not Use OFF! FamilyCare Smooth And Dry Insect Repellent If You Are Allergic To Cornstarch

Yes, OFF! FamilyCare Smooth and Dry insect repellent contains cornstarch. Reader Michelle found out about this fact the worst way possible–not through an ingredient label of which there is none that mentions cornstarch, but by inadvertently inhaling the stuff one evening and suffering an allergic reaction which lasted a few days. Michelle’s letter, inside…

So I think I figured out why I feel so dizzy and shaky and weak.

I’m allergic to corn and egg whites. The symptoms felt a lot like I feel when I have an allergic reaction, except my stomach wasn’t upset. I thought back to all the stuff I ate over the weekend, and nothing was suspect. Everything was safe.

At first I thought it was a hangover and was just delayed in hitting me. But when I still felt bad last night, and then today, that’s a lot more than a hangover.

Then I remembered, Saturday evening, I sprayed myself down with bug spray, and I accidentally breathed in a bunch of it. So I started looking up information on being poisoned by bug spray. I was looking to see if there can be a delayed reaction. There sure can. Since it had been 36 hours since I was exposed to it and I still hadn’t felt better, I considered calling the poison control hotline.

But everything I read said to have the suspected product handy if possible when calling. Since I was at work, I decided to look it up online. I knew it was OFF! and I knew what the can looked like, so I headed over to their website. The first product I click on was it (emphasis mine):
OFF!® FamilyCare Insect Repellent I Smooth & Dry

Finally, a bug spray that doesn’t feel like a bug spray! OFF!® Smooth & Dry has a unique cornstarch formula that dries on contact, leaving your skin feeling smooth & dry, unlike ordinary repellents. Feels good on… Keeps bugs OFF!® Repels mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, biting flies, chiggers and fleas.

* Aerosol (15% DEET)

Well, no wonder I feel like hell. I unintentionally filled my lungs with cornstarch. I’d bet it takes a lot longer to get something out of my lungs than it does my stomach.

I’m really careful about reading labels, but the only ingredient information the can had on it was the percentage of DEET. It didn’t even have that lovely description that I pasted from their website above.

So I called it an early day from work today, intent on coming home and drugging myself up on Benadryl. But, my boss convinced me to call my doctor when I got home. I did, and I talked to a nurse who talked to the doctor and got back to me. She said to take 10mg of Lortadine (Claritin) 2x a day for the next few days. I’m assuming she said Lortadine because Benadryl will probably make the dizziness worse. It would definitely exaggerate the sleepiness.

So at least I haven’t killed myself, and I hope this goes away soon. Although I’m really tempted to write a letter to the OFF! people…

You should write a letter to the OFF! people, SC Johnson, specifically. It seems logical to assume that there is someone out there with a more severe allergy than yours, who is looking for a non-greasy way to get rid of mosquitos. We’re not lawyers, but we’re guessing that printing a label that mentions corn starch would be cheaper than say, settling a wrongful death lawsuit.


Edit Your Comment

  1. basket548 says:

    Hmm, or, you can, you know, CHECK THE LABEL if you’re allergic to things?? Doesn’t look like OFF was trying to hide anything.

  2. Jay Slatkin says:

    @basket548: Cornstarch is not mentioned on the label.

  3. MeOhMy says:

    Could basket548 be the first ban-candidate in our new age of the “Commenter Code”?

    So can we use this unique new bug spray to make a starched handkerchief that doubles as both a deadly weapon and an insect repellent rag?

  4. basket548 says:

    @Jay Slatkin:

    Whoops, my bad. I take it back. I guess I misread what was on the website as something that was on the label.

    However, with so many people being allergic to so many things these days, I hardly think that it is the onus of the company to list every ingredient that could possibly cause an allergic reaction in someone somewhere, though I would like to see if all the ingredients are listed on the actual can. If so, then yes, OFF is responsible. If not, well, I think that it falls upon the consumer to know what is or is not going into his body.

  5. cpt.snerd says:

    @basket548: “I’m really careful about reading labels, but the only ingredient information the can had on it was the percentage of DEET. It didn’t even have that lovely description that I pasted from their website above.”

    Allergic to egg whites? Noooooo! I love egg white omelets! >.<

    But I definitely agree about writing a letter to the company and letting them know… How hard is it to put a simple piece of copy that lists the ingredients? Many companies even put warnings that their product maybe have touched nuts (nevermind that they don’t contain, just simply touch!)

  6. MPHinPgh says:

    @Troy F.: Interesting idea…

  7. MPHinPgh says:

    @basket548: But if the ingredients are not listed on the label, then how is a consumer supposed to know what he IS putting in (or on) his body. That’s the whole idea behind listing the ingredients.

