Choosing the Right Insect Repellent for Your Child

July 26, 2018

Protecting Your Child from Insect Bites 

Warmer weather welcomes all kinds of pesky creatures, including those that bite, sting and itch. For most children, insect bites have minor side effects, but they also have the potential to make others very sick.  One way to protect your kids from these kinds of insects is to use an over-the-counter insect repellent. Insect repellents prevent bites from biting insects, including mosquitos, ticks, fleas, chiggers and biting flies. They can be purchased as creams, aerosols, sprays, liquids or sticks.

But before using just any insect repellent, it’s important to take a look at what’s inside. Dr. Cerissa Key, a pediatrician at Mercy Clinic Primary Care in Moore, provides insight on choosing the right insect repellent for your kids and offers tips on how to keep them protected all summer long.


Similar to sunscreen, insect repellents can be made with either natural or chemical ingredients, both of which vary in their duration of protection.

DEET is the most common active chemical ingredient used in insect repellents and is considered the best defense against a large number of biting insects. It’s duration of protection lasts 8-10 hours. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that repellents should contain no more than 30% DEET when used on children over 2 months of age.

In 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended other repellents that may work as well as DEET: repellents with Picaridin and repellents with oil of lemon, eucalyptus or 2% soybean oil. Currently, these products offer a protection duration that is comparable to that of about 10% DEET.

Permethrin is a synthetic repellent that acts like a natural extract from chrysanthemums. It is for use on clothing only and should never be applied directly to the skin. It may also be applied to outdoor equipment such as sleeping bags or tents. Repellents containing permethrin can also kill ticks on contact.

Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. The DEET may make the sun protection factor (SPF) less effective. These products can overexpose your child to DEET because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often

Using Repellents Safely

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) advises against applying any insect repellent on children younger than 2 months.

When applying insect repellents, be sure to spray in open areas to avoid breathing them in. Only apply insect repellent on the outside of your child’s clothing and on exposed skin (unless you are using Permethrin-containing products as they are not to be applied to skin). Using more repellent than directed doesn’t make it more effective; follow the directions on the label and avoid reapplying unless absolutely necessary. Wash your children’s skin with soap and water to remove any repellent when they return indoors and be sure to wash their clothing before they wear it again.

Avoid spraying insect repellents directly on your child’s face. Instead, spray a small amount on your hands then apply it to your child’s face, avoiding the eyes and mouth. Do not spray directly onto cuts, wounds or irritated skin.

Alternative Methods

There are several other simple ways to limit the number of insect bites your child receives this year. To start, avoid areas with standing water, flowerbeds and garbage cans as they are prone to a number of insects. When you know your child may be exposed to insects, avoid bright colors or flowery prints and opt for long pants, a lightweight long-sleeved top, socks and closed shoes. Mosquito netting is also a great option to use over baby carriers or strollers with younger children. Try to avoid using scented soaps, perfumes or hairspray. Finally, always check your child’s skin at the end of the day if you live in an area where ticks are present.

If you suspect your child is having a reaction to an insect repellent, stop using the product and wash your child’s skin with soap and water. Then call your doctor or, if necessary, call Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222.

Cerissa Key, DO, is a mother of three and pediatrician at Mercy Clinic Primary Care, located at 1060 SW 4th Street in Moore, Oklahoma. To make an appointment, call (405) 378-5491.