Best Insect and Mosquito Repellents for Children

Kids Medicine Cabinet - Insect Repellents for Children

Teenager spraying insect repellant on boy in summer nature.
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What are the best mosquito and insect repellents for kids? Are they safe? What about "natural" bug repellents? Let's take a look at what you need to know about protecting your kids from insect bites.

Importance of Using Insect Repellents for Kids

Although once considered just a nuisance, insect bites can lead to serious medical problems. Not only can certain insects and ticks spread diseases like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the bites themselves can become infected with bacteria, like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

And now folks have the Zika virus to worry about, especially if they plan to travel to areas with active outbreaks, including South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Since bites are itchy, even without any worries about health problems, protect your kids from insect bites by having them apply an insect repellent when they will be outside.

Which Insect Repellents Are Safe for Kids?

Although most parents know that they can use insect repellent on their older children, many are surprised that it is considered safe to use most insect repellents on infants aged two months and older to prevent bites from mosquitoes and other insects. However, an insect repellent that contains oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under age three years old.

How Long Do Insect Repellents Last?

In general, the best insect repellent provides enough protection against biting insects and ticks for your child.

And that usually depends on how long your child will be outside.

For example, an insect repellent with 4.75 percent DEET protects your child for about an hour and a half. An insect repellent with a higher concentration of DEET will provide more protection:

  • 6.65 percent DEET provides about 2 hours of protection
  • 20 percent DEET provides about 4 hours of protection
  • 23.8 percent DEET provides about 5 hours of protection
  • 7 percent Picaridin provides about 3 to 4 hours of protection
  • 15 percent Picaridin provides about 6 to 8 hours of protection
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus provides about 2 to 5 hours of protection

Insect repellents with other natural ingredients usually provide less protection. For example, Citronella oil usually provides about 20 to 30 minutes of protection.

Best Insect Repellents

When choosing an insect repellent for your kids, the most long-lasting insect repellent will have either DEET or Picaridin as an active ingredient.

Insect repellent choices can include:

  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes (10 percent Picaridin)
  • Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent (7 percent Picaridin)
  • Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent Wipes (5.75 percent Picaridin)
  • Cutter Advanced Sports Insect Repellent (15 percent Picaridin)
  • Cutter All Family Insect Repellent (7 percent DEET)
  • Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent, Clean Fresh Scent (7 percent DEET)
  • Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent, Ultra Light (15 percent Picaridin)
  • Cutter Backwoods Mosquito Wipes, Unscented (23 percent DEET)
  • Off! Active Sweat Resistant Insect Repellent, Unscented (15 percent DEET)
  • Off! Active Sweat Resistant Insect Repellent, Pump Spray (25 percent DEET)
  • Off! FamilyCare Clean Feel, Insect Repellent (5 percent Picaridin)
  • Off! FamilyCare Smooth & Dry, Insect Repellent (15 percent DEET)
  • Off! FamilyCare Tropical Fresh, Insect Repellent (5 percent DEET)
  • Off! FamilyCare Unscented, Insect Repellent (7 percent DEET)
  • Off! Family Care Towelettes (5 percent DEET)
  • Off! Insect Repellent Spray with Aloe Vera, Unscented (7 percent DEET)
  • Off! Insect Repellent, Aerosol (15 percent DEET)
  • Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellant (25 percent DEET)
  • Repel Insect Repellent, Sportsmen Formula (29 percent DEET)
  • Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent, Controlled Release (20 percent DEET)

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

There are caveats with natural insect repellents that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), a plant-based insect repellent.

  1. It can't be used on kids under age 3 years old
  2. It doesn't last as long as DEET or picaridin.
  3. Using an essential oil or "Pure" oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended as an insect repellent, as the EPA has never tested the safety or effectiveness of essential oils for this purpose.

With those restrictions in mind, these are products where you can find it:

  • Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
  • Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

What About Skin-Soft?

Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard which has IR3535 as its active ingredient is also thought to provide reasonably long-lasting protection. The Skin-So-Soft products with IR3535 are all combination products that include both an insect repellent and a sunscreen, which is usually discouraged by most experts since you usually have to reapply sunscreen every few hours.

Natural Insect Repellents

Although they are not usually thought to last as long, some parents like the idea of using a DEET-free natural insect repellent. Both natural mosquito repellents and essential oils as natural insect repellents have been marketed as being less toxic both to children and the environment.

These type of insect repellents, with ingredients like lemongrass oil, citronella oil, and soybean oil, can include:

  • Aubrey Organics Gone! Safe and Natural Outdoor Spray (contains natural grain alcohol)
  • Badger Anti-Bug Balm
  • Bite Blocker All Natural Insect Repellent Herbal Wipes
  • Bite Blocker Sports Deet Free Waterproof Insect Repellent
  • Bite Blocker Xtreme All Natural, "Deet Free" Insect Repellent
  • Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
  • California Baby Citronella Summer Lotion
  • Kiss My Face Swy Flotter, Natural Tick & Insect Repellent

The problem with many of the natural repellents is that they have not been studied to the same extent as products like DEET and picaridin, and those natural products that have been studied tend not to be as effective (or last for only a short time).

Often times parents need to weigh the risks and benefits of these products against the likelihood of receiving bites—which can lead to discomfort and sometimes disease. An extreme example against natural products would include malaria. In regions where malaria (which kills around 600,000 people each year) is endemic, the benefits of using a product such as DEET or picaridin would far outweigh any risks posed by these chemicals.

If you are really concerned about your child getting bit, use an insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, or a biopesticide repellents, such as IR3535 or OLE.

What You Need to Know About Insect Repellents

Other things to know about insect repellents for kids include:

  • Do not apply insect repellents under clothing, on a young child's hands, near their mouth or eyes, or over cuts and irritated skin.
  • In general, mosquito repellents are the same thing as insect repellents. You typically want a higher concentration of insect repellent, often 20 percent or higher DEET if you are trying to avoid ticks.
  • Wash off insect repellents with soap and water once you bring your kids inside.
  • Avoid reapplying insect repellents more than once a day unless your kids are getting bit again.
  • Avoid using a combination sunscreen/insect repellent, unless your child is only going to be outside for a few hours and you won't have to reapply it since the directions for reapplying sunscreen (every few hours) and insect repellent (only if bugs are biting again) are different.
  • When applying both a sunscreen and an insect repellent, it is usually best to apply your sunscreen first, and use a sunscreen with a high SPF in case the insect repellent makes the sunscreen less effective. As an extra note on protecting your kids, make sure to purchase sunscreens with ingredients that offer protection against UVA rays as well as UVB.
  • Don't forget the "other" things you can do to reduce your child's chance of being a bit. In addition to an insect repellent, try things such as dressing your kids in thin, loose-fitting, long-sleeve clothing that doesn't include bright colors, encouraging your kids to wear socks and shoes instead of sandals, avoiding scented soaps and other things that might attract mosquitoes and other bugs, and controlling mosquitoes and other insects where your kids play.

Also, remember to talk to your pediatrician if your child gets sick after recently getting bitten by a mosquito, tick, or another type of insect.

Sources

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