Summer vacation has been a blast but I could really do without the mosquitoes! August is particularly itchy here in the northeast and we haven’t been fairing well this year at all. Tiger mosquitoes? Whaaa?! I take solace in knowing the season is winding down for us. *Sad face* to those of you that are mid-season or deal with these relentless critters year-round. Part of my personal mosquito problem is that I never knew which insect repellents were “safe” to use, especially for my children. When I saw “DEET-free” popping up on labels, I assumed DEET was bad and should be avoided. I decided to research the subject should you be wondering the same.
Insect protection is legitimately complicated, much like sun protection. The problem simply is that chemicals, such as DEET, are the most effective and long-lasting way to repel insects. While the EPA, The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Environmental Health, and the CDC have all concluded that products containing some level of DEET are safe when used correctly for brief periods of time, no definitive studies exist about what concentration of DEET is safe for children or what the long term consequences of exposure are. CDC recommends DEET with maximum concentrations of 20-30% for children’s protection from Lyme disease borne by ticks. Health Canada recommends DEET with concentrations no greater than 5-10% for children, as does the Environmental Working Group. As a result, many parents, including myself, are conflicted about which products — the all-natural ones or those that contain DEET — are best for our families.
It is always a good idea to consult your pediatrician or family physician about product decisions, especially if you or your children have any special medical concerns that may be exasperated by topical treatments. It’s especially important to note that insect repellents are NOT recommended for infants under 6 months old. If exposed, they should be protected by fine netting. Also, no insect repellent, regardless of ingredients, is 100% effective. If ticks are a concern, take extra precaution by wearing pants, socks, and shoes, and checking for ticks daily.
If you live in an area plagued by the West Nile virus and/or Lyme disease, the general recommendation is to use a repellent with DEET because the benefits outweigh the risks. This article from Slate does a great job of explaining why you may want to choose a product with DEET over natural formulas. If you do, here are 10 EPA-approved insect repellents with varying concentrations of DEET to choose from and the Environment Working Group’s recommended concentration levels for children.
There are several proven alternatives to DEET that have been reported to be just as effective at controlling some insect bites, with less risks and potential for irritation: Picaridin, IR3535, lemon eucalyptus oil, and PMD. CDC advises not to use oil of lemon eucalyptus or PMD on children under 3. Picaridin is most recommended for those with sensitive skin. *All other natural repellents like catnip, peppermint oil, and citronella have been disproved as effective, particularly for long wear. As with sunscreen, aerosol spray repellents are discouraged due to the risk of inhalation.
In an effort to guide you in your search for the right insect repellent for your family, I’ve rounded up 8 affordable DEET-free insect repellents with proven ingredients at recommended levels, to help limit your exposure to potentially toxic chemicals for use in areas with low risk of disease-carrying insects. Again, if you need added protection and are unsure which formula to choose, consult your physician or pediatrician for recommendations!
More from Jill Seiman of Glamamom on Babble Beauty this month:
- Back-to-School Beauty: Hair Care Tips & Tricks from Sally Hershberger Hairstylist Chris Rios
- Drew Barrymore’s Makeup Tips for Moms
- 20 Caffeine-Infused Beauty Products
- 10 Colored Mascaras to Make Your Eyes POP!
- Opa! Fish Pedicures, As Seen on Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Banned in 10 US States
- 10 Disney Kids Hairstyles Moms Can Rock Too