Is it Safe to Use Insect Repellents on My Baby?
Warmer weather has arrived and with it, the bugs. Some of us are more prone to being eaten alive than others. Some can walk through a wall of mosquitoes or black flies and come out unscathed. Still others look like they’ve been swarmed as bright red itchy spots appear on their skin. A simple solution for those who refuse to stay inside all summer is to use insect repellent or “bug spray.” But are all bug repellents safe for babies? Are there any natural or alternative bug-fighting products to traditional bug spray? This article will attempt to answer these questions.
The Bug Spray Debate
Most of the safety concerns are regarding DEET, the active ingredient in many effective insect repelling products. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Centers for Disease Control advocate that products with DEET (usually between 10-30 percent) are safe to use on children if the instructions are carefully followed. Products with DEET should not be used on infants less than 2 months old.
The amount of DEET a product has affects the length of time you are protected. A product with 10 percent DEET will provide about two hours of protection, while a product with, say, 24 percent will provide about five hours. Products with higher levels of DEET should only be applied once a day. It is highly recommended that parents avoid using SPF products that include DEET. While it may seem extremely convenient to have the 2-in-1 product, the DEET actually weakens the SPF protection of the sunscreen requiring more frequent applications and, potentially increasing the use of DEET beyond safe levels. (WhattoExpect.com)
Below is a list of guidelines for safe insect repellent use (from iVillage.com):
- Do not apply over cuts, wounds or irritated skin
- Do not apply to children’s hands or near their eyes or mouth
- Do not over-apply. Use just enough to cover exposed skin
- Apply to clothing instead of exposed skin, but do not use under clothing
- Wash treated clothes before reusing
- Wash sprayed exposed skin immediately upon going inside
- Avoid using sprays in enclosed areas or around food
“Years of DEET use have resulted in relatively few reports of adverse reactions. Most reported incidents have not been serious.” (iVillage.com) The main concerns for DEET use is skin irritation. Using high concentrations over a long period of time may result in more serious skin reactions such as blistering, burning and permanent scarring, insomnia and mood changes. These symptoms are more likely in adults. There are also dangers associated with swallowing insect repellents containing DEET. It is important to follow the above guidelines, the product instructions regarding safe application and to store the product out of the reach of children.
Effective DEET alternatives include:
- Mosquito Netting – For infants 0-2 months, use mosquito netting over your carrier or stroller and dress him/her in long pants and sleeves.
- Timing – Time your outings so that you are not outside when mosquitoes or other insects are active.
- Picaridin – Picaridin is the active ingredient in Off! Skintastic Clean Feel, Cutter Advanced Insect Repellent and Avon Skin So Soft bug Guard Plus Picaridin. Picaridin lasts about the same length of time as repellents that contain 10 percent DEET. It is odorless and colorless. The CDC deems Picaridin products safe for children. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics is awaiting the results of long-term follow-up studies before issuing an acceptance statement.
- Essential oils – Citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, lemongrass oil and soybean oils don’t usually work as well as DEET. Oil of lemon eucalyptus has been used in Europe for over 20 years and has just become available in the U.S. in Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Expedition. However, essential oil-based products should still not be used on infants less than 2 months of age. National Geographic endorses Herbal Armor DEET-free Insect repellent, which combines all these essential oils.
- Permethrin – Permethrin kills ticks and fleas on contact, but does not protect against mosquitoes, black flies or other such insects. It cannot be applied directly to the skin. Products like Buggies (a collection of playwear that combines permethrin with soy in baby and toddler clothes – up to 4T) claims to provide protection from all biting insects.
Other mosquito fighting tips can be found here.
It is important to remember that insect repellents do not keep away stinging insects such as bees, hornets, wasps, and fire ants.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
Insect repellent: Safe for babies and toddlers? Steele, Robert W. iVillage.com. Web. May 14, 2012.
When can I start putting bug repellent on my baby? BabyCenter. Web. May 14, 2012.
Insect Repellents. KeepKidsHealthy.com. Web. May, 14, 2012.
Safe insect repellent tips for babies and children. Consumer Reports. Web. May 14, 2012.
Insect Repellent. What to Expect. Web. May 14, 2012.
Buggies with Insect Shield Launches Playwear Collection for Infants & Toddlers. Pitchengine.com. Web. May 14, 2012.
Natural Insect Pest Control. EarthEasy.com. Web. May 14, 2012.
Bug Spray Poisoning. MedlinePlus. Web. May 14, 2012.
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