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Is It Safe to Use Insect Repellent?

Mother Applying Bug Spray To DaughterA common question parents ask themselves is “Is it safe to use insect repellent on my child?”

Regardless of stories you may have heard, insect repellents, or bug sprays, can be safe for children. But like any product you put in or on your children, you have to know your facts. Also, remember that pesky insects such as mosquitos and ticks can carry diseases that can have a huge impact on our health. Such diseases include West Nile Virus, encephalitis, and Lyme disease. Studies have shown that DEET, a common ingredient used to repel these insects, can help prevent and ward off these diseases.

Here’s your cheat sheet on what you need to know regarding insect repellant:

  • DEET, also known as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, is one of the most active – and well-known — ingredients in bug repellent. This chemical is a great defense against biting insects, and according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, is safe to use on children two months and older. As a parent, you want to be aware of the varying strengths or concentration available. The concentration doesn’t affect the potency of the product but instead impacts how long it lasts. A 10% concentration offers about two hours of protection. For your baby or toddler, choose a product that has a DEET concentration less than 30%; something in the 10-20% range should work well. Anything higher than 30% is too much for your child.
  • DEET Alternatives: While DEET is considered the best solution against biting insects, there are other options available – repellents containing chemicals such as picardin and pemethrin. In 2005, the CDC recommended picardin as something that worked as well, similar to a low-dose DEET product. Pemethrin kills ticks on contact but isn’t recommended for applying to skin. Rather, it’s best used on clothing or tents and camping gear.
  • Natural repellents: For parents who prefer to go DEET and chemical-free, there are natural products available. You can find repellents made with lemongrass, eucalyptus, citronella, cedarwood and other natural oils. Often, these products are not as strong, so reapplication may be needed. None of the natural oil remedies are recommended for children under two months, and oil of lemon eucalyptus (known as P-methane diol or PMD), a plant-based repellent, shouldn’t be used on children three years and under. As with any product, even if it’s natural, always check for ingredients and age restrictions.
  • How to apply? Be careful when applying any type of insect repellent. Do it in an open area (for example, not in your car before you get to the park) so you limit the amount inhaled by you or your child. Likewise, don’t apply near food. Lightly cover your child’s clothing and exposed skin, but never spray into your child’s face and avoid any cuts or skin irritations. Instead, apply a bit on your hands and dab on your child’s face.   Unlike sunscreen, you shouldn’t reapply, nor should you spray any repellent under your child’s clothes. Finally, it’s best not to mix bug sprays or repellents with sunscreen. Why? Because sunscreen calls for reapplication while repellent should not, and it is thought that ingredients such as DEET can lower the effectiveness of sunscreen. If you use both, it is recommended that the sunscreen is applied first and then the insect repellent.
  • Make sure you wash it off when you come inside. When you and your child come inside again, change his clothes, put his outfit in the laundry, and it’s always a good idea to bathe him with soap so the repellent doesn’t linger. You wouldn’t want your child sitting around with sunscreen on their skin; follow the same guidelines for insect repellent.
  • Other tips to ward off the bugs: Aside from repellents, there are other things you can do to help your child avoid these less-than-friendly friends. For example, dress your child in loose-fitting, light colored clothing when playing outside; bright colors and large prints are more likely to attract insects. Have your child wear socks and shoes instead of sandals, which protect him from possibly stepping on biting insects. And, avoid scented lotions or fragrances as those can attract bugs. Finally, If your child is prone to insect bites, you may want to avoid areas like gardens or creeks where bugs like to hang out and try to stay inside in the early morning and dusk hours when bugs are the most annoying.

One last reminder is to check the labels and read the active ingredients to make sure you are using the right product on your child.  So now when you are asking yourself, “Is it safe to use insect repellants on my child?” you can answer yes without worry.


For more information on insect repellant, click here.


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