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Insect Repellents

There are so many insect repellents out there. What kind is best for my children?

Insect repellents come in many forms including aerosols, sprays, liquids, creams, and sticks. Some are made from chemicals and some have natural ingredients.

Keep in mind that insect repellents prevent bites from biting insects but not stinging insects. Biting insects include mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers, and biting flies. Stinging insects include bees, hornets, and wasps.

Available Repellents

What's Available  How Well It Works How Long it Protects Special Precautions
Chemical repellents with DEET (N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide) Considered the best defense against biting insects.  About 2 to 5 hours depending on the concentration of DEET in the product. Caution should be used when applying DEET to children.
Picaridin In April 2005 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended other repellents that may work as well as DEET: repellents with picaridin and repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus or 2% soybean oil. Currently these products have a duration of action that is comparable to that of about 10% DEET. About 3 to 8 hours depending on the concentration. Although these products are con-sidered safe when used as rec-ommended, long-term follow-up studies are not available. Also, more studies need to be done to see how well they repel ticks. Allergic reactions are rare, but can occur when using repellents made from essential oils.
Repellents made from essential oils found in plants such as citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, and soybean Usually less than 2 hours.
Chemical repellents with permethrin  These repellents kill ticks on contact. When applied to clothing, it lasts even after several washings.  Should only be applied to clothing, not directly to skin. May be applied to outdoor equipment such as sleeping bags or tents.

The following types of repellents are not effective:

  • Wristbands soaked in chemical repellents
  • Garlic or vitamin B1 taken by mouth
  • Ultrasonic devices that give off sound waves designed to keep insects away
  • Bird or bat houses
  • Backyard bug zappers (insects may actually be attracted to your yard).

DEET

DEET is a chemical used in insect repellents. The amount of DEET in insect repellents varies from product to product, so it's important to read the label of any product you buy. The amount of DEET may range from less than 10% to more than 30%.

Studies show that products with higher amounts of DEET protect people longer. For example, products with amounts around 10% may repel pests for about 2 hours, while products with amounts of about 24% last an average of 5 hours. But studies also show that products with amounts of DEET greater than 30% don't offer any extra protection.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children. Insect repellents also are not recommended for children younger than 2 months.

Tips for Using Repellents Safely

Dos

  • Read the label and follow all directions and precautions.
  • Only apply insect repellents on the outside of your child's clothing and on exposed skin.
  • Spray repellents in open areas to avoid breathing them in.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover your child's clothing and exposed skin. Using more doesn't make the repellent more effective. Avoid reapplying unless necessary.
  • Assist young children when applying insect repellents on their own. Older children also should be supervised when using these products.
  • Wash your children's skin with soap and water to remove any repellent when they return indoors, and wash their clothing before they wear it again.

Don'ts

  • Never apply insect repellent to children younger than 2 months.
  • Repellents should not be sprayed directly onto your child's face. Instead, spray a little on your hands first and then rub it on your child's face. Avoid the eyes and mouth.
  • Insect repellents should not be applied on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Don't buy products that combine DEET with sunscreen. The DEET may make the sun protection factor (SPF) less effective. These products can overexpose your child to DEET because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often.

Other Ways to Protect Your Child from Insect Bites

While you can't prevent all insect bites, you can reduce the number your child receives by following these guidelines:

  • Tell your child to avoid areas that attract flying insects, such as garbage cans, stagnant pools of water, and flowerbeds or orchards.
  • Dress your child in long pants, a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, socks, and closed shoes when you know your child will be exposed to insects. A broad-brimmed hat can help to keep insects away from the face. Mosquito netting may be used over baby carriers or strollers in areas where your baby may be exposed to insects.
  • Avoid dressing your child in clothing with bright colors or flowery prints because they seem to attract insects.
  • Don't use scented soaps, perfumes, or hair sprays on your child because they may attract insects.
  • Keep door and window screens in good repair.
  • Check your child's skin at the end of the day if you live in an area where ticks are present and your child has been playing outdoors.
  • Remember that the most effective repellent for ticks is permethrin. It should not be applied to skin but on your child's clothing.