Insect Repellents: Are They Safe for Kids?

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Summer is a wonderful time to be outdoors, but protecting your family from the dangers of certain insects accompanies that enjoyment. Mosquito and tick bites can be more than “just a bug bite.” The diseases that these little bugs can transmit – such as encephalitis, which involves the brain, and Lyme disease – can be very serious. Just the mention of these diseases can cause some anxiety among parents and caregivers.

The other area of parental concern is the protection that we can offer to our children. What is safe? What is worse: the potential toxicity of the chemical or the potential risk of diseases from these bugs? These are some of the common summertime questions that I hear in my practice. We will focus here on insect repellents.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is quite clear about the use of insect repellents. Still, even after becoming familiar with these AAP’s guidelines, I recommend that parents continue to read about protection against summer bugs and bring their questions and concerns to their pediatrician.

  1. Reduce mosquito-laden areas by getting rid of stagnant water. Try to avoid areas of high mosquito or tick activity. Use clothing and netting (strollers) as much as possible.
  2. DEET is the most common active ingredient used in insect repellents. It is safe if used in the appropriate manner. The AAP supports the use of DEET (up to 30%) for children above the age of 2 months. But use only what you need. For example, do not use 30% if your particular event only requires the protection time that you can get from 10% of DEET. Yes, it has been associated in rare cases with toxicity to humans but these events have been related to excessive application and ingestion. PLEASE FOLLOW ALL DIRECTIONS ON THE LABEL.
  3. Do not use repellent under clothes, over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
  4. Do not spray on the face directly. You can apply it with your hands.
  5. Wash skin with soap after you return indoors.
  6. If your child gets a rash or other type of reaction, wash off the repellent with soap and water and call Poison Control and your doctor’s office.
  7. Avoid oil of lemon eucalyptus on children younger than 3 years of age.
  8. Avoid using products which combine insect repellents and sunscreen agents together. Sunscreen should be reapplied frequently but insect repellents should not.

Every season brings preventive guidelines for you and your family. Hopefully, these tips will help you throughout your summer journeys!

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Insect Repellents: Are They Safe for Kids?
About Caroline R. Paul, MD
Dr. Caroline R. Paul is a pediatrician at UW Health West Clinic.
View all posts by Caroline R. Paul, MD

Comments

  1. Tamara says:

    We take a deet-free repellant with us almost everywhere we go!

  2. Roxi says:

    Not only do we carry deet-free repellant and deet repellant in each of our vehicles, and the diaper bag, but when we pack for camping, we pack everything with Bounce sheets around our luggage. I always thought it was funny but it has proved to be working. I have never had a tick neither have my children while camping.

  3. Liz says:

    Over the holiday weekend we used continuous spray bug repellent to keep the mosquitos away. However, I was still getting bit. I noted that the article stated that you should not reapply bug repellent. So what should you do if it seems to wear off or not be working as effectively as you would like?

  4. Katie says:

    We use an organic insect repellent, and stay away from places with standing water. We also make sure to check our property for these kinds of problem areas to make sure they’re taken care of quickly.

  5. melissa says:

    We use a citronella candle

  6. Jill says:

    We make sure that we have bug spray with us where ever we go. We also check our property for standing water and fog our yard to make it less buggy.

  7. Wendy Chacon says:

    We use Bite Blocker, which has oils to help prevent mosquito bites. To prevent ticks, we make sure the kids are covered from head to toe and avoid walking in the woods. We stay on walking trails or stay on the bike path. Our neighbor has a small pond in her backyard, so we unfortunately get quite a few mosquitoes in our backyard as well. We have tried the lime with many cloves in it and that seemed to work for a while.

  8. Marni says:

    We use a device called a Thermacell, which repels mosquitoes within a certain radius. We like that we don’t have to put anything on our skin and there’s no smell!

  9. Karmin says:

    We use an organic DEET free repellant when possible and DEET when necessary.

  10. Kristi Garrod says:

    We love being outdoors in the summertime! We recently got elastic netting to go over the baby swing, stroller or bouncy seat for the little one. It works great to keep flies away too during the day. It’s less than $3 at Babies R Us.

  11. jodi kegebein says:

    I use DEET free repellent for general use and DEET for wooded and tall grass activities. We always shower after using DEET.

  12. Kara says:

    I use a gentle bug spray with smaller amounts of deet for mosquitos and ticks. We check for ticks frequently when camping. Thanks for the idea of using the bounce dryer sheet!

  13. Tammy says:

    We use DEET repellent and try to avoid areas where the mosquitoes are the worst.

  14. Cathy says:

    We try to avoid standing water areas and eliminate any areas like that in our yard.

  15. molly says:

    We were out this weekend watching fireworks and we were only outside for about 5 min and then went back into the car because our little man was scared of the big boom. In that 5 min we got eaten alive by mosquitoes, I’m glad I read this article and the comments left gives me some good ideas for keeping the bugs out. Thanks

  16. Michelle says:

    We enjoy a 3-season porch!

  17. Deborah Decot says:

    I use deet. Lightly.

  18. Cindy says:

    We also use a DEET-free insect repellant most of the times around the house/neighborhood. That seems to work in the city usually. We save DEET for the woods/camping. And nothing beats just wearing long sleeves and long pants.

