When the warm months approach, pesky mosquitoes and bugs inevitably follow. Luckily, the best bug sprays for kids can protect children from bug bites and insect-borne illnesses, so they can spend hours outside and return home without bites. But you should know a few things before you buy one.
DEET vs. Picaridin vs. Natural Bug Sprays
The most popular bug sprays will have one of two ingredients that help ward off mosquitoes: DEET or Picaridin. DEET is a far and away the most common active ingredient in insect repellents and works by interfering with the neurons that bugs use to detect where you are. And, despite any reports you hear, DEET-based formulas are considered safe for kids to use as a bug repellent so long as the concentration of DEET used is lower than 30 percent.
What's the deal with Picaridin? Since formulas with DEET in them tend to have a specific smell, Picaridin-based formulas were introduced in the United States in 2005. Not only are Picaridin-based formulas odorless and non-greasy, but consumer testing shows that a 20-percent concentration of Picaridin is an effective bug repellent that's safe for children.
If chemical-free, "natural" bug sprays appeal to you, be warned: Not all of them work very well. When tested, Consumer Reports found that only natural sprays containing oil of lemon eucalyptus were actually effective at repelling bugs. And, if you're children are younger than three years old, the EPA advises against using natural bug sprays containing lemon eucalyptus oil. For young children, you're better off with a DEET- or Picaridin-based formula.
One final note of caution: According to the CDC, bug sprays should not be used on children younger than two months.
With that said, take a look below at the best bug sprays for kids.
1. The Overall Best, All Things Considered
Sawyer Products Insect Repellent With 20% Picaridin
According to Consumer Reports, a 20 percent Picaridin spray, like this Sawyer Products one, is just as effective and safe for kids as a spray with DEET. But, it has one major advantage: It lacks the unpleasant smell of DEET-based formulas. This spray is also effective for up to 12 hours against mosquitoes and ticks and up to eight hours against other insects. Even better, it won't discolor your child's clothing if some of it rubs off, and it boasts a stellar, 4.4-star rating on Amazon, with 4,000 reviewers weighing in.
What fans say: "Our go-to mosquito repellent. We have bought this item several times. We put it on our young children as well as ourselves. Works great!"
2. The Runner Up
OFF! FamilyCare Insect Repellent, Smooth & Dry
While DEET gets a bad rap from some people, in concentrations lower than 30 percent it's completely safe for use on children. In fact, this OFF! FamilyCare insect repellent has a 15 percent concentration of DEET, the lowest level of DEET you can use that will still provide long-lasting protection. This spray is also formulated with a powder dry finish that won't leave you or your kids oily. And, for an affordable $6, this kid-friendly bug repellent is a steal if you know you'll be spending a lot of time outside.
What fans say: "My girls went camping and didn't mind sleeping with this on. It was not sticky or stinky. They said they felt comfortable wearing this."
3. The Best Natural Bug Spray
REPEL Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
For children over the age of three years old, this Repel plant-based insect repellent is a great chemical-free bug spray alternative. It's entirely free of DEET and relies on a 30 percent concentration of lemon eucalyptus oil to keep mosquitoes away. Keep in mind, however, that it only offers protection against mosquitoes, so if ticks or other insects are of concern, this might not be the best choice. It also requires more re-applying than other options — it's only effective for up to six hours. Still, with a pleasant smell and a non-greasy, chemical-free formula, thousands of reviewers love using this on both kids and adults.
What fans say: "This spray has made it possible for me and my kids to go outside without being eaten alive. Mosquitoes and flies will still land occasionally, but they bounce off. They do not bite. It has a pleasant smell and a light feel on the skin that is not greasy. I believe it’s a great alternative to heavy DEET formulas, backed by research, as well as personal experience."
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