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Once you’ve adjusted to life with a new human, you may be excited to share outdoor adventures (or just a picnic in the backyard) with your little one. It’s no secret that time spent in nature is great for baby’s developing brain and your well-being.
Depending on where you live, there are risks of bug-borne illnesses like Lyme disease and Zika virus, which can be serious. According to the
There are a number of options when it comes to protecting your baby, including insect repellent. We’ve compiled some helpful info about bug repellents for babies, as well as our top favorites, to help keep your little explorer safe and comfortable outdoors.
We polled a number of parents, read extensive online reviews, and researched products to curate a list of baby bug repellents that are safe, effective, easy to use, and budget-friendly. We have not personally tested every option on this list (although we have tried some).
We hope this list can help narrow down the options and give you some peace of mind as you enjoy the outdoor world with your little one.
Developed by the U.S. Army in 1946, DEET is considered the gold standard for insect repellent in the United States. It’s a chemical repellent that confuses bugs and causes them to fly away.
DEET has made some parents nervous because of past reports of seizures in children that may have been related to DEET exposure.
However, the ingredient has been extensively studied and determined safe for use (when used as directed) on people over 2 months old by the Environmental Protection Agency, the
When used according to the instructions, DEET is the most effective option for preventing bug-borne diseases.
DEET is best used on children in concentrations from 10% to 30%. Higher concentrations of DEET do not repel bugs better, they just last longer. For example, 10% DEET repels bugs for about 2 hours, while 30% DEET repels bugs for about 5 hours.
It’s recommended to use the lowest concentration that will work for the time frame you need and to not reapply more often than instructed.
You also should not use combo DEET/sunscreen products, as this increases the risk of putting too much DEET on your kiddo, since sunscreen has to be applied more frequently.
A synthetic version of an ingredient found in pepper plants, picaridin is a newer bug repellent to the U.S. market. It has been studied and is considered safe for people over 2 months of age.
Picaridin is actually the insect repellent of choice for children in Europe and Australia. It’s available in 5%, 10%, and 20% solutions.
A 20% concentration of picaridin may repel gnats, mosquitos, ticks, flies, and chiggers for 8 to 14 hours, and a 10% solution may work for 5 to 12 hours.
Picaridin is also non-greasy, doesn’t stink, and is non-toxic. These characteristics make it a much more attractive option to many parents than DEET!
However, picaridin can cause eye irritation, and there is almost no research on long-term effects of picaridin in humans, so we don’t know for sure if there are any. This is why DEET remains the product of choice for many healthcare professionals — it has been extensively studied for safety and effectiveness.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus
Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is made from the leaf extract of lemon eucalyptus trees. It’s then processed to increase the levels of a naturally occurring substance that repels bugs.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is actually not the same thing as lemon eucalyptus oil, which is an essential oil that has not been tested or registered as an EPA-approved insect repellent.
Some people prefer OLE because it is a natural, plant-based product that has been evaluated and registered by the EPA and actually protects up to 6 hours.
However, it is not labeled for use in children under the age of 3 years (mostly due to a lack of research in younger age groups), so the CDC only recommends oil of lemon eucalyptus as a bug repellent for children over the age of 3 years.
Essential oils are chemical compounds extracted from plants. They are usually distilled, and often simply named for the plant they came from, such as “peppermint” or “oil of peppermint.”
There are a number of natural bug sprays on the market (or you can make your own) that contain essential oils such as cedar, citronella, clove, lemongrass, soybean, and peppermint.
These are considered relatively safe but have really only been shown to possibly ward off mosquitoes. So they might help keep your little from getting some bites, but if you really need to keep bug-borne diseases away, these aren’t the most effective way to do it.
Some insect repellents with essential oils have been evaluated by the EPA and deemed safe. But they are not registered by the EPA, so quality and effectiveness of the products using these essential oils may vary. Allergic reactions are also possible, especially if the oils are not diluted and applied properly.
Other options for protection
There are some non-chemical ways to protect your little one from bug bites and illness as well.
