I want to protect son from mosquito bites, but I’m worried about slathering him with repellent that has DEET. Will that cause health problems down the line?
Insect repellents containing DEET have been tested and approved as safe for kids, but you should take some precautions with them.
Choose a repellent with no more than 10% to 30% concentration of DEET (look for N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide on the label). Use lower concentrations if kids will be outside only for an hour or two. If they're outside longer, consider using a repellent with a higher concentration of DEET. (The higher concentration means that it will last longer.)
Generally, repellent with DEET should not be applied more than once a day, and is not recommended for babies younger than 2 months old.
DEET can be used on exposed skin, as well as clothing, socks, and shoes, but should not be used on the face, under clothing, or on the hands of young children.
- Do not use a single product containing both sunscreen and DEET — sunscreen needs to be reapplied frequently, while DEET should not be applied more than once a day.
- Concentrations higher than 30% are not more effective and the chemical (which is absorbed through the skin) can be toxic. Be sure to follow the directions on the label.
- If you apply insect repellent to exposed skin, do so sparingly. Do not apply repellent to kids' hands — that way, they can't ingest it if they put their hands in their mouth. It also can cause irritation if they touch their eyes.
- Avoid spraying the repellent anywhere near the mouth, so it can't be ingested.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that repellents containing the ingredients picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus also can protect against mosquitoes.
Picaridin is a compound found in many mosquito repellents used in Europe, Australia, Latin America, and Asia. Its chemical name, which you might find in the list of "active ingredients" on a product, is KBR 3023. Years of safe use of picaridin in other parts of the world attest to its safety and effectiveness.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is also known as P-menthane diol, or PMD, for short. PMD is a plant-based repellent that gives protection time similar to low concentrations of DEET products. It is not recommended for kids under 3 years old.
Whatever repellent you choose, check the list of active ingredients to make sure that one of these effective chemicals is on the list, and follow the directions carefully.
Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: November 2010
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|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
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|National Park Service This site contains information on America's national parks and the many ways you can enjoy the great outdoors.|
|West Nile Virus The threat of West Nile virus has made getting a mosquito bite a cause for concern. What is West Nile virus, and what can you do to prevent it?|
|Bug Bites and Stings In most cases, bug bites and stings are just nuisances. But in some cases, they can cause infections and allergic reactions. It's important to know the signs, and when to get medical attention.|
|Insect Stings Instruction Sheet Being stung by a bug is often just irritating and doesn't require treatment by a doctor. But kids who are highly allergic to insect stings may have life-threatening symptoms that require emergency medical treatment.|
|Woods and Camping Safety for the Whole Family A family camping trip can be an enjoyable experience with a little preparation.|
|Lyme Disease Lyme disease can affect the skin, joints, nervous system, and other organ systems. If diagnosed quickly and treated with antibiotics, Lyme disease in kids is almost always treatable.|
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