  19. Diane says:

    Organic products work well and I have been using them for years due to allergies. My husband and myself also have a netting that we wear over our hats on our heads and while they look silly, they work very well. Walmart sells them and they are wonderful! I have obtained one for my 5 year old granddaughter to wear over her floppy hat and she loves it!

  20. Kiara Krohn says:

    We use Deet free insect repellent and make sure to wear long sleeves and long pants. We also check everyone over when we return home to make sure that no one picked up a tick when we’re outside.

  21. Liz Aschebrook says:

    We use catnip and lavender to keep the bugs at bay… Having a 9 month old, I’m afraid to use any sort of bug spray just yet and can’t afford the organic/natural stuff.

  22. Laura W. says:

    We use bug spray and citronella candles/tiki torches. Smoke from a campfire helps a lot also.

  23. Ann says:

    We use deet when we are camping and bug spray without deet when we are outside! We also use candles and wristbands!

  24. Kati says:

    We use bug spray but have heard vanilla works as well!

  25. Kristi says:

    In addition to using bug spray, we cover up. Socks tucked over pants and hats or bandanas in our hair for hikes and then we change clothes upon return. Daily tick checks for the few days after we live a tick infested area. When we lived in the woods we would avoid fog mosquito areas frequently, play/swim at parks away from home, and enter the car before the engine was turned on because mosquitos are attracted to the carbon monoxide. We would also walk around the yard after rain storms looking for stagnant water in planters, sand box toys etc.

  26. Tonya S. says:

    Our family uses the clip-on repellants so that we do not have to spray any chemicals on our skin (or pass the chemicals along to our pets). We also steer clear of any “problem areas” whenever possible and avoid walking amongst tree-heavy and longer grassy areas as well as any standing, stagnant water. We do also carry After Bite (or other similar product) just in case we do need to use it to alleviate the bite symptoms if we do get bit.

  27. Brenda Hillsberg says:

    We use Avon skin so soft. Great smell too!

  28. Lacie says:

    We always use deet free repellent because I was always scared in the beginning to use any repellent on any of my children until I asked their pediatrician about the effects of it. But the easiest way to keep the ticks and mosquitoes off of them is to keep them out of places where we know they are far more likely to be. You obviously can’t keep your kids inside their whole lives but only going where stagnant water and mosquitoes are and wooded areas where ticks are for short periods of time works too

  29. SaraU says:

    I spray our clothing and shoes more than our skin. Also spray our lawn chairs before sitting in them.

  30. Lisa Peterson says:

    We apply sunscreen first.Then spray bug spray over clothes.We try to buy kid and environment friendly.We keep the yard free of standing water and cut the lawn short.Gotta keep kids safe.

  31. jennifer says:

    we give our kids vitamin b1 to help ward off skeeters.

  32. naomi burke says:

    I repel mosquitos with insect repellent and try to keep my family inside when skeeters are heavy. We also try our best at keeping stagnant water drained. We routinely check for ticks after being out in wooded areas and areas with real grasses.

  33. Melissa Y. says:

    I bring along a range of insect repellents when we are going to be outside in the summer. I have herbal repellents containing essential oils, DEET-free chemical bug spray, and finally some bug spray that contains DEET. I like to start out with the more mild sprays, and if it seems the bugs are still bothering us we add stronger repellent.

  34. bonni brown says:

    skin so soft by Avon works well

  35. Angela M. says:

    We use skin so soft, citronella candles and if the kids are in the woods, hats.

  36. Tim Doe says:

    I, and my family members, wear the Off personal fan whenever outside. Just clip one on your belt and away you go. Not sure if it repells those little buggers but it helps my psych deal with the bumper crop of mosquitoes this summer. Very nice to have when watching fireworks, plus, no DEET on the kid’s skin.

  37. Shelley says:

    We use nets, deet free products and I also have deet spray to use sparingly

  38. Tom McCormick says:

    Since I react badly to DEET, I remain free of spray, but covered. My wife and daughter trust DEET sprays.

  39. Jen S says:

    We use DEET based products sparingly if we must be out at dusk when the mosquitos are the worst. We have guinea hens to help with the rest of the bugs in our yard.

  40. Kristie F says:

    We use a deet free repellent during the day and deet repellent at night. Then shower before bed and never spray the hands or face.

  41. Tracy says:

    We love to use Avon mosquito repellent, it works great and doesn’t smell as bad as some others.

  42. Jenn E says:

    Fans! We have 2 dedicated box fans for outdoor use. Perfect for eating dinner outside and for a small play area like the sandbox.

  43. Trisha Forman says:

    The OFF I have been using has not been working at all, my son has mosquito bites everywhere! Need to get something better.

  44. Miranda says:

    We use essential oils. Peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender.

  45. Kelie says:

    We use a organic bug spray along with long sleeves and pants in the dusk. I avoid sprays if possibe.

  46. Chris says:

    We are quick swatters :) But when our hands are tired we bring out the deet-free repellent and the clip on repellents for the kiddos.

  47. allieelmer@gmail.com says:

    We keep his stroller covered when the Mosquitos are out.