Insect repellents: What to buy for kids, babies

mosquitoConcerns about Zika and other mosquito-transmitted illnesses make insect and mosquito repellent even more important this summer. We asked Le Bonheur Pediatrician Kristen Bettin, MD, to help parents know what to look for when purchasing repellents.

Are there certain types of repellents parents should buy for their children?

DEET is the most well studied and considered the best insect repellent for children.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using products that contain 10 to 30 percent DEET.  Concentrations higher than that may cause irritation or rashes and are not considered to be more effective for children. DEET is safe to use for both children and pregnant women but should not be used in children younger than 2 months of age. Keep in mind that DEET may damage clothing.

Picaridin is another option for insect repellents.  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using products that contain no more than 10 percent picaridin.  Picaridin has low risk for irritation and does not damage clothing. It is safe for children 6 months and older. 

IR3535 has also been shown to be effective against mosquitos at higher concentrations of 20 percent. The lower concentration of 7.5 percent is safe for children 2 months and older; however, it only provides protection for 10-60 minutes, so it is not the most practical option. 

Certain essential oils (oil of lemon eucalyptus, catmint) may repel insects; however, they are generally not recommended for children.  Some are not effective at lower concentrations, may cause irritation at higher concentrations, and do not last longer than one to two hours.  Oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended for children younger than 3 years. 

Products containing permethrin may be used on clothing, shoes and other outdoor gear but should not be used on exposed skin.  

Any chemicals or ingredients to avoid?

You should avoid using products that contain both insect repellent and sunscreen.  DEET can lower the effectiveness of sunscreens.  Additionally, sunscreens should be applied more frequently than insect repellents, so combination products carry the potential risk of over-exposure to insect repellents for children.

How and when should you apply insect repellent?

  • Insect repellents should not be used in children younger than 2 months of age.  
  • You should read and follow the directions on the product, but, in general, insect repellent should be applied every two to eight hours.  
  • Insect repellents should be applied to both exposed skin and clothing.  
  • To apply to the face, spray a little of the repellent on your hands, then pat onto your child’s face avoiding the eye and mouth areas.  
  • You should also avoid the hands in children and babies who put their hands in their mouths.
  • Sprays should be applied outside to avoid inhalation.  
  • Make sure to wash your child’s skin with soap and water after returning inside, and wash clothing that comes in contact with insect repellents before wearing it again. 
insect repellent