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Bug off! The Truth about Insect Repellent

Mosquito on green leafSummertime and the living is easy.  Outdoor barbeques, picnics in the park, lemonade on the patio, fun in the sun.  But with all the ease, also comes some of Mother Nature’s peskier friends – bugs!  Mosquito or other insect bites can ruin your family’s good time, and there’s nothing more miserable that when your baby’s cute little dimpled thighs look becomes a snack bar for biting insects.

Regardless of stories you may have heard that  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.  So, let’s get the skinny on getting the bugs:

  • The  details on DEET:  DEET, also known as N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, is the one of 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 how long it lasts.  For your baby or toddler, you want to 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.
  • Going DEET-free:  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, for example, kills ticks on contact but isn’t recommended for applying to skin.  Rather, it’s best used on clothing or tents and camping gear.
  • Back to nature:  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 2 months, and oil of lemon eucalyptus (known as P-methane diol or PMD), a plant-based repellent, shouldn’t be used on children 3 years and under.  As with any product, even if it’s natural, always check for ingredients and age restrictions.
  • Application and Reapplication:  You want to 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 not as much is inhaled by you or your child; likewise, don’t apply near food.  You want to 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.
  • When the party’s over:  When you and your child come inside again, change his clothes, putting his outside outfit in the laundry, and it’s always a good idea to bathe him 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. 
  •  Battling 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 in 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.

Bugs are a fact of life, which means that insect repellents are too.  But, don’t let these scare you – there are plenty of safe and recommended options.  Like anything you choose for your child, read your labels.  Use repellent only as needed; unlike moisturizers or sunscreen, more is not necessarily better.  Your child’s soft, delicate skin is precious – protect it.

~ The Baby Pibu™ Team

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