As we become more and more aware of diseases that can spread from the bites of insects and ticks, it becomes important that we learn to protect our kids. Plus, itchy bites can turn into nasty scabs that your kids pick at over and over, leaving scars that might even get infected.
What should you do?
Insect Repellents for Kids
In addition to simply trying to avoid mosquitoes and ticks, which can be difficult, especially as your kids get older and spend more time outside, you should learn to protect them with insect repellents.
Are insect repellents safe for kids?
Despite all of the warning about chemicals and toxic pesticides that you might read on the internet, the answer is of course they are. In fact, many insect repellents can even be used on infants as young as age two months. And it is certainly better than your kids getting Chikungunya, Dengue, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, West Nile, or Zika. Or MRSA from an infected bite.
You do have to use them correctly though.
Choosing a Safe and Effective Insect Repellent
Which insect repellent should you use?
Although traditionally insect repellents with DEET have long been “considered the best defense against biting insects,” the CDC has now said that some other DEET-free alternative insect repellents may work as well as lower dose DEET, including those with 2-undecanone, Picaridin, IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and 2% soybean oil.
Of course, that has led to a lot of new insect repellents on store shelves these days. And to a lot of confused parents trying to decide which is the best for their kids.
Don’t be one of them.
When choosing one of these insect repellents, start with the fact that none should be used on infants under two months of age and products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under age three years. Otherwise, choose the product best suited to your child’s needs, especially considering that:
- no protection insect repellents should be avoided (garlic, vitamin B1, bug zappers, insect repellent wristbands)
- shorter protection insect repellents last about two hours (less than 10% DEET, essential oils, 2-undecanone)
- medium protection insect repellents last about 3 to 4 hours (20% DEET, 7% Picaridin)
- longer protection insect repellents last about 5 hours or more (24% DEET, 15% Picaridin)
In addition to the active ingredient and it’s strength (how long it lasts), you can now decide if you want an insect repellent that sprays on smooth and dry and isn’t greasy, has a light, tropical scent, or is unscented. Or instead of a spray (pump or aerosol), you can even choose insect repellent wipes or a lotion.
Do keep in mind that the CDC advises that products above 30% DEET reportedly do not provide any extra protection, although it doesn’t keep stores from selling sprays with as much as 100% DEET. For other products, those with higher concentrations of DEET aren’t necessarily stronger, they simply provide longer protection.
So if you are going for a walk around the neighborhood with your preschoolers, some good choices might be:
- Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Towelettes (IR3535)
- BioUD Spray (2-undecanone)
- Buzz Away Spray (Citronella oil)
- Cutter All Family Spray (7% DEET)
- Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Spray
- Cutter Natural Spray
- Cutter Skinsations (7% DEET)
- OFF! FamilyCare II (5% Picaridin)
- OFF! FamilyCare III (5% DEET)
- OFF! FamilyCare IV (7% DEET)
There are many other brands too, including Sawyer, Repel, and discounted store brands from CVS, Target, and Walgreens, etc.
Using Insect Repellents on Kids
Now that you have chosen your insect repellent, be sure to use it safely.
That means reading the label and following the instructions carefully, being sure to:
- only apply the proper amount of insect repellent to exposed skin or clothing
- avoid applying insect repellent near your child’s eyes and mouth, on cuts, irritated skin, or under your child’s clothing
- wash off the insect repellent when you return indoors
- avoid spraying insect repellent inside your home or car, directly on your child’s face (apply to your own hands and then rub it on their face) and hands (they might rub their eyes or put their hands in their mouth), or allowing them to spray it on themselves
- instead of insect repellent, consider using mosquito netting to cover your infant’s stroller or carrier when outside, and especially when in high risk parts of the world, using insecticide treated bed nets
It can also help to mosquito-proof your home and work to control mosquitoes and ticks where your child plays. And of course, have your child cover up and dress to avoid getting bit when possible, with long socks and clothing that covers their arms and legs.
Facts About Insect Repellents for Kids
Other things to know about insect repellents for kids include that:
- Protect times can be different for protection against mosquitoes vs ticks.
- IR3535, also known as Insect Repellent 3535, is a synthetic biopesticide (ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate). It was once only found in Avon Skin So Soft products, but can now be found in other brands too.
- It is the chemical in oil of lemon eucalyptus, PMD or para-menthane-3,8-diol, that gives it pesticidal properties.
- Avoid combination sunscreen/insect repellent products. Use separate products instead, applying the sunscreen first and reapplying the sunscreen every few hours as necessary. Since you don’t typically reapply insect repellents (unless you are going to be outside for a really long time), if your child starts to get bitten, next time, you will likely need to consider using an insect repellent with a different active ingredient or at least one with a stronger concentration that might last longer.
- Although available, insect repellent lotions are often harder to find in stores.
- In addition more standard insect repellents, permethrin treated clothing is available.
- Don’t be fooled by natural insect repellents that ‘smell amazing’ and say that they aren’t “full of chemicals.” They likely contain para-menthane-3,8-diol, ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, or other chemicals. While they are DEET-free and some may be natural, they aren’t free of chemicals. And keep in mind that many natural insect repellents are non-EPA registered.
- Call poison control (1-800-222-1222) if your child gets the insect repellent in their mouth or eyes or has a reaction.
Yet more protection options include the Dengue vaccine (not available in the US yet though) and preventative medications for malaria.
What to Know About Insect Repellents for Kids
When used properly, insect repellents are safe and effective and the best way to help your kids avoid getting eaten up by mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks and other things that like to bite kids.
More About Insect Repellents for Kids
- Use DEET Safely
- OUCH! That Stuff Got in My Eye!
- CDC – Insect Repellent Use & Safety
- EPA – Approved Insect Repellents
- CDC – Controlling Mosquitoes at Home
- CDC – Preventing Tick Bites
- Is DEET dangerous? And other concerns about bug spray safety
- Mosquito prevention and treatment, updated
- Insect Repellents
- AAP – Choosing an Insect Repellent for Your Child
Last Updated on June 13, 2018 by Vincent Iannelli, MD