At some point this summer, some random person in some random place will test positive for West Nile Virus, and you might get all panicky about your kid getting mosquito bites, because West Nile is an exotic and scary-sounding disease. But you should really be more worried about a ticks, for 2 reasons. First, ticks carry a lot more than just one potentially dangerous disease — Lyme, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the Powassan virus, to name a few of the 14 listed by the CDC — which can be debilitating or even fatal. Second, seriously, have you seen how ticks work? It’s disgusting and terrifying. They’re disgustifying.
Research the best way to protect your kid and you’ll see 2 chemicals pop up repeatedly: DEET and permethrin. