Mosquitoes are known vectors of life threatening viruses like the West Nile virus and St. Louis encephalitis. Aside from mosquitoes, other insects like ticks can also transmit serious diseases to humans. Thus, many parents make use of insect repellents to ward off these unwanted carriers.

When you use an insect repellent on your child, do you take a minute to read the label? Do you safely assume that products for kids are generally safe for children of all ages? While insect repellents can ward off insects, parents need to follow safety precautions so that children get the needed protection, without any toxic effects.

The active ingredients in insect repellents are the ones responsible for repelling insects. However, these substances have to be approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The most common active ingredients on insect repellents are:


According to the CDC, repellents with DEET are most effective repellents available today. It works by blocking a mosquito’s ability to find people who used it. DEET containing repellents have varied concentrations ranging from 10 % to over 30%. The higher the concentration, the longer it can protect your child from insect bites. The maximum concentration recommended for infants and children is 30%.

However, these repellents should not be used in children under 2 months of age. Do not choose a product that combines repellent with a sunscreen. Sunscreens have to be applied repeatedly, while repellents should only be used sparingly. Thus, it is best to choose a concentration depending on how long you expect your child to be outdoors.

2. Picaridin or KBR 3023

Picaridin also works by blocking a mosquito’s ability to locate people who used it. It offers protection similar to DEET products at similar concentrations. Picaridin is odorless, which makes it a good choice if you need to consider the smell of a repellent. Products available on the market may have a range of 5-20 percent of the active ingredient.

3. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

Oil of lemon eucalyptus is a plant-based chemical that can offer protection similar to low concentrations of DEET, but it should not be used in children younger than 3 years old. It is derived from eucalyptus leaves and twigs, and it has a pleasant fragrance. As compared to DEET products, oil of eucalyptus is less likely to cause irritation. The available products on the market contain a range of 30 to 40 percent of the active ingredient.

When applying insect repellents on children, follow these general safety guidelines:
– Use insect repellents according to the product labels. If the product says that you need to use it only on exposed skin, avoid applying it under clothing. Keep in mind that repellents have different preparations, and not all are intended for use on the skin.
– Never apply repellents to cuts, wounds or even irritated skin.
– Use insect repellents sparingly. You really do not need to use more of the product, in order for it to be more effective.
– When applying insect repellents on a child, apply it to on your own hands and then rub it on your child. Make sure you don’t apply the product near their eyes and mouth. Apply it lightly on the ears of a child.
– Do not apply insect repellents on your child’s hands because they may introduce the product to their own eyes or mouth.
– Make sure that you keep insect repellents out of your child’s reach.
– After your child spends time outdoors, make sure you wash treated skin with soap and water.
– If you notice any reaction on your child, wash the treated skin and contact your health care provider right away.

In keeping insects away, the CDC recommends that parents also take other measures to keep insects away. Dress your child appropriately when outdoors, and make sure that your environment is not an ideal breeding ground for insects. Along with other preventive measures, there’s a lot that you can do in protecting your child from these unwanted vectors.