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A parent's guide to insect repellents

Mosquito repellant

Buzz. Buzz. Now that children are out of school for the summer, the buzzing you hear may be from insects and bugs outside instead of their cell phones and computer games they spent time playing inside this winter.

Along with the fun summer outside activities comes the risk of exposure to mosquitoes, biting flies, ticks and other insects that can transmit disease. There are a lot of products available on the market to try to repel these pesky insects, but as a parent it can be overwhelming to determine what is best for your child.

Below is a list of the common types of the chemicals used as bug repellents and discussion about each one.

  • DEET (diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) — This is a chemical repellent that is considered the best defense against biting insects. It lasts for 2-5 hours depending on the concentration of the product. Caution should be used when putting this product on children. DEET comes in different concentrations based on the product being used, usually between 10-30%. Greater than 30% does not offer any extra protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends only using products that contain less than 30% on children and not to use at all on children less than 2 months old. DEET is considered the best option for repelling ticks, however.
  • Picaridin — Less toxic than DEET and considered safer to use in children. Picardin lasts for 3-8 hours depending on the concentration. While it can be helpful for mosquitos and biting flies, it is unknown how well it repels ticks.
  • Citronella, eucalyptus, cedar, or soybean oils — These are natural essential oils and less of a toxic risk when using on children, however, they only last less than 2 hours and work better for mosquitoes and flies than for ticks.
  • Permethrin — Can ONLY be applied to clothing and lasts for several washes on clothing. This chemical can also be applied to sleeping bags and tents. Works great to repel ticks as it kills them on contact but cannot put directly onto someone’s skin.

Knowing the difference in the products available is only half of the battle. The following are some additional tips to help prevent kids from getting bit by insects this summer.

  • Read the label so you are aware of what products you are using.
  • Avoid using products containing more than 30 percent DEET on children.
  • When using spray repellents, spray in an open area outside to prevent children from breathing in the chemicals.
  • Spray only on the outside of the clothing and to exposed skin.
  • Help young children apply insect repellent and do not leave bug repellent laying around where young children can play with or eat the repellent.
  • Do NOT spray directly onto the face or eyes. Do NOT spray into cuts or wounds.
  • Do NOT use combination sunscreen and insect repellent products. The DEET in insect repellents can make the sun protection less effective and can cause overexposure to DEET as sunscreen needs to be applied more often than is safe to reapply the insect repellent.
  • Avoid outside areas that attract insects such as unmoving (stagnant) water, garbage cans or flower beds.
  • Dress child in long pants with a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt, socks, and closed toed shoes when child will be going to a location that you expect exposure to insects.
  • Avoid dressing children in bright colors or in clothing with flower prints as this can attract insects.
  • Avoid using scented soaps, lotions, or perfumes as these can attract insects.
  • Check child’s skin at the end of the day for ticks, especially looking along hairlines and junctions of tight fitting clothing, such as waste bands.
  • Wash children’s skin and hands with soap and water when returning inside to remove excess repellent.

With these tips, hopefully you and your children will have a safe and fun-filled summer.

About Jessilyn Humble MD

Jessilyn Humble is a pediatrician for Ascension Via Christi in Pittsburg, Kansas.