    So, yes, the onus is on the manufacturer to list them correctly and completely. It’s not like it takes up a huge amount of space, and it doesn’t take a lot of research on the manufacturer’s part (they _manufactured_ it) to know what’s in the stuff.

  8. SCAdvanced says:

    I’m pretty sure that there is something on the label that shows it contains cornstarch. I went camping just a couple weeks ago and my friend brought this specific spray and was raving about how it contained corn starch. I doubt that she just made it up out of no where. I wish that I had a label to look at right now though.

  9. Indecent says:

    @basket548: “If not, well, I think that it falls upon the consumer to know what is or is not going into his body.”

    Which is all well and lovely, but it cannot fall to a consumer to know what is going in their body if there is no reasonable way for them to find out during purchase or application.

  10. MikeB says:

    @basket548: But since it is a “unique cornstarch” formula you would think that they would list cornstarch on the label as there is probably more than a trace amount.

  11. T16skyhopp says:

    Agreed. Everything should be listed. Also, any known common allergens should be highlighted. After that it is up to the consumer.

  12. chrisjames says:

    @MPHinPgh: With so many people being allergic to so many things these days, it should be the onus of the company to list every ingredient found in the product. With so many chemical additives begin tested as carcinogens, atmospheric pollutants, ground-water pollutants, causing unexpected side-effects, etc, etc …

    Just tell us what’s in the product, we can do the rest.

  13. Elcheecho says:

    well it’s definitely mentioned in the commercial…odd they left it off the actual label.

  14. basket548 says:

    Which is kinda my point. As it stands now, only products that are meant to be ingested are those that have to list all their ingredients (I think). So if a product does not list all its ingredients, then a people who is allergic to anything whatsoever should probably avoid using it. Sucks, but it’s the way things are right now.

    Yes, true. I’d love to see a close-up of the can and whether there is actually a section listing all ingredients, or whether only the ‘active’ ingredients are listed.

  15. freepistol says:

    my mom used this, and i knew it had cornstarch in it, and i never looked at the lable, or the can. it just made sense that it would have corn starch in it to make it not greasy. but not everyone would conclude that.

    you can feel the corn starch though, i hate it.

    and the can stopped working about a week and sputtered white spots all over the back deck when ever you tried to use it.

  16. alice_bunnie says:


    I was going to say the same thing. They very specifically mention it in the commercial. Hmmm, I’m not blaming anyone, I’m just curious.

  17. chrisjames says:

    @chrisjames: was meant for basket548‘s post. Sorry.

  18. basket548 says:


    Haha, I was pretty sure that was meant at my comment. And you make a good point. I guess I fall a bit more toward the individual responsibility side of the spectrum – I don’t really expect anyone other than me to be looking out for me.

  19. VA_White says:

    I wouldn’t guess automatically that it contained cornstarch. It could have a dimethicone formula which would also be smooth and dry and could be aerosolized.

    I have this stuff (it’s great if you’re not allergic) and nowhere on the label, not even in the mouseprint on the back, does it mention cornstarch.

  20. Ophanin says:

    Does anyone own a can of this stuff? I find it hard to believe that the can did not state that Cornstarch is in it if it, according to the website, a “unique cornstarch formula.” Seems like something that the company would want to mention.

    I’m not trying to blame the OP, just curious as to if anything was missed.

  21. Ophanin says:


    Disregard my post.

  22. VA_White says:

  23. VA_White says:

    The embiggened is readable here:

  24. VA_White says:

  25. pollyannacowgirl says:

    Well, I agree that the company should LIST THE INGREDIENTS. Every last one. It’s also a good idea to do what Tom’s of Maine does, and list in parentheses the source of the ingredient, e.g.: sodium lauryl sulfate (from coconut oil) or carrageenan (seaweed). Slightly educational, too.

    But, I’m with freepistol on this one. I would have assumed either talc or cornstarch as an ingredient, just from the “smooth and dry” labeling.

  26. madrigal says:

    @VA_White: It says powder dry formula. Doesn’t that imply cornstarch?

    I do think that the word CORNSTARCH needs to be listed though.

  27. VA_White says:

    @madrigal: Not necessarily. There are a lot of products that use dimethicone the same way you’d use cornstarch. That new monistate anti-chafing cream is one example. I use it on my the back of my toddler’s knees since he tends to get a sweaty rash there in the summer. It goes on smooth, like a powder. It’s also labeled “anti-chafing powder gel” and uses dimethicone, not cornstarch, as the smoothing and drying agent.

