With mosquito and tick season in full swing, bug bite control is now officially a thing. As if the sunscreen situation weren’t enough, right? To get the low down on the best lines of defense for littles, we’ve round up the guidelines from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) for a primer on all things bug bite prevention. If there’s one thing to know, it’s this: your child’s age and your circumstances should dictate the level of mosquito protection you use, and not every situation is the same. Some basics:
First and foremost, cover your children with a hat, long shirt and pants, and socks as best you can. The EWG notes to avoid bright, floral prints. Makes sense, right?
Age is more than just a number. The AAP and the CDC state that bug spray of any kind should not be used on children under 2 months old. Mosquito netting over a stroller or car seat should be used instead. The EWG does not recommend using insect repellent on children under 6 months old. Adults should apply insect repellent to their own hands and then apply to the child’s exposed skin. This might sound obvious, but worth noting: do not apply bug spray to tiny hands, as those often go straight into the mouth. If you do use a bug spray with DEET, try to limit it to once per day, and wash off at night.
To DEET or not to DEET? On children 2 months and older, the CDC and the AAP recommend using a spray with 10%-30% DEET. How to choose? Base it on the amount of time you expect to be outside—the effectiveness is the same for 10-30%; it’s the duration of effect that varies. 10% percent DEET provides protection for about 2 hours, and 30% protects for about 5 hours. Choose the lowest concentration that will provide the required length of protection. The EWG notes that Health Canada recommends 5%-10% DEET for the same age group, but on the flip side, lower concentrations are not proven to protect against Lyme Disease.
Is DEET a bad word in your book? It sort of was in ours, until we read that after 18 months of research, DEET is in the EWG’s top three chemical repellents. They state: “DEET’s safety profile is better than many people assume. Its effectiveness at preventing bites is approached by only a few other repellent ingredients.” If you’re still not convinced, in 2005 the CDC found that other repellents works as well as DEET, including repellents with picaridin and repellents with oil of lemon eucalyptus (PMD) and soybean oil. BUT (and it’s a big one) PMD products should NOT be used on children under 3 years old. Certain essential oils have a longstanding reputation of keeping mosquitoes at bay, but none are clinically proven. The EWG does not recommend blends of essential oils for people at risk of mosquito-borne infection.
The bottom line: While DEET isn’t entirely off the table, weigh the risks of your situation before deciding how aggressive to go with insect protection. If the potential risk is a mosquito bite or two, keep in mind that while uncomfortable, most are benign and might not warrant the highest level of protection. That changes if the risk for multiple bites or exposure to disease increase. For example, if you’re traveling to an area with Zika, or camping for the weekend in an area with Lyme or near water, it might be worth considering something more powerful, while you might use something more mild at your neighbor’s backyard BBQ.