Dr. Mona's Mom Blog

Insect repellent (bug spray) and kids

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And is DEET harmful?

Are you or your child a magnet for mosquito bites LIKE ME?!

In this blog, I want to discuss the options available for insect repellent, safety tips, and other insect bite prevention tips.

A bit of a personal tidbit on this topic:

Not only am I prone to bug bites, but I also develop moderate to severe local reactions to them. After a trip to Peru, I had 68 but bites from head to toe (Yea, I counted) and developed a severe inflammatory reaction to them that I needed to see a dermatologist for high-dose steroid ointment. So, I love talking about insect repellent from a professional AND personal perspective (I made the mistake of not reapplying insect repellent and not wearing long pants during dusk and dawn).

My husband and I can be sitting in the same place and he will not get bit, and I will have 20 bites! Interestingly, Ryaan is not a magnet for mosquitos. He got my husband’s pheromones. And when I was pregnant with Ryaan, I rarely got bit. (Thank you, Ryaan for protecting your momma)!

We have Cutter Skinsations, OFF, Natrapel, and essential oils in our house. (Yes, I know..a lot!). We live in Florida where mosquitos are rampant. For myself, I usually use essential oils on a regular basis during the summer months and switch to OFF (w/ DEET) if it doesn’t work. For Ryaan, we use Cutter Skinsations (DEET) or Natrapel. Read on for more about all of these. For treatments of bug bites, I will write another blog but I use The Bug Bite Thing when I first notice an insect bite and it alleviates the itch immediately! It’s mind-blowing! I also have Aquaphor Itch Relief Ointment if itching persists.

Let’s start with WHY we should protect our children from insect bites?

Insect repellents help protect us from biting insects such as mosquitos and ticks. Insect like these, can carry illnesses, but more commonly insect bites can be very bothersome and itchy to children.

Children tend to be very sensitive to the saliva of insect bites that. can cause local reactions and irritation.

Therefore, insect repellent can add a layer of protection against insect bites, especially when you live or are visiting areas prone to these insects.

So which insect repellent should you use?

There are three main types of insect repellents commercially available and popular for children:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • Essential Oils found in plants such as cedar, citronella, oil of lemon eucalyptus, and soybean

I find that parents want to go with the less “chemical” of insect repellents such as lemon of oil eucalyptus. I am okay with this if it’s preventing insect bites. But, if it’s not, consider PIcaridin or DEET. According to the CDC, DEET, Picaridin, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus are all good options for tick prevention; however Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus is not recommended for children under 3 years of age. For more on TICK PREVENTION including the use of permethrin for treating clothing, read here.

DEET, Picaridin, and EPA registered essential oils are all great options, let’s take a closer look at those.

Is DEET a harmful insect repellent?

DEET got a bad reputation in the 1980s from reports of encephalopathy (brain swelling) in children exposed to DEET. However, no evidence suggests that DEET was the cause of these reports and more recent research demonstrates no adverse effects of DEET.

  • Can be used as young as 2 months of age.
  • If your child is between age of 2 months – 2 years, you can start with DEET <10%.
  • If over two years, DEET 10-30%
  • 10% DEET provides protection for about 2-3 hours and DEET 30% protects for about 6-8 hours
  • ALWAYS read packaging for instructions on how often to apply and DO NOT over apply
  • You can always start with a low DEET concentration and apply as indicated on packaging and move up if needed.

Since then, there are other options, but the AAP, CDC, and EPA all agree that DEET is safe for children and is also considered the best defense against biting insects like mosquitos and ticks. Topical citronella is effective for 20 minutes or less while bracelets impregnated with repellent offer protection for a few seconds.

Options:

The other insect repellent options

PICARIDIN

  • Can be used 2 months+
  • Approved in the US in 2005, Picaridin is an alternative to DEET and may work as well as DEET.
  • It’s also odorless compared to DEET products. Currently, it’s thought that Picaridin has a duration of action similar to 10% DEET.
  • Many prefer Picaridin over DEET because it’s less oily feeling.
  • It had a shorter duration of action than DEET, with re-application needed after 1-3 hours.

Options:

ESSENTIAL OILS

  • From a safety perspective, these are recommended for children 3 years+.
  • EPA repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus or soybean are likely to be as effective as 10% DEET.
  • Safe when used as recommended, however if not effective for child, consider using PIcaridin or DEET.
  • If living in a Zika endemic area or malaria endemic area, DEET or Picaridin is recommended.

Options:

In regards to essential oils not approved by the EPA, remember that these are not approved for safety or efficacy, so you will be using it at your own discretion of benefit vs. risk.

As someone who personally uses essential oils, make sure you dilute with carrier oil if using on your older child

To find the right insect repellent for you or your family, visit the EPA website’s insect repellent search tool.

Safety tips when using insect repellent

  • Read the label and reapply according to packaging.
  • Apply insect repellent to outside of children’s clothing and exposed skin.
  • For younger children, it’s best to apply the repellent for them.
  • DO NOT apply insect repellent under two months of age.
  • DO NOT spray insect repellent directly onto a face. Rub into your hands and then onto their face, avoiding the eyes.
  • DO NOT spray insect repellent on open wounds or cuts (will sting).
  • DO NOT use combination sunscreen/insect repellent products. These products may cause overuse of DEET as sunscreen needs to be applied more frequently than DEET.
  • When using sunscreen, apply sunscreen FIRST and then insect repellent.
  • Test product in small area of child’s skin before applying everywhere.
  • Make sure to keep insect repellent out of reach for children due to potential for ingestion (it’s safe for skin AND NOT FOR DRINKING!)
  • Always use other insect bite prevention tips too.

Other insect bites prevention tips

  • Take extra caution during dusk, dawn, and nighttime for mosquito-bite prevention.
  • Dress your child in long pants and a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, socks, and closed shoes if you will be exposed to insects: Think hiking.
  • Avoid dressing your child in clothing with bright colors or flowery prints because they seem to attract insects.
  • Avoid scented soaps, perfumes, or hair sprays on your child because they also attract insects.
  • Be careful around stagnant water – that’s where mosquitos love to congregate and breed. Make sure to treat your property if prone to mosquitos.

Remember that insect repellent is just one layer of protection and it’s important to use other ways as mentioned above to reduce insect bites.

Checkout this podcast episode where I chat about a popular request – Summer Safety!

P.S. – Follow the PDT Instagram, where I provide posts, fun reels and even highlights on different topics – including an entire SAFETY HIGHLIGHT!

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All information presented on this blog, my Instagram, and my podcast is for educational purposes and should not be taken as personal medical advice. These platforms are to educate and should not replace the medical judgment of a licensed healthcare provider who is evaluating a patient.

It is the responsibility of the guardian to seek appropriate medical attention when they are concerned about their child.

All opinions are my own and do not reflect the opinions of my employer or hospitals I may be affiliated with.