    Because I am familiar with the dimethicone product, my first guess was that the Off! uses something similar because the way it feels on your hands is similar and because they are both liquid/gel products, not dry like cornstarch.

  28. madrigal says:

    @VA_White: Ah. Okay. Thanks for that clarification. I hope OFF addresses this issue and “takes it seriously”.

  29. ncboxer says:

    I didn’t know there were people allergic to corn. Must be tough because a lot of stuff has corn in it, especially with the sugar substitute- high fructose corn syrup.

    OFF should definitely list the ingredients on the bottle. A lot of sprays only list one or two ingredients.

  30. tom2133 says:

    My dad had a bottle of insect repellent that fell of the shelf in the garage and under the tire of my dad’s truck. He ran over it (he didn’t know it was there) and returned and ran over it again. He moved the truck later that day to find that some of the “garage floor paint” he laid down was peeling. This paint is somehow impervious to thinners, oils, solvents – but I guess it wasn’t immune to DEET – which peeled up the paint.

  31. Consumerist-Moderator-Roz says:

    @basket548: Your comment is clearly inappropriate. Read the comment code; helpful comments are fine, blaming the victim is not fine.

  32. Benny Gesserit says:

    I’m a little concerned Michelle breathed in 15% DEET when she got the lungful of cornstach. If she hasn’t already, I’d suggest she drop by her Dr’s office and have a chat.

  33. Consumerist-Moderator-Roz says:

    @Troy F.: Hardly the first candidate! In any case, please forward issues to me via email ( rather than commenting that other users could/should be banned. Thanks.

  34. boss_lady says:

    @madrigal: Nope, that sure doesn’t imply cornstarch. It implies “Powder Dry.”

    Regardless, consumers shouldn’t have to rely on reading between the lines and implications to see what’s really in the product they’re about to purchase and ingest/apply/etc.

  35. Cognitive_Friction says:

    Former employee of an SC Johnson company checking in here, with a few thoughts on what I’ve seen so far in the comments:

    1. If you ingest this product, you should probably be more worried about poisoning from DEET than the cornstarch. Next time you apply a chemical pesticide to your skin…close your mouth!
    2. Consumer product labels are a bit more complicated than some commenters are assuming. In addition to listing active ingredients, manufacturers list as many product warnings as possible to protect themselves from lawsuits. There simply isn’t enough room on a typical aerosol can to cover every possibility. Given that corn starch allergies are probably relatively rare, it’s not surprising that it didn’t make the label.
    3. SC Johnson and associated companies are all GREAT places to work, and they genuinely care about their employees as well as their customers. If you have a concern with their products, call the 800 number – in my experience those calls were very closely monitored & will be taken seriously.


  36. @basket548: So everyone with allergies should avoid using shampoo, laundry detergent, soap …? You must be very tolerant of personal odor.

  37. failurate says:

    So products like this will soon be coming with pamphlets taped to them or they will be coming in boxes with drop ins.
    More packaging. Yay.

    It does seem like there needs to be more education about allergies for product makers and for people with the allergies.

  38. mzhartz says:

    OP here.

    First, my mouth was closed, my nose was not. I didn’t inhale the bug spray intentionally.

    I did address the DEET issue, and I did call my doctor.

    Had the can listed the ingredients, I would’ve seen the cornstarch and selected a different product. Similar products are corn free, including other types of bug spray and the Monistat powder gel products that another commenter mentioned. I haven’t seen the commercial, and I didn’t have any reason to think that this product would contain anything more than trace amounts of corn.

    Yep, the corn allergy is a pain. Luckily I am only moderately allergic. But I am much more likely to purchase products with a comprehensive ingredients label. I love that the Tom’s of Maine product ingredients are so detailed, and purchase their products for that reason. But really, all I’m asking for is the listing of ingredients.

  39. As someone who is allergic to corn this would cause me to have a severe allergic reaction. If I inhaled it my airway would restrict and I would be unable to breathe. Even with my mouth closed (as someone suggested) being in the area after it is sprayed would impact me. I have to be very cautious about what foods I eat and I have to read every label. Looking at this can, I would never have suspected it contained corn.

  40. shufflemoomin says:

    Cornstarch is quite popular in products. Some latex balloon manufacturers use it instead of talc to stop latex sticking, but they don’t list that on packaging that I’m aware of. So, does that mean companies have to start listing things USED in the production and not necessarily still in or on it? Where would it end?

  41. Ben Popken says:

    The law says all ingredients have to be listed. End of story.

  42. boss_lady says:

    @shufflemoomin: Absolutely. Why do you think that so many packaged food has information like “Made in a facility that produces peanuts/milk/wheat”? This information should be listed above, below, or next to product ingredients as even trace amounts can set off an attack for allergy sufferers.

