The mosquito’s are officially out. These things drive me crazy!! Bites from mosquito’s (and other insects) cause irritation but can also have longer lasting health issues. Insect repellent can help to protect you from bites but selecting the best product can be so difficult. The decision of what type of insect repellent to use will vary based on where you are spending your time, but there are some important considerations.
Chemical versus Non-chemical
DEET is probably the most commonly known chemical insect repellent which you will likely recognize by its overwhelming odor. DEET has gotten some bad press over the years – concerns have been expressed about the effects of DEET on the central nervous system. The EPA has completed multiple reviews of DEET and has determined that the product does not pose a health concern. Personally, I am not a fan of products that contain DEET. However, if we are traveling to an area of the world that has a known issue with certain diseases (Zika, West Nile Virus) then I would consider using a product with a low amount of DEET for a short period of time. If you are planning to use a DEET product, 10% – 30% DEET is adequate protection for most areas, and the lower the DEET the better (just remember that lower levels don’t last as long so you may need to reapply). Only apply to exposed areas of skin and don’t use it under clothing. Never spray the product in the area of your face – spray into hands and then apply it. Finally, wash areas sprayed with soap and water as soon as possible.
Also known as Piperidine, this is another synthetic product that helps to repel insects. Also considered safe by the EPA, this one doesn’t share the same strong scent that DEET carries. Studies show that this repellent carries no significant toxicities but care should be taken to avoid eyes, mouth and nose. It is worth noting that Picardidin does not repel ticks (which are a big concern in the area I’m located). Products containing Picardidin should not be used in children under the age of 2.
This is another synthetic repellent, which should be applied to fabric. Do not apply directly to skin. A single application lasts 2 wks and it is superior to DEET for tick prevention.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (PMD)
This is a synthesized version of oil of lemon eucalyptus which has been shown to offer protection that is similar to low levels of DEET. There is a risk of considerable eye irritation (take care when applying to the face) and this product is not recommended for children under the age of 3.
My family has had great results with a natural insect repellent called Buzz Away that I purchase at Whole Foods, and can be found on Amazon. It contains a combination of Castor oil, Geranium Oil, Soybean oil, Citronella, Lemongrass Oil, and Peppermint Oil. Three of the oils in this formulation have been found to have similar efficacy to low levels of DEET. However, this product smells amazing, works great and I have no concerns with the ingredients. If you search on Pinterest you can find all sorts of recipes that use essential oils to ward off the insects. My only caution with these is to test each ingredient as a potential allergen and to stop using if you notice any irritation.
How Should I Layer Products For Outdoor Use?
This is a question that I get asked often. In general, I recommend that sunscreen be applied first, followed by bug repellent. Remember, sunscreen needs to be applied every 2 hours for maximal protection against harmful UV rays. Bug sprays tend to last longer on the skin (3-4 hours or longer). In general, I go by a two to one rule… two applications of sunscreen for every one application of my bug spray.
I want to take a minute to specifically address products that combine sunscreen and insect repellent. Many parents think this is brilliant. I know that it isn’t the easiest task to apply these products to young children so only applying one product that offers two solutions is ideal. I do not recommend these combination products. Sunscreen needs to be applied frequently whereas insect repellent is longer lasting. These combination products almost always contain a low level of DEET. In addition, they are usually formulated as an aerosol spray, which increases the risk of little ones inhaling harmful chemicals. If you reapply as often as necessary you will be over-exposing to the chemicals in insect repellent.
Beyond The Bug Spray
No insect repellent is 100% effective so I always recommend some extra precautions to help prevent insect bites.
Keep legs and arms covered with clothing and tuck pants into socks if hiking in thick grass/brush
Use a net to cover a baby in a stroller or a car seat, and a hat with a net works well for bigger kids too. If the bugs can’t get in, they can’t bite you!
Remove the threat – we have a water table and kids pool in our backyard that gets emptied and rinsed every evening. Mosquito’s love these environments (warm, stagnant water).
If you live in an area where lyme disease is prevalent, always make sure to check over your skin and your children’s skin for ticks. I have found two ticks on my daughter over the last 3 years. The most recent bite she had was in the late fall (go figure).
Ouch! He Bit Me
While we are on the topic of insects (just writing about these things makes my skin crawl!) I wanted to give some tips on what to do if you do get a mosquito bite.
Wash the area with warm water and soap
An ice pack might help relieve some of the itch
Apply calamine lotion or an anti-itch cream with a cortisone
If you notice severe swelling at the site of a bug bite, this could be a more severe bite reaction. Children are more prone to such reactions. In this case, you may need to visit your dermatologist to get prescription strength steroids.
How do you protect your family from insect bites? Any great tips to share? Comment below or send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.