Insect Repellent for Infants

Susie McGee
Should you use insect repellent on your infant?

How safe is insect repellent for infants? While you want to protect your baby from insect bites, is it safe to use repellent on his or her skin?

Insect Repellent Strength

If you compare labels on insect repellents, you'll probably notice that different brands offer different concentrations of various active ingredients. Because of this, it is hard to compare these repellents directly. As a rule of thumb, however, the higher the percentage of an active ingredient in the repellent, the longer the protection from bug bites will last. For example, repellent that contains 20 percent of DEET, a common active ingredient in insect repellents, will provide approximately four hours of protection from insects. On the other hand, a repellent with only five percent DEET will protect you for a little less than two hours. How much protection your repellent actually provides can differ due to other factors, such as water exposure, air temperature, and more.

Checking the amount of active ingredient in a repellent and choosing one that provides maximum protection is pretty routine for adults, but what about insect repellent for infants?

Infant Insect Repellent

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that insect repellents which contain DEET not be applied to infants under two months old. They also state the following: "Insect repellents containing DEET with a concentration of 10% appear to be as safe as products with a concentration of 30% when used according to the directions on the product labels."

Because there isn't any specific information that studies the connection between age and skin absorption in regards to DEET, common sense must be used when applying insect repellent to children over two months of age. For children, the wisest choice would be to choose repellent that offers the lowest amount of active concentration that will work for the amount of outdoor time.

Points to Remember

Because a baby's skin permeability appears to become similar to an adult's by the second month of life, once an infant is older than two months, the amount of repellent absorbed into the skin should not differ significantly. There are other points to remember, however.

  • Many people mistakenly believe that repellents must be applied as frequently as sunscreen. However, active ingredients like DEET are not water-soluble, and repeated applications could actually increase the toxic effects of the repellent. With this in mind, do not use insect repellent/sunscreen combination products.
  • To lessen the amounts of repellent used on your child, dress him or her in long-sleeved shirts and long pants. There is no need to apply repellent under clothing.
  • Pay careful attention when applying repellent to your child. Do not put the product on his hands or near his eyes or mouth.
  • When applying insect repellent, do so away from enclosed areas.
  • Avoid spraying insect repellent on cuts and abrasions.
  • Be sure and wash your child's skin once you come back inside.
  • If you do take an infant outside, use mosquito netting over the infant carrier or playpen. Make sure the netting is securely fastened, however, to avoid risk of suffocation.
  • Pay attention to areas in your yard that might harbor mosquitoes, such as old tires, buckets, children's splash pools, etc. Empty these containers frequently.
  • When you are outside, burn citronella candles and torches to ward off insects.
  • At various times of the year, particularly in the summer, mosquitoes tend to swarm. This often occurs right at sundown in certain areas of the country. Head back inside with your children during this time.

Using insect repellents can help reduce your baby's exposure to mosquito bites which can carry viruses like the West Nile virus. With common sense and the proper use of insect repellents, enjoying the outdoors with your children is possible.

Insect Repellent for Infants