You can make sure your baby is wearing lightweight long pants tucked into their socks and long sleeves, closed-toe shoes, and light-colored clothing (that does not have bright colors or patterns, which seem to attract bugs).
You can also avoid using scented soaps or lotions and avoid areas with standing water or bright flowers or fruits.
Another good idea is to check your child’s body for ticks as soon as you come back inside. If you are going camping or hiking, or are in an area that is particularly buggy, you can also apply
Permethrin is an insecticide that is safe to apply to clothes or other surfaces, but should not be applied directly to the skin. Only permethrin kills ticks on contact.
As great as they sound, items such as wristbands soaked with bug repellent, candles, garlic or oral vitamins, and ultrasonic bug zappers are not effective in preventing bug bites.
The appeal is totally understandable, as many bug repellents are sticky or stinky.
However, if you are going to spend significant time outdoors, live in a buggy area, or an area with a high prevalence of diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue, or chikungunya, you will need an actual insect repellent to protect your little one.
So without further ado, our top picks to keep your kiddo bite-free no matter where your adventures take you!
A note on pricing: Most of the insect repellents we describe below retail for under $10 ($). If they retail for more than that, we’ve noted it with two dollar signs ($$) below.
All of these repellents should ward off ticks, fleas, biting flies, mosquitoes, and chiggers. Ew.
Another 15% DEET spray that offers the best bug protection and is sweat resistant, which is great for active kids. Some users we polled felt the smell was off-putting.
This lotion contains 20% DEET and claims to be odorless (win!) and non-greasy. The big selling feature is that it is a controlled-release solution that can last up to 11 hours, so if you are camping or spending a full day outdoors, you may not need to reapply.
Picaridin repellents should protect against mosquitos, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, and sand flies.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus repellents
Essential oil repellents
While essential oils are not registered by the EPA and have not fared as well as DEET or OLE products in Consumer Reports reviews, many of the parents we spoke still consider them when seeking options.
A number of other parents we spoke with said they had tried essential oil repellents, but ended up switching to another product because their baby got too many bites.
This all-natural and certified organic spray uses citronella, rosemary, and wintergreen oils to repel bugs. Its maker says it has been lab-demonstrated to repel mosquitos for 3 to 4 hours and was a favorite of parents we polled.
Using bug repellent properly is just as important for your baby’s safety as the product you choose.
Here are some helpful tips to follow when it comes to safely using insect repellent:
- Follow the instructions for application — sounds basic, but those instructions are important!
- Have an adult apply the repellent. Children should never put on their own bug repellent.
- Use sprays outside to ensure good ventilation.
- Spray onto hands to apply to areas like the face and neck. Never spray directly onto the face
- Wash skin and clothing after use.
- Apply only on exposed skin. Use clothing for protection when possible
- Use on babies under 2 months. You can use netting over your baby’s stroller when they are a newborn.
- Apply near eyes, mouth, or on hands for little ones.
- Use combination products with sunscreen. This decreases the effectiveness of the bug spray and may result in over-application.
- Apply on broken skin.
- Keep using if there is irritation or an allergic reaction.
Despite your best efforts, your baby may still get a bite or sting. (It’s worth noting that bug repellents do not protect against stinging insects such as bees, hornets, or wasps.)
If you’re concerned about your baby’s bite you can call your pediatrician for help. If you think your baby is having a severe allergic reaction to a bite or sting (hives, swelling, or trouble breathing) call 911 or your local emergency services.
Some products used to fend off bugs can irritate the skin. If you think your baby is having a reaction to bug repellent, or some product accidentally gets in their eyes or mouth, call the poison control center or your pediatrician right away.
One of the many wonderful things about parenthood is introducing your little one to the activities and places you love, including the great outdoors.
Even though putting on insect repellent can be a pain, bug bites can occasionally result in serious illnesses. It is important to protect your baby from bites as best you can.
The parent-tested products listed here can help keep your little adventurer safe and healthy.