Insect Repellants

Also: Tick Repellants

The best protection against insect and tick bites is avoidance- keep children away from thickly wooded areas, stagnant pools of water, uncovered foods and gardens where flowers are in bloom. Don’t use scented soaps, perfumes, or hair sprays. Avoid dressing in brightly colored or flowery print clothing that might attract insects. And keep children indoors when possible at dusk, when many biting insects emerge.

If your child is bitten or stung, remove the stinger as quickly as possible. The best method is to use a fingernail or credit card to scrape the visible stinger off horizontally (avoid squeezing the stinger, which may inject more venom into the skin.)

Of course, we do want you and your children to enjoy nature and the great outdoors, so if you want to venture out where you may encounter insects or ticks, here are our recommendations for repellants:

DEET, Picaridin and Permethrin containing repellants are by far the most effective against ticks, which can transmit Lyme/Babesia/Anaplasma/Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and mosquitos, which can transmit West Nile Virus/Zika. Note that insect repellants DO NOT work against stinging insects (bees, wasps or hornets.)

Insect repellants should not be used on children under 2 months of age, or on the hands of young children who might suck on their fingers. 

DEET is a synthetic compound developed by U.S. Army in 1946 and used by millions since 1957. It is the world’s most widely used repellent. DEET is safe to use on skin. The current AAP and CDC recommendations are to use 20-30% DEET on children for adequate coverage- many OTC products range from less than 10% to 30% DEET. 10% DEET will only protect for about 30 minutes- inadequate for most outings. 100% DEET (not recommended for children) will last up to 10 hours. The percentage doesn’t so correlate so much with STRENGTH as it does with LENGTH of action.

DEET is safest used on clothing as, but can damage fabrics other than COTTON. DEET can also ruin plastics, leathers, auto paint, leather, vinyl, rubber, rayon, elastic and spandex.

PICARIDIN repels insects, ticks and chiggers. It is a synthetic compound first made in the 1980s. It was made to resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in the group of plants that are used to produce black pepper. Picaridin has been widely used as an insect repellent in Europe and Australia, but has only been available in the United States since 2005. Picaridin repels insects and makes them less likely to bite. It seems to block mosquitoes from sensing their prey. Picaridin doesn’t kill insects. Picaridin can be sprayed on ANYTHING, but is also safe on skin.

Lotions containing Picaridin last longer as the lotion slows down the evaporation of the repellant- these can last up to 8 hours per application. However, sprays are best for applying to clothing. The spray also works as a 3 INCH BARRIER, meaning treated clothing can protect several inches of exposed skin beyond the edge of the clothing.

PERMETHRIN is a great option to treat clothing (it is safe on skin, but does not work well.) Permethrin is safe and compatible with almost all fabrics, but bonds easiest to soft fabrics like cottons, wools and synthetic blends. It will have a harder time bonding to fabrics with tightly woven fibers like rain shields and waterproof shells. Sweating and exposure to water will not significantly deteriorate the Permethrin application, but washing machine agitation will knock the molecules loose from the fabric requiring reapplication after 5-6 washes. Commercially treated clothing can withstand up to 70 washes. Treat clothing and gear outdoors in a well-ventilated area; the odor you may smell is from the aerosol propellants rather than the insect repellant itself thus it will dissapate. To apply, hold the bottle about 6-8 inches away from the garment and spray in a slow sweeping motion, treating each side for about 30 seconds. Do not add the repellant directly to the washing machine. Both sun and oxygen can diminish the effectiveness, so store treated clothing in a dark, airtight container.

Repellants made from essential oils found in plants such as Citronella, Cedar, Eucalyptus, Tea Tree and Soybean are generally much less effective than DEET, and may only provide short-term protection. They can also be irritating if applied directly to the skin.

Do NOT use combination sunscreen/insect repellants— sunscreens need to be reapplied every 2 hours, and repellents should NOT be reapplied that often. DEET may also make the SPF factor lower, decreasing the sunscreen’s effectiveness.