No, parents, DEET is not a dirty word. In fact, when it comes to bug sprays, it happens to be a highly effective ingredient, when used properly.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, bug sprays used on children should contain no more than 30 percent DEET. And think of the alternative, which isn’t pretty. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks can make children itchy and scratchy and all-around unhappy, and some bugs carry diseases such as West Nile Virus or Lyme Disease.
The CDC recommends that you not use insect repellents on babies younger than 2 months old. Instead of spraying them, dress them in clothing that covers the skin, and cover their strollers with mosquito netting.
A few other common-sense and handy tips: Wear long-sleeved pants and shirts when you’re outdoors. Apply the bug spray to clothing or exposed skin only. Make sure you use any bug sprays outside so you don’t inhale them. More is not better, so use just enough to cover exposed skin. And once you’re done playing outdoors, wash your kid with soap and water to remove any repellant residue. And give yourself a rinse as well.
Here are some top bug spray and lotion options for you and your kid based on Consumer Reports data and user reviews — but remember, always check ingredients and do your own research based on your local bug population before determining what you’re most comfortable using. If you have any questions, talk to your pediatrician. And remember that yes, there are sprays that are billed as chemical-free, but none of them are as effective as those with DEET or other pesticides, and that’s a fact.
Bottom line: This is outstanding at repelling mosquitos, which is what you want.
Pros: Be advised that the active ingredient in this product is a 25 percent formulation of DEET, which is effective against mosquitos. Make sure you spray this outside, in a well-ventilated area. It’s ideal especially if you’re camping, fishing, or hiking.
Cons: Some may be turned off by the floral scent. Plus, some say it stains your clothes.
This lotions protects against bugs, and is a sunscreen, so you get double benefits when using it.
Pros: This insect-repellent lotion repels mosquitoes, deer ticks, black flies, sand flies, gnats, and biting midges. It’s DEET-free, and instead has as its active ingredient IR3535. It’s basically a man-made amino acid which screws with an insect’s sense of smell. As for the sunscreen, its active ingredients are oxybenzone, octinoxate, and octisalate.
Cons: As with other non DEET-based products, its effectiveness is limited.
If you're not into DEET, try this spray, which is made from oil from lemon eucalyptus and protects for up to six hours.
Pros: This bug spray works by creating a barrier against mosquitoes, including those that may transmit the Zika, West Nile, Dengue, and Chikungunya viruses. It’s not greasy or sticky, but has a nice, refreshing scent.
Cons: Some say that unlike its DEET brethren, this product is much less effective.
This product offers the eight hours of protection against mosquitos, ticks, and biting insects.
Pros: The brand says its 30 percent DEET formula won’t absorb into your skin — the water-based formula stays on the skin’s surface rather than being sucked in. It’s also fragrance-free, which we love.
Cons: Per customer feedback, the brand’s wipes seem to be far less effective than the spray.
This is made with 20 percent Picaridin, as opposed to DEET, and lasts up to 14 hours.
Pros: This bug spray is effective for 14 hours against mosquitoes and ticks, and for up to eight hours against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies. It won’t ruin your clothes or bags, and is a lotion, as opposed to a spray.
Cons: Some say putting this on results in a sticky mess on your hands.
The reality is, DEET works best at repelling mosquitos. But if you're really not into using it, try this dry formula, made with rosemary oil, lemongrass oil and other plant oils.
Pros: This bug spray contains no pesticides, period. It’s made from plant oils and drys quickly.
Cons: A lot of folks say it doesn’t really work all that well. Especially in very buggy areas.
Because this product is formulated with 15 percent DEET, it's ideal for less-intense outdoors activities, like hanging at the beach or having a barbecue.
Pros: It’s neither smelly nor sticky, and it works at keeping the bugs away while using a lower DEET concentration.
Cons: It has a powdery texture that isn’t a hit with everyone.
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