There are more than a million known species of insects and, according to experts, millions more waiting to be identified. And it seems as if there are almost as many insect repellents, with new ones popping up frequently, some containing new ingredients and safety warnings aimed at young children.
Here is the latest:
1. The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends repellents containing one of the following active ingredients:
- Picaridin (also known as KBR 3023 and Bayrepel)
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD
No repellent bears the name of the active ingredient. You must search for the name of the ingredient on the label.
2. These repellents have been scientifically tested. They are safe for young children when used correctly and are effective against a wide variety of biting insects including mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and chiggers, but they are not effective against bees, wasps and hornets.
Little is known about the safety and effectiveness of the hundreds of products on the market not containing CDC-approved ingredients; insect repellents are not government-regulated.
3. Check lower age limitations and recommended concentrations of repellents with CDC-approved ingredients. DEET, for example, should not be used on infants less than two months of age; oil of lemon eucalyptus, not on infants under 3 years. The skin of infants and young children is especially permeable to substances applied to it. DEET is the only CDC-approved repellent that comes in various concentrations; for children, use ones that contain between 20 and 30% DEET.
4. The terms “natural” and “chemical free” have little meaning. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, for example, is “natural.” However, this doesn’t make it safer/better than repellents formulated in laboratories. (Poison ivy and deadly mushrooms are 100% natural. Vitamin C taken from oranges is identical to that synthesized by chemists.)
5. Apply repellants correctly. Place the substance on your hands and then rub it on your child’s skin. No need to place it under clothing; long pants and sleeves reduce the amount of repellent needed. Wash off when no longer needed. A thin coating is sufficient; thicker coats do not increase protection. Avoid eyes, mouth, wounds or rashes. If accidentally applied to such areas, rinse with soap and water. Apply outdoors or in well-ventilated indoor areas.
6. Use permethrin on clothing. Permethrin helps prevent insects from crawling under or biting through clothing. Once correctly applied, permethrin remains effective on clothing through many washings. Permethrin can also be sprayed on camping gear such as tents.
7. Avoid products that combine insect repellents and sunscreens. While many situations call for both, the intervals of applications and other considerations make combination products impractical. Generally, apply the sunscreen at least twenty minutes before sun exposure. Repellents can be applied just before going outside. Repellents may reduce the effectiveness of sunscreens. If both are needed, consider using a stronger sunscreen.
8. Avoid items that claim to protect against insects. Wristbands are ineffective. Taking vitamin B merely reduces itching from bites, causing you to think you are being bitten less. Sound and light devices attract insects to the devices, but then attack people near the devices, possibly increasing risk of being bitten. Products that emit vapors may be harmful if inhaled indoors over prolonged periods of time, especially by children. Outdoors, vapor effectiveness varies depending on wind direction and other factors.
9. Consider other methods to avoid getting bitten. Don’t use scented soaps, perfumes, and hair spray as they may attract insects. Place nets over strollers and playpens. Check window and door screens. Avoid areas near standing water – birdbaths and flowerpots, for example – where insects breed. Air conditioning and fans help; most biting insects prefer warmth and avoid turbulent air.
10. Familiarize yourself with one or two repellents. Products come in the form of lotions, creams, gels, aerosols, sticks and towelettes. Read instructions. Contact manufacturers, if necessary; most have websites. Know how long protection lasts; hot weather, perspiration, swimming and other factors tend to shorten duration of effectiveness. Read storage advice. Most products have expiration dates. Using extremely old repellent can cause skin irritation and rashes.