Guide to the Best Bug Sprays for Kids
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As spring progresses, the number of biting insects and mosquitos begins to climb, continuing into summer. Aside from itchy irritation, insect bites have the potential to spread several nasty diseases, including West Nile Virus, St. Louis encephalitis, and Lyme disease. Mosquitos capable of carrying the Zika virus are present in the US, and researchers believe it’s only a matter of time before the disease becomes a domestic issue.
It’s important to choose insect-repelling wipes and bug sprays for kids carefully. You want an effective repellant without exposing your child to unnecessary chemicals, which often means balancing these two considerations.
Common Sense Precautions
You can reduce your child’s risk of bug bites by taking some sensible precautions. These tactics don’t replace the need for bug spray for kids, but they do help keep the pests at bay.
- Choose odorless sunscreen and lotions over scented products
- Consider mosquito netting designed to cover car seats and strollers
- Keep kids away from stagnant water and ponds
- Most (not all) mosquitos in the US are most active at dawn and dusk, so consider being inside for these periods
- Wear light-colored neutral or pastel cloths. Mosquitos are attracted to darker colors (avoid bright clothes, however, as these can attract wasps)
- Wear long sleeved shirts, pants, socks, and a hat.
Choosing the Best Bug Spray for Kids
When buying bug spray, it’s important to read each product’s active ingredient list. You’ll find plenty of sprays and wipes on the market, but not all products have ingredients that have been tested for effectiveness.
The CDC recommends only using products containing scientifically-tested active ingredients tested by the EPA. This reduces your choices to DEET and Picardin, both of which the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for use with children (with some considerations).
DEET is an effective mosquito repellant that is safe for use by pregnant women and children, although it should not be used on infants under two months of age. DEET can cause skin irritation and has been linked to health effects associated with frequent and long-term use, but no studies have shown serious effects when used according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Do not use DEET in concentrations higher than 30 percent. A 10 percent concentration is fine if you’ll only be outside for a few hours, or for all day if you regularly reapply the repellant.
DEET has long been considered the best bug spray for kids in America, but it’s starting to get some competition from Picaridin, a repellant that’s been used in Europe for the last ten years. Picardin is as effective as DEET but has no risk of skin irritation.
In addition to DEET and Picaridin, several repellants use natural active ingredients, including citronella, cedar, and soybean extracts. If you really want to avoid exposing your child to harsher chemicals, you can try these, but be warned: few if any have undergone clinical testing, and those which do work must be reapplied every hour to be effective.
One other ingredient stands out as a bug spray for kids. Oil of lemon eucalyptus (or synthesized PMD in its lab-created form) is as effective as DEET. Sadly, oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended for children under the age of three. This is not because of proven health concerns; rather, it’s because no safety studies have been performed for this age group. For older kids, however, it’s a safe and viable alternative to DEET and Picardin.
The Best Bug Spray for Kids Might be a Wipe
Bug spray for kids can be a hassle to apply. You can’t use it to spot-target specific areas, such as the ears, and no matter how firmly you tell children not to breathe and keep their eyes closed when you apply sprays, there’s always the risk of accidental eye exposure or inhalation.
With this in mind, the best bug spray for kids is often not a spray at all, but a wipe-on repellant. Most of the big insect repellent companies offer wipes containing DEET and Picaridin. Wipes can be used to apply repellant to specific locations, and often one wipe per child is enough.