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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.

However, when nature gets a little too — natural — pests such as mosquitoes, ticks, and biting flies can make your time outdoors downright uncomfortable and even dangerous.

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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), bugs are spreading more infections than ever in the United States.

There are a number of options when it comes to protecting your baby, including insect repellent. We’ve compiled helpful info about bug repellents for babies, as well as our favorites, to help keep your little explorer safe and comfortable outdoors.

DEET

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 (EPA), the CDC, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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 percent. Concentrations of more than 50 percent DEET do not repel bugs better, though the effects can last longer. For example, 10 percent DEET repels bugs for about 2 hours, while 30 percent DEET repels bugs for about 5 hours.

It’s recommended to use lower concentrations that will work for the time frame you need, and to not reapply more frequently than the manufacturer recommends. Generally, up to 30 percent DEET is recommended for children.

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.

Picaridin

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 percent solutions.

A 20 percent concentration of picaridin may repel gnats, mosquitos, ticks, flies, and chiggers for 8 to 14 hours, and a 10 percent solution may work for 5 to 12 hours.

Picaridin is also nongreasy and doesn’t stink. These characteristics make it a much more attractive option than DEET for many parents!

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 older than 3.

Essential oils

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 one 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 these products may vary. Allergic reactions are also possible, especially if the oils are not diluted and applied properly.

Alternatives to insect repellent for babies

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 (with no 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 to clothes, tents, etc.

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!

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 peace of mind as you enjoy the outdoor world with your little one.

Pricing Guide

$ = under $1.50/ounce

$$ = $1.50-$3/ounce

$$$ = over $3/ounce

DEET repellents

All of these repellents should ward off ticks, fleas, biting flies, mosquitoes, and chiggers. Ew.

OFF FamilyCare Insect Repellent

Price: $

This 15 percent DEET spray provides effective protection against a range of bugs and insects including mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats, ticks, chiggers, and fleas. It’s a reasonably priced option that’s designed to offer protection for up to 6 hours. It’s also available in many stores if you need to pick up a can quickly on your way to an outdoor event or while traveling.

This spray has a “powder-dry” formula that won’t leave you feeling greasy. However, some users complained the aerosol spray can had them inhaling more of the repellent than they would have liked, so make sure you apply it outside to minimize the risk. The AAP generally recommends using products other than pressurized sprays. One way to make the application process safer is for an adult to spray it on their hands and then apply it to the child’s skin.

Pros

  • useful against mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats, ticks, chiggers, and fleas
  • it’s available at a wide range of popular stores
  • one of the most budget-friendly options on our list

Cons

  • not all parents like to use aerosol spray insect repellents (especially if, like this one, they contain DEET)
  • some users noted that it had an unpleasant smell and left a residue on clothing
  • it’s best to apply this by spraying it on your hands, then rubbing it onto your child

Repel Insect Repellent – Scented Family Formula

Price: $$

This is another 15 percent DEET spray that offers protection against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and fleas. Additionally, this product doesn’t leave a greasy feeling on your skin and is sweat-resistant, which is great for active kids.

While many noted how effective this spray was, some users felt the smell was off-putting. In addition, you’ll want to be careful to keep your mouth closed while you spray the aerosol can — and apply it outside whenever possible. And again, consider spraying it on your hands and rubbing it on your child, instead of using the aerosol directly on them.

Pros

  • this spray provides protection against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and fleas
  • it is sweat-resistant
  • this spray doesn’t leave skin feeling greasy

Cons

  • some users found the smell off-putting
  • it comes out of an aerosol can, which left some users breathing a lot in and others saying they got an uneven layer of protection
  • it’s best to apply this by spraying it on your hands, then rubbing it onto your child

Cutter All-Family Insect Repellent

Price: $

This soft, nongreasy spray contains only 7 percent DEET, making it a more appealing option for some parents of babies and younger children who are hoping to avoid higher percentages of DEET. The spray will still protect against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and fleas like the previous DEET-based options, but you’ll need to reapply it more frequently than sprays with a higher percentage of DEET.

One other difference from the DEET sprays so far on our list is that this one comes in a pump spray bottle, as opposed to a pressurized can. Users said this helped to keep it out of their mouth and lungs.

Pros

  • the bottle comes with a pump sprayer instead of an aerosol spray, so users felt they inhaled less of the repellent
  • only includes 7 percent DEET which is gentler on skin
  • the spray is nongreasy and most users didn’t complain about the scent

Cons

  • it will need to be reapplied more frequently than spray repellents with higher percentages of DEET
  • the pump spray can take longer to apply than the aerosol cans

Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent – Controlled Release

Price: $$

This lotion contains 20 percent DEET and claims to be odorless (win!) and nongreasy. The big selling feature is that it’s a controlled-release solution that can last up to 11 hours according to the company, so if you are camping or spending a full day outdoors, you may not need to reapply.

It may be easier to rub in a lotion than trying to use an aerosol spray that is more difficult to apply to a wiggly little one, but it comes with drawbacks. Because lotions need to be applied directly to the skin, you’ll have more of the repellent physically on you (and your child) than a spray that can be applied to clothing.

Pros

  • one application can last up to 11 hours
  • users felt the lotion has little scent, and that it was not that greasy
  • you don’t need to worry about accidentally spraying it into a little one’s mouth or eyes, or them inhaling it

Cons

  • it must be applied directly on the skin instead of being applied on clothing
  • it may not work for 11 hours, as the company claims — though it will likely have a longer efficacy than some of the other sprays on our list

Picaridin repellents

Picaridin repellents should protect against mosquitos, ticks, biting flies, chiggers, and sand flies.

Natrapel Tick & Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Price: $$

The CDC recommends a concentration of 20 percent picaridin, and that’s exactly what this repellent contains. The Natrapel repellent comes in both aerosol and pump spray forms, so you have options. It offers up to 12 hours of protection, and it also won’t harm your clothing or outdoor gear, according to the manufacturers.

One thing to keep in mind is that users did find this repellent to be more oily than some of the other options on our list. If dryness is a key factor for you, this might not be the best fit.

Pros

  • can offer up to 12 hours of protection
  • available in both aerosol and pump spray options
  • the ingredients in this spray won’t harm your clothing or hiking equipment

Cons

  • several users noted that this repellent felt more oily than some others
  • it’s not as natural as some of the organic options on this list

Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin

Price: $$

If you prefer picaridin, this solution gets rave reviews and lasts up to 12 hours — meaning you won’t have to mess around with frequently reapplying. The manufacturer says it won’t damage plastics or synthetic coatings, either, which means you shouldn’t worry about it getting on your clothing, backpack, or camping equipment.

One thing to keep in mind is that application may be a bit of pain. User complaints about the spray bottle and how it sprays aren’t uncommon. Also, if you don’t like a greasy skin feeling, you might be better off with another option on our list.

Pros

  • can be effective for up to 12 hours
  • the manufacturer says it won’t damage plastics or synthetic coatings
  • users found that the scent wasn’t as strong as other repellents with DEET

Cons

  • users complained about the spray bottle and that the spray came out of it unevenly
  • some users felt it left a greasy feeling

Oil of lemon eucalyptus repellents

If you have children over 3 years of age and are looking for a plant-based option, the oil of lemon eucalyptus has been evaluated as effective by the EPA and approved by the CDC.

Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent

Price: $

While this product can’t be used for babies, it’s a great plant-based option for kiddos over the age of 3 years. It repels mosquitoes for up to 6 hours and won’t leave a greasy feeling on your skin.

While some people love that it doesn’t have a chemical smell, the smell is strong, nonetheless. If you have sensitive skin, allergic reactions have been reported by some individuals, so there may be better options out there.

Pros

  • this is a budget-friendly option
  • it doesn’t leave a greasy feeling on your skin
  • it can repel mosquitoes for up to 6 hours

Cons

  • it is not recommended to use this product on children under 3 years old
  • even if you like it, the smell is very strong

Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent

Price: $$

Another highly rated 30 percent OLE solution, this fresh-smelling, nongreasy spray repels mosquitoes and deer ticks. According to the manufacturer, it will repel mosquitos for up to 6 hours and deer ticks for up to 4. The manufacturer also claims that it’s safe to spray on gear or clothing.

The spray does not include dyes, synthetic fragrances, or harsh chemicals. However, it does have a strong smell. Some users also commented that the pump system wasn’t the best.

Pros

  • it repels mosquitoes for up to 6 hours and deer ticks for up to 4 hours
  • it can be sprayed on clothing or gear
  • this spray does not include dyes, synthetic fragrances, or harsh chemicals

Cons

  • many users comment that it has an intense smell
  • some users complained that the pump system on their bottle didn’t work well

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 with 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.

While you might feel they’re worth trying, it’s good to know that there’s no evidence demonstrating that they’re safer. They have been shown to be less effective (the parents we spoke with expressed this issue firsthand). Plus, there’s no established safe dose, few labeling requirements, and little regulation of ingredients for these sprays.

Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray

Price: $$$

This all-natural and certified organic spray uses citronella, rosemary, and wintergreen oils to repel bugs. According to the manufacturer, it has been demonstrated to repel mosquitos for 3 to 4 hours, and it was a favorite of parents we polled.

The spray is sold by a family-owned, women-run company, and comes in a recyclable aluminum bottle that is an approved size for airline travel. Plus the product is gluten-free, cruelty-free, and vegan.

Pros

  • pump spray comes in a recyclable aluminum bottle that is sized for travel
  • the spray is gluten-free, cruelty-free, and vegan
  • the company claims to have lab-demonstrated it to repel mosquitos for 3 to 4 hours

Cons

  • this is not the most budget-friendly option on our list
  • many users commented that the scent was strong, even if they found it pleasant

Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent

Price: $$$

This pump spray uses essential oils of rosemary, citronella, geranium, peppermint, and lemongrass to help repel mosquitos, gnats, and flies. It does not include parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic fragrances or dyes. It also is not tested on animals.

If you like it, buying in larger quantities could be one way to score a lower price. Buying in bulk may also be a good idea because, like all essential oil repellents, you’ll need to reapply this one more frequently. The company doesn’t recommend it for children under 6 months of age.

Pros

  • this spray does not include parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic fragrances or dyes
  • it’s not tested on animals
  • buying larger quantities can bring down the price

Cons

  • you’ll likely need to apply this product more frequently than those with DEET
  • it is not recommended for children under 6 months old

DoTERRA TerraShield Spray

Price: $$$

This product blends numerous essential oils in an effort to offer natural protection against bugs. (Their claim has not been tested by any labs or agencies, though.) It is available in a spray or drop form.

The manufacturer offers options for deterring bugs with this product not commonly suggested with some of the other options, like diffusing it on patios or spraying door and window frames.

Pros

  • comes in a spray or drop form
  • the manufacturer suggests that it can be diffused on patios or used on door/window frames, in addition to on your body, to deter bugs
  • the company claims it uses co-impact sourcing, which forms mutually beneficial relationships with farmers who produce materials used in the spray

Cons

  • it’s by far the most expensive option on our list
  • this product is only available in small bottles

RepellentPriceKey IngredientsSpecial Features
OFF FamilyCare Insect Repellent$DEET-6-hour protection against mosquitoes, biting flies, gnats, ticks, chiggers, and fleas
-powder-dry formula
Repel Insect Repellent – Scented Family Formula$$DEET-protects against mosquitoes, ticks, biting flies, gnats, chiggers and fleas.
-sweat-resistant
Cutter All-Family Insect Repellent$DEET-only has 7 percent DEET
-comes out of a pump instead of an aerosol canister
Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent – Controlled Release$$DEET-can provide protection for up to 11 hours
-lotion has minimal scent
Natrapel Tick & Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin$$Picaridin-comes in aerosol and spray options
-offers up to 12 hours of protection
Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent with 20% Picaridin$$Picaridin-offers up to 12 hours of protection
-manufacturer says it dries quickly
Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent$Oil of lemon eucalyptus-can repel mosquitoes for up to 6 hours
-does not have a greasy sensation
Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Insect Repellent$$Oil of lemon eucalyptus-does not include dyes, synthetic fragrances, or harsh chemicals
-can be sprayed on clothing and gear
Badger Anti-Bug Shake & Spray$$$Citronella, rosemary, and lemongrass essential oils-cruelty-free, vegan, and gluten-free
-comes in a recyclable aluminum bottle that is sized for travel
Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent$$$Citronella, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass, and geranium essential oils-does not include parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic fragrances or dyes
-no animal testing
DoTERRA TerraShield Spray$$$Ylang ylang flower, nootka wood, cedarwood, catnip, lemon eucalyptus, litsea fruit, arborvitae wood essential oil, and vanilla bean absolute, with a base of fractionated coconut oil and tamanu seed oil -comes in spray or drop form
-can be diffused on patios or used on door/window frames

Not sure how to choose the perfect insect repellent? There are a few things you’ll want to consider.

  • How it’s applied. Do you prefer lotions, pump sprays, aerosol cans, or wipes? Each type comes with benefits and drawbacks. Lotions and wipes won’t end up in your mouth or eyes, but they must be applied directly to the skin, which means your baby or child will have more skin contact with the chemicals. On the other hand, pump sprays and aerosols can leave you coughing during the spray-on process, but the concentration of chemicals on the skin is likely lower. Aerosols and sprays also allow the repellent to permeate clothing.
  • Any potential allergens. If your baby has sensitive skin or is prone to allergic reactions, you’ll want to read through the repellent’s ingredients and prioritize those options least likely to cause a rash or other irritation. Of course, you can always consult your pediatrician.
  • The duration of protection it provides. How long insect repellents are effective ranges from just 2 to 3 hours, to closer to 12. You’ll want to think about how often you wish to apply. But also consider what percentage of DEET or other chemicals you’re comfortable with as that impacts how long it can last. Longer-lasting insect sprays will likely have higher amounts of active ingredient(s).
  • The price. In many cases, insect repellent will need to be reapplied fairly frequently, so you may need a lot of it — especially if you plan to spend significant time outside. Buying bottle after bottle can add up over time. Choosing a pricey repellent may not be the best for your family if you’ll burn through it and need to regularly repurchase.
  • How easy it is to get. This probably isn’t the most important factor to consider, but for some individuals choosing a repellent that’s easy to find is important. This is true for families that might be traveling, and want to purchase insect repellent at their destination, rather than adding an extra item to the packing list.

Adults should always apply insect repellent to children, regardless of whether you opt for a lotion or aerosol form. This will help reduce the risk of getting it into their eyes, mouth, or open wounds.

Always read the manufacturer’s label directions before applying insect repellent to your child. It might sound silly, but you’ll want to apply the product exactly as the manufacturer designed. This will keep your child safe, but also maximize its efficacy.

It’s also best to apply the repellent outside whenever possible — especially if it’s a spray.

While lotions and wipes should only be applied to any uncovered skin, you can generally use sprays over clothing as well.

It’s usually a good idea to use bug spray sparingly on the face (avoiding the eye and mouth area), but you can also put it on your ears, too. Adults who want to apply bug repellent to their face (or their child’s) should spray onto their hands, or dab it on their hands or fingers, before applying.

It’s best not to let children apply to their faces, as bug spray on the hands could easily wind up in their eyes or mouth on accident. Remember to re-apply insect repellent as frequently as the manufacturer recommends.

Using bug repellent properly is just as important for your baby’s safety as the product you choose.

Here are some helpful tips for safely using insect repellent:

Do

  • 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.

Don’t

  • 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.

If your child has a reaction to insect repellent, there are two steps you should take.

First, immediately stop using the product and wash your child’s skin with soap and water.

Then, contact your child’s doctor or poison control for help. If you end up going into the doctor’s office, you’ll want to bring the repellent that caused your child’s reaction with you.

Should you apply insect repellent to your newborn?

It’s a good idea to check with your child’s pediatrician before applying any insect repellent to children or babies. The AAP does not recommend applying DEET products on children 2 months old or younger. Additionally, the CDC has not approved products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or para-menthane-diol (PMD) for application on children under 3 years of age.

What’s a natural way to protect my child from insects?

Long-sleeved shirts, pants, and socks can act as natural barriers for bugs and insects. You can also choose to use mosquito netting over baby carriers and strollers.

There are also natural repellants made from different combinations of essential oils like cedar, citronella, clove, lemongrass, soybean, and peppermint. However, research has not proven these essential oil blends are effective. In addition, they can cause skin reactions for some people, so they might not be the best choice if your baby has sensitive skin. If that’s the case for your child, consult your pediatrician for recommendations on bug repellents.

How can I tell if a bug repellent is safe for my child?

It’s important to check the manufacturer’s directions before applying bug repellent to a child, as they may have specific warnings and directions for application to children. You’ll also want to look at the ingredients — remember to avoid repellents with more than 30 percent DEET on children. When in doubt, check with your child’s doctor.

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.