Insect Repellents

Insect Repellents

  • One of the most effective ways of protecting your child from biting insects is to use insect repellents. 
  • Keep in mind that they repel insects that bite but not insects that sting. 
    • Biting insects include mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, chiggers, and biting flies. 
    • Stinging insects include bees, hornets, and wasps.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates and approves insect repellents for their safety and effectiveness. 
  • The following repellents are safe to use on your children when used as directed.


  • DEET is effective against mosquitoes, biting flies, chiggers, fleas, and ticks. 
  • It has been used for over 70 years and is considered the “gold standard” of insect repellents.
    • DEET is available in many products at varying concentrations ranging from 7% to more than 75%.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics has approved the use of DEET in a concentration of 30% or less for all children over 2 months of age. 
    • The higher the concentration of DEET in a product, the longer it will be effective.
      • For example, 10% DEET protects for about 2 hours, and 30% DEET protects for about 6 hours.
    • You can choose the lowest concentration to provide protection for the amount of time spent outside.
      • For example, if you plan to be outside for 1-2 hours, you can choose 10% DEET.
  • DEET products can cause skin rashes especially when high concentrations are used, but these reactions are rare.
  • Click here for an example of a kid-safe DEET-based insect repellent. 
How to Apply DEET
  • Apply to exposed areas of skin.
  • Do not apply to skin that is covered by clothing.
  • Do not apply to areas that are sunburned or have rashes.


  • Picardin is another effective insect repellent effective against mosquitoes, ticks, and sand flies.
  • Picardin is preferred by some people because it is odorless, non-sticky, non-greasy, does not irritate the skin, stain fabrics, or degrade plastic.
    • However, picaridin-based insect repellents do not last as long as DEET and need to be reapplied every 3-4 hours.
  • Click here and here for examples of picaridin-based bug repellent. 
How to Apply Picardin
  • Picardin can be applied to clothing AND skin.

Natural Insect Repellents

  • "Natural" insect-repellent ingredients include citronella, geranium, peppermint, and soybean oil.
    • These are deemed safe but have not been approved for effectiveness by the EPA. 
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as P-menthane diol (PMD), is a plant-based repellent
    • It gives protection time similar to low levels of DEET.
    • However, it is NOT safe to use under three years of age. 
  • Most of these keep insects away for only a short time. 
  • In addition, some natural repellents can cause skin irritation.

Unproven Methods of Repelling Insects

  • Wristbands soaked in chemical repellents.
  • Ultrasonic devices that give off sound waves designed to keep insects away.

Tips for Applying Insect Repellent


  • Choose products in the form of sticks, lotions, or unpressurized sprays.
  • Read the label and follow all directions and precautions.
  • Only apply insect repellents on the outside of your child's clothing and exposed skin—not under clothing.
  • Use just enough repellent to cover your child's clothing and exposed skin. Using more doesn't make the repellent more effective. 
  • Repellents such as DEET should only be applied once a day.
  • Use spray repellents in open areas to avoid breathing them in.
  • Help apply insect repellent on young children. 
  • Supervise older children 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.
  • Keep repellents out of young children's reach to reduce the risk of unintentional swallowing.


  • Avoid sprays in pressurized containers to avoid inhaling the product or getting it into the eyes.
  • Never apply insect repellent to children younger than 2 months of age. 
    • Instead, use mosquito netting over baby carriers or strollers in areas where your baby may be exposed to insects.
  • Avoid applying repellent to children's hands.    
    • Children often put their hands in their mouths and eyes.
  • Never spray insect repellent directly onto your child's face. 
    • Instead, spray a little on your hands first and then rub it on your child's face. 
  • Do not spray insect repellent on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. 
    • These products can overexpose your child to DEET because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often—every 2 hours while in the sun, and after swimming or sweating.
  • Remember to wash all insect repellents off of your child when they return indoors.
  • Avoid repellent candles that may trigger breathing problems when fumes are inhaled.

Other Measures to Prevent 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.
  • Stay inside at dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Use mosquito nets and fans in outdoor eating areas.
  • Keep door and window screens in good repair. 
  • Remove any outside places with standing water where mosquitoes may breed.
  • 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.