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Choosing an Insect Repellent

Summer Safety Primer

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Updated July 05, 2011

Popular insect repellents.

Popular insect repellents.

Photo (c) 2007 Vincent Iannelli, MD licensed to About.com, Inc.
Parents often have problems choosing an insect repellent for their kids. It seems even more difficult to know when to start using the insect repellent.

Surprisingly, there is an easy answer for these parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that insect repellents with DEET are safe to use on children as young as two months old.

Avoiding Insect Bites

Instead of, or in addition to, using insect repellents, there are also many steps that you can take to avoid insect bites. These protective measures include:
  • 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 spending time outdoors during evening to early morning hours (dusk to dawn)-- when mosquitoes bite the most
  • avoiding scented soaps and other things that might attract mosquitoes and other bugs
  • using a bug screen over your child's stroller
  • controlling mosquitoes and other insects where your kids play
While long-sleeve clothing may not seem like a good option during the spring and summer because of the heat, it does offer double protection against the sun and bugs. Thin, loose-fitting clothing, while not as protective as thicker clothing, may help to make it more tolerable.

Insect Repellents with DEET

Most experts agree that an insect repellent with DEET is the best protection against mosquito bites and other insects. Choosing an insect repellent can be confusing, though.

Some insect repellents with DEET include:

  • OFF! Skintastic Family (4.75% DEET)
  • OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellents (5, 7, or 15% DEET)
  • OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent Towelettes (5.6% DEET)
  • Cutter All Family Mosquito Wipes (7.15% DEET)
  • Cutter All Family Mosquito Insect Repellent (7% DEET)
  • OFF! Deep Woods (25% DEET)
  • OFF! Deep Woods Sportsman (30% DEET)
Keep in mind that insect repellents with higher DEET concentrations aren't necessarily stronger than those with lesser concentrations-- they simply last longer. So although the EPA reports that "there is no restriction on the percentage of DEET in the product for use on children," that doesn't mean that you should rush to use the highest form of DEET you can find.

If your child is only going to be outside for a few hours, you can likely just use an insect repellent with less than 10% DEET. Reserve insect repellents with higher concentrations of DEET--including those with 20% DEET or more--for when your child is going to be outside for four or five hours.

DEET-Free Insect Repellents

Although insect repellents with DEET work great and are thought to be safe to use on children, there are still many parents who prefer DEET-free insect repellents. Many older reports associate DEET with possible toxic side effects, including seizures. DEET has been found to be safe to use, though, even on young children. Still, a DEET-free insect repellent is fine to use if you prefer it and it works for your child.

Popular insect repellents that are DEET-free include:

  • Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Insect Repellent
  • OFF! Botanicals Plant Based Insect Repellent (oil of lemon eucalyptus)
  • Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent (Picaridin)
  • Bull Frog Mosquito Coast
  • Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent (Lemongrass Oil, Citronella Oil, Rosemary Oil)
  • California Baby Bug Repellent Spray with Citronella
  • Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
Remember that, according their labels, products with oil of lemon eucalyptus (e.g. OFF! Botanicals) should not be used on children under age three.

Picaridin is another chemical ingredient found in repellents and is not a natural product. It is thought to be as effective as DEET and can be another option for parents looking for an alternative to DEET to consider.

What You Need To Know

  • The AAP recommends that parents should not reapply insect repellents with DEET more than once a day.

  • You should usually avoid combination products with a sunscreen and insect repellent, such as Coppertone Bug and Sun and Bull Frog Mosquito Coast. The main problem with them is that sunscreens should be reapplied every few hours, while insect repellents should not. They may be a good option if you are sure that you will only be out for a few hours and you want the convenience of a single product, however.

  • To be safe, only apply insect repellents to exposed skin. Do not apply it under clothing, on a child's hands, near the mouth or eyes, or over cuts and irritated skin. You can even apply the insect repellent to your hands first and then rub it on your child to avoid over-application.

  • Wash off insect repellents once your child comes inside and will no longer be exposed to mosquitoes.



Sources:

What's the buzz? Be prepared to answer parents' questions about insect repellents. James R. Roberts, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP AAP News Vol. 28 No. 7 July 2007, p. 1

Follow safety precautions when using DEET on children. AAP Committee on Environmental Health - 2003.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Insect Repellent DEET

Comparative efficacy of insect repellents against mosquito bites. Fradin MS - N Engl J Med - 4-JUL-2002; 347(1): 13-8

DEET Alternatives Considered to be Effective Mosquito Repellents. AAP News - June, 2005

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