  43. satoru says:

    @Ben Popken: Insect repellant is regulated by the EPA not the FDA. Thus complete ingredient listing is not mandatory. Only the active ingredients controlled by the EPA need to be prominently displayed.


    Since cornstarch is ‘inert’ it would be bundled in with the other 85% of inert ingredients. They are under no regulation to specifically spell out what these ingredients are.

    Basically they are obligated to prominently display the active chemicals that are controlled by the EPA and how much by percentage is required. But beyond that they aren’t required to list out anything else in detail.

  44. Cognitive_Friction says:

    @Ben Popken: To which law are you referring? Are you sure that it applies to aerosols which are only intended for external use? It is my understanding that something intended for use on skin surface only has to list the active ingredients, which would not include corn starch…Plus, a company as large as SC Johnson (who also make Raid and Pledge aerosols BTW) employs entire teams who monitor labels to ensure that they are compliant with laws, so I find it hard to believe that they would’ve missed this one…

    @mzhartz: Thanks for the update. My first post was kinda more smartass-ish than I intended; sorry if my flippant choice of words offended. I also suffer from environmental & food allergies, and I know what a pain it can be. Is cornstarch a common allergy? I don’t know much about it.

    My main point was this: Companies who make aerosol products only have a finite amount of label space, so whatever space is left after marketing (primarily the front) and EPA required material (active ingredients, company contact info, etc) is dedicated to preventing litigation by listing “DO NOT USE PRODUCT FOR X” statements. If any label space were to be given to potential allergies, it would be focused on the most common allergic reactions, and I’m not sure that would include corn starch.


  45. Cognitive_Friction says:

    @satoru: Yeah, what he said.

  46. I’m rather surprised that with the commercials they have out about the corn starch in this stuff (saw one yesterday for the first time, oddly enough), that they wouldn’t put ‘HOLY SHIT NOW WITH CORNSTARCH FOR INCREASED AWESOMENESS AND STILL WON’T KEEP BUGS AWAY’ right on the front.

    Personally I don’t use bug spray because I don’t believe that it makes a difference, but to each his own, and bummer about this guy’s luck.

  47. failurate says:

    If they had only taken a second to put their little marketing spiel on the can, they could have avoided the whole Consumerist Allergy Sufferers buzzsaw.

    From their website.

    “Finally, a bug spray that doesn’t feel like a bug spray! OFF!® Smooth & Dry has a unique cornstarch formula that dries on contact, leaving your skin feeling smooth & dry, unlike ordinary repellents. Feels good on… Keeps bugs OFF!® Repels mosquitoes, gnats, ticks, biting flies, chiggers and fleas.”

  48. satoru says:

    @Cognitive_Friction: You’ll notice many EPA regulated products follow this rule. Look at your bottles of spray on Clorox bleach, or your anti-bacterial soaps. They only list active ingredients, not the chemical soup that’s required to make your soap bubble, or the surficants used to make your spray product more effective.

    However you will note that for aerosol food sprays, such as Pam or other non-stick sprays, the entire listing of ingredients is available on the can.

  49. @shufflemoomin: “So, does that mean companies have to start listing things USED in the production and not necessarily still in or on it? Where would it end?”

    Boss lady pointed out food products have to do this for common allergens; it’s also part of kosher certification, since miniscule amounts of X can dekosherize the food. Some vegetarian products do as well, so people feel comfortable the mfr isn’t using, I don’t know, bear grease to oil the machines. It’s really not that onerous; and you’ll note that many mfrs do have listings that say things like “May contain one of the following:” and list a bunch of leavening agents/anti-caking agents/coloring agents/etc., so that as price shifts dictate ingredient shifts, they don’t have to keep repackaging.

    The FDA does have detailed regulations about what kind of things can be used in food making machines (as oil, solvent, etc.) and at what point this has to be listed on the food packaging.

  50. satoru says:

    @failurate: You’re obviously not into marketing if you think a buzzword like ‘cornstarch’ is going to WOW your customers. If you put that down, they’re going to think its basically Gold Bond with a little DEET mixed in!

  51. @satoru: Isn’t it?

  52. Bix says:

    I’m pretty sure that cornstarch is a common food allergy that’s standard in food allergy test panels.

  53. Bizdady says:

    I think I saw a commercial for this just last night and I think I heard them mention something about cornstarch.

  54. failurate says:

    @satoru: I think your reply was intended for RamV10, but isn’t the whole point of marketing/advertising getting people excited over whatever it is that you want them to be excited about?

  55. mzhartz says:

    @Bix: I hate to say that corn is not one of the magical top 8 that gets the extra labeling. I think it’s #10.

    But really, I’m not asking for a statement saying it contains corn, just a list of ingredients. If lotions, soaps, and sunscreens can do it, why not bug sprays? There’s people out there with weirder allergies that would appreciate having the ingredients. And knowing what’s in the product you’re buying just makes you an informed consumer.

  56. satoru says:

    @RamV10: Nope, it’s probably Pam mixed with DEET.

  57. mzhartz says:

    Just a followup: I emailed SC Johnson today, and they called me back an hour or so later. I spoke to a really nice representative named Christie in their health and safety department. I told her the whole story and my suggestion to add ingredients to the can. She said her job was mostly just to document (it did sound like she was filling out a form), but that she would pass my suggestion along.

  58. defectiveburger says:

    so…I saw a commercial for this stuff a few days ago and the commercial clearly stated it was soft and dry due to cornstarch. That seems pretty clear to me. Are they using a different name for cornstarch on the label?

  59. starbreiz says:

    I too, am *very* allergic to corn, so I appreciate this heads up.

    Corn allergies aren’t quite as common as say, peanuts, so its not required to be labeled as diligently as an allergen. I thought the FDA required all ingredients to be listed regardless though.

  60. starbreiz says:

    Oh, also, a question for the OP… my corn allergies apply to ingesting, as well as contact. Did you not break out in hives or anything from simply putting cornstarch on your skin? If not, I want to trade with you, because I can’t even use certain deodorants that contain cornstarch.

  61. ChuckECheese says:

    You could use this stuff to grease and flour your cake pans, for, say, a shoo-fly pie.

  62. Zabella says:

    DEET is a solvent which may disolve plastics, rayon, spandex, leather and painted or varnished surfaces. Really, I want to slather it all over me now! But really, I try to only use it in situations where there is a risk of insect borne disease, and use other methods for annoyance bugs. Fans are really great! Mozzies dont like to bite in moving air! As for flies, well I cant say anything about the national bird of Australia. Just a quick tip, you can tell bush politicians because they allow flies to crawl all over them while they are being interveiwed. I guess you can build a tollerance!

  63. catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: it gets REALLY complicated. i’m allergic to mangoes and chamomile. this means almost any ‘soothing’ eyedrops [chamomile,] many moisturizing lip products and skin creams [mango butter] and a large number of shampoos and laundry detergents [chamomile] are off limits to me. if they list the ingredients, even under the scientific name as ‘matricaria chamomilia’ i can figure it out.
    but if i see ‘natural fragrances’ or ‘herbs’ i can’t risk it

    it’s kind of like my onion allergy – anything that just says ‘natural flavors’ or ‘spices’ is off limits.

  64. Kimbeegrin says:

    They mention cornstarch on the commercial.

  65. theantidote says:

    I was looking for bug spray this afternoon and saw this one. I think it’s ironic they call these products “FamilyCare” and the likes when they contain DEET, a carcinogen!

    I still haven’t found a bug spray with something simple like citronella in it. There are plenty online but I’d rather pick it up at the store. I’ll probably just end up getting it from the health food store. Citronella and natural ones work okay but they need to be reapplied more often than synthetic ones. This isn’t a big issue for me but others may have an issue with it. Supposedly catnip oil is the best but I can’t find it anywhere.

  66. ChuckECheese says:

    @theantidote: You could try Avon’s Skin-So-Soft, which many swear by (and has even been shown to be effective in field and lab tests). There aren’t many effective substitutes for DEET available. I camp a lot in buggy areas, and I’ve tried several things. Last year I bought some Cutter brand repellent that has a new-ish substance called Picaridin, but it only works until you begin to sweat, and at the first sign of schvitz, the repellent fails completely. And I’m not sure Picaridin’s still available, since I don’t see it in the stores anymore. I’ve heard of geraniol being used as a repellent too, but I’m not aware of any commercial products. Do some research online for DEET substitutes. FWIW, do not get DEET on your eyeglasses, as it will destroy them, both the paint on the frames, and the plastic and any coatings on the lenses.

  67. mzhartz says:

    @starbreiz: I sprayed it mostly on my clothes. And my allergy is only moderate. My doctor said they measure allergies on a 5 point scale, with 5 being a severe reaction, and my corn allergy is a 3.

    @defectiveburger: There’s no mention whatsoever of any ingredient other than DEET on the label.

    And I don’t usually watch network TV, so I haven’t seen the commercial for this product. I chose it from a shelf of bug sprays and had only the information contained on the product packaging to make my decision.