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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. But take care when you use them:

  • Choose a repellent with no more than 10% to 30% concentration of DEET (look for N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide on the label).
  • Use lower concentrations if kids will be outside only for an hour or two.
  • If they're outside longer, consider using a repellent with a higher concentration of DEET. (The higher concentration means that it will last longer.)

Generally, repellent with DEET should not be applied more than once a day.

DEET can 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. This prevents them from swallowing any 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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that repellents containing the ingredients picaridin or oil of lemon eucalyptus also can protect against mosquitoes:

  • Picaridin is a compound found in many mosquito repellents used in Europe, Australia, Latin America, and Asia. Its chemical name, which you might find in the list of "active ingredients" on a product, is KBR 3023. Years of safe use of picaridin in other parts of the world show that it's safe and effective.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus is also known as P-menthane diol (PMD). PMD is a plant-based repellent that gives protection time similar to low concentrations of DEET products. It is not recommended for kids under 3 years old.

No matter which repellent you choose, check the list of active ingredients. It should contain one of these effective chemicals. Then, follow the directions carefully.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date Reviewed: 26-08-2019

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