Now that summer’s approaching, it’s time to switch out the contents of your diaper bag and repack that beach tote. Gone are the winter gloves and emergency hoodies, in go the sunscreens, bathing suits and kid-safe bug sprays. And while you want to ward off mosquitos and crawlies, you might be hesitant to mist your kiddos with chemicals. You might also be wondering if natural insect remedies are worth all their fragrant aromas. Best get familiar with the different types of insect repellents, and some of their key ingredients, then you can spritz on a formula that’s right for your family.
Before you spray and head outside, consider keeping limbs covered with clothing, especially if you or your children are exploring nature, so as to protect against ticks and other pests. It might be smart if you’re going, say, hiking, to tuck pants into socks. And when you get home from outdoor activities, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends eyeballing all outfits and bodies for signs of blood-suckers or other irritants.
Oh, and one more note about that diaper bag: The layers may come and go, but you know that sunscreen should stay in there year-round, right? Bug spray, on the other hand, is a more seasonal necessity. So think about whether or not you want to stock up for the summer fun ahead.
What To Know About Babies & Bug Spray
If your baby is under 2 months old, avoid applying insect repellent, says Sophie J. Balk M.D., attending pediatrician, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore. “Strollers and baby carriers can be covered with mosquito netting to prevent insects from reaching young infants,” Balk tells Romper.
Yes, Insect Repellents With DEET Are Safe To Use
First, some general knowledge: Insect repellents, or bug sprays, don’t kill, but rather keep insects away, says Balk, who is also a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Environmental Health. “Insect repellents protect people from biting insects, but not from stinging insects,” she says.
The CDC does stand by the use of repellent formulas registered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And most of those you’d find on your store shelves or in your virtual shopping cart typically contain DEET or picaridin.
The chemical known as DEET does repel well, says Balk, though the “AAP and CDC recommend that DEET not be used on infants who are under 2 months of age.” The organizations do recommend “using 10% to 30% DEET on children older than that,” Balk says. “The concentration of DEET in a product indicates how long the product will be effective. It is recommended that you choose the lowest DEET concentration that provides protection for the length of time you will be outside,” Balk tells Romper. “For example, if you’ll be outside for one hour, you can choose 10% DEET.” And read the warning labels and directions of use. “Do not apply DEET around the face, eyes or hands of young children to avoid unintentional ingestion or getting into eyes.” No need to apply it under clothes, Balk adds.
And while picaridin “is also considered safe for children,” says Balk, you can learn more about it, along with other common bug-fighting ingredients at your fingertips, in this handy chart.
What To Consider With More Natural Insect Repellents
In this category you’ll likely spot lots of botanical oils and extracts listed on the bottles. Just know that the EPA offers information on active ingredients working inside products registered with the EPA, like DEET, picaridin, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Here’s the deal on the others: “Several decades ago, the EPA evaluated the active ingredients in these unregistered products for their safety,” Balk says. “Based on the percent of active ingredients found in these products, EPA determined that the active ingredients posed ‘minimal risk’ to human health. Because of this minimal risk, the EPA did not require that these products be registered. EPA had not evaluated products with these ingredients for effectiveness.” Some ingredients used in unregistered repellents, Balk says, are citronella oil, and cedar, geranium and peppermint oils, as shared by the EPA.
The bottom line: These types of unregistered formulas can produce varying results, and typically repel for a short time, Balk says. In this matter, the science is clear, Mercedes E. Gonzalez M.D., medical director pediatric dermatology of Miami, tells Romper: Natural repellents or remedies are not as effective. Think about sticking with options supported by the EPA and CDC for their efficacy in preventing diseases that could come from bugs and pests.
Also, before using a more natural alternative, it might be a good idea to do a patch test on skin, applying on a small area and making sure there is no allergic flare-up, before dousing kiddos with a full dose. And note that oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) has been evaluated (think children over 3), but “pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended by the CDC.
What Else Can You Do To Keep Bugs Away
Stay away from perfumes, scented cleansers and fragrant hair products; “avoid clothing with bright colors or flowery prints,” Balk says. You can also think about spraying repellents onto your children’s clothing, says Gonzalez, executive board member of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. “I advise spraying on clothing when possible since clothing gives you an additional layer of defense against bites. For DEET, it is safe on wool, cotton and nylon, but it may damage spandex, rayon, acetate, and leather. For the other main insect repellent ingredient, picaridin, it is safe on all fabrics.”
Check out these spray-on options to meet a variety of needs.
We only include products that have been independently selected by Romper's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.
Sophie J. Balk M.D., attending pediatrician, Children’s Hospital at Montefiore; professor of pediatrics, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx