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Choosing an Insect Repellent for your Child

July 9, 2019 11:03 am Published by

Summer ushers in family days at the pool or ocean, picnics in the park, and ballgames. Unfortunately, summer also brings out the creepy crawlies, those biting bugs like mosquitoes, ticks, and chiggers, as well as those relentless flies that bite. Most parents will agree that if there is an anthill or a stagnant puddle full of mosquitoes, their child will find it.  Ah, the glorious days of summer!

The trick is to be prepared for these outings, and choosing the right bug spray for kids is a start.

Choosing an Insect Repellent for your Child

Bug spray icons to represent insect repellent safety

There are many insect repellents on today’s market that claim to be the best at protecting your child against ticks, mosquitoes, and other insect bites. These products can be purchased in many different forms including liquids, creams, sticks, aerosols, and sprays. Some products are made with chemicals while others are made with natural ingredients. When using these products it’s important to always use them safely and correctly.

Available Insect Repellents

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • Repellents are made from natural ingredients like essential oils. Essential oils are found in plants such as eucalyptus, soybean, cedar, and citronella.
  • Chemical repellents with permethrin

How well do they work?

  • DEET is one of the best chemical repellents in the defense against biting insects.
  • Repellents made from eucalyptus, 2%soybean oil, and oil of lemon, have a duration of action that is comparable to 10% of DEET.
  • Picaridin is recommended by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) as a repellent that may work as well as DEET.
  • Chemical repellents with permethrin will kill ticks on contact.

    Citronella plant and extractIllustration of mosquitoes getting sprayed by insect repellentChild smiling and holding out her arm, being sprayed with bug spray by her mom

How long do they last?

  • DEET will protect your child for about 2 to 5 hours depending on how concentrated the DEET product is.
  • Picaridin will last around 3 to 8 hours depending on the concentration of the picaridin product you are using.
  • Natural plant-based repellents usually last 2 hours.
  • Chemical repellents with permethrin will last even after several washes when applied to your clothing.

What is DEET?

DEET is an insect repellent that is used in products to prevent bites from insects such as mosquitoes, biting flies, fleas, and small flying insects.  DEET ranges from less than 10% to 30% or more. The AAP recommends that any repellent products used on children should contain no more than 30% DEET. Keep in mind DEET greater than 30% does NOT offer any extra protection.

Insect repellents are NOT recommended for use on children 2 months or younger.

When using any of these products special precautions should be taken

Family walking through woods

  • DEET: Use caution when applying DEET to your child.
  • Picaridin: These products are considered safe when used as recommended. However, if used long-term, there are no follow-up studies available to show the risks involved. More studies need to be done to show the effectiveness these products have against protecting against ticks and how well they repel them.
  • Natural repellents: Having an allergic reaction to repellents made with essential oils is rare but can occur.
  • Chemical repellents made with permethrin should be applied to clothing ONLY! NEVER apply these products directly to the skin. When enjoying outdoor activities these products may be applied to your tent, sleeping bags, and other outdoor equipment. 

Products that are NOT effective

  • Taking Garlic or Vitamin B1 by mouth
  • Devices that give off ultrasonic sound waves designed to keep insects away
  • Chemically soaked wristband repellents
  • Backyard bug zappers (these may attract insects to your backyard).

Please visit for more information on using repellents safely.

As always, if you have any further questions, contact our office or request an appointment online!

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This post was written by Delaware Pediatrics