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Are Insect Repellents With DEET Safe for Kids?

Insect repellents containing DEET have been tested and approved as safe for kids older than 2 months. DEET helps protect against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, and fleas.

But be sure to read all labels and take care when you use them:

  • Choose a repellent with a 10%–30% concentration of DEET (look for N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide on the label). The higher the concentration, the longer it lasts.
  • Use lower concentrations (10%) if kids will be outside only for an hour or two.
  • If they're outside longer, consider using a repellent with up to 30% DEET, which lasts around 5 hours.

Apply a repellent with DEET no more than once a day.

DEET can be put on exposed skin, as well as clothing, socks, and shoes. But don't use it on your child's face, under clothing, on cuts or irritated skin, or on the hands of young children.

Also:

  • Do not use a single product containing both sunscreen and DEET. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied often, while DEET should not be used more than once a day.
  • DEET concentrations higher than 30% are not more effective and the chemical (which is absorbed through the skin) in high amounts can be toxic. Follow the directions on the label.
  • Do not apply repellent to kids' hands because they could swallow it if they put their hands in their mouth. It also can irritate eyes if they touch them.
  • Don't spray the repellent anywhere near the mouth.
  • Apply the repellent in an open area so that you and your child don't breathe it in.
  • Wash kids' skin with soap and water when they come back inside, and wash all clothes before they're worn again.

Other bug repellents don’t contain DEET. The US Environmental Protection Agency has a list of approved repellents. Their tool can help you choose the right one for your family.

No matter which repellent you choose, follow the directions carefully.

Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date Reviewed: Jul 1, 2023

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