Although once considered just a nuisance, insect bites can lead to serious medical problems. Not only can certain insects and ticks spread diseases like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, the bites themselves can become infected with bacteria, like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Since bites are itchy, even without any worries about health problems, protect your kids from insect bites by applying them with an insect repellent when they will be outside.
Using an Insect Repellent
Although most parents know that they can use insect repellent on their older children, many are surprised that it is considered safe to use most insect repellents on infants age two months and older to prevent bites from mosquitos and other insects. However, an insect repellent that contains oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under age three years old.
Once you understand your kids need an insect repellent, how do you know which one to get?
In general, the best insect repellent provides enough protection against biting insects and ticks for your child. And that usually depends on how much time your child will be outside.
For example, an insect repellent with 4.75% DEET protects your child for about an hour and a half. An insect repellent with a stronger concentrations of DEET will provide more protection:
- 6.65% DEET provides about 2 hours of protection
- 20% DEET provides about 4 hours of protection
- 23.8% DEET provides about 5 hours of protection
- 7% Picaridin provides about 3 to 4 hours of protection
- 15% Picaridin provides about 6 to 8 hours of protection
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus provides about 2 to 5 hours of protection
And insect repellents with other natural ingredients usually provide less protection. For example, Citronella Oil usually provides about 20 to 30 minutes of protection.
Best Insect Repellents
When choosing an insect repellent for your kids, the most long-lasting insect repellent will have either DEET or Picaridin as an active ingredient.
Insect repellent choices can include:
- Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes (10% Picaridin)
- Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent (7% Picaridin)
- Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent Wipes (5.75% Picaridin)
- Cutter Advanced Sport Insect Repellent (15% Picaridin)
- Cutter All Family Insect Repellent (7% DEET)
- Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent, Clean Fresh Scent (7% DEET)
- Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent, Ultra Light (15% Picaridin)
- Cutter Backwoods Mosquito Wipes, Unscented (23% DEET)
- Off! Active Sweat Resistant Insect Repellent, Unscented (15% DEET)
- Off! Active Sweat Resistant Insect Repellent, Pump Spray (25% DEET)
- Off! FamilyCare Clean Feel, Insect Repellent (5% Picaridin)
- Off! FamilyCare Smooth & Dry, Insect Repellent (15% DEET)
- Off! FamilyCare Tropical Fresh, Insect Repellent (5% DEET)
- Off! FamilyCare Unscented, Insect Repellent (7% DEET)
- Off! Family Care Towelettes (5.6% DEET)
- Off! Insect Repellent Spray with Aloe Vera, Unscented (7% DEET)
- Off! Insect Repellent, Aerosol (15% DEET)
- Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellant (25% DEET)
- Repel Insect Repellent, Sportsmen Formula (29% DEET)
- Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent, Controlled Release (20% DEET)
Although it doesn't last as long as DEET or Picaridin and can't be used on kids under age three years old, a good alternative is a natural insect repellent that contains oil of lemon eucalyptus, a plant-based insect repellent that can be found in:
- Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
- Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard which has IR3535 as its active ingredient is also thought to provide reasonably long-lasting protection. The Skin-So-Soft products with IR3535 are all combination products that include both an insect repellent and a sun screen, which is usually discouraged by most experts, since you usually have to reapply sunscreen every few hours.
Natural Insect Repellents
Although they are not usually thought to last as long, some parents like the idea of using a DEET-free, natural insect repellent.
These type of insect repellent, with ingredients like lemongrass oil, citronella oil, and soy bean oil, can include:
- Aubrey Organics Gone! Safe and Natural Outdoor Spray (contains natural grain alcohol)
- Badger Anti-Bug Balm
- Bite Blocker All Natural Insect Repellent Herbal Wipes
- Bite Blocker Sport Deet Free Waterproof Insect Repellent
- Bite Blocker Xtreme All Natural, "Deet Free" Insect Repellent
- Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
- California Baby Citronella Summer Lotion
- Kiss My Face Swy Flotter, Natural Tick & Insect Repellent
What You Need To Know
- Do not apply insect repellents under clothing, on a young child's hands, near their mouth or eyes, or over cuts and irritated skin.
- Wash off insect repellents with soap and water once you bring your kids inside.
- Avoid reapplying insect repellents more than once a day unless your kids are getting bit again.
- Avoid using a combination sunscreen/insect repellent, unless your child is only going to be outside for a few hours and you won't have to reapply it, since the directions for reapplying sunscreen (every few hours) and insect repellent (only if bugs are biting again) are different.
- When applying both a sunscreen and an insect repellent, it is usually best to apply your sunscreen first, and use a sunscreen with a high SPF in case the insect repellent makes the sunscreen less effective.
- In addition to an insect repellent, try other things to avoid biting insects, such as dressing your kids in thin, loose-fitting, long-sleeve clothing that doesn't include bright colors, encouraging your kids to wear socks and shoes instead of sandals, avoiding scented soaps and other things that might attract mosquitoes and other bugs, and controlling mosquitoes and other insects where your kids play.
CDC. Insect Repellent Use and Safety. Questions and Answers. Accessed June 2009.
Katz TM. Insect repellents: historical perspectives and new developments. J Am Acad Dermatol. 01-MAY-2008; 58(5): 865-71.
Keystone: Travel Medicine, 2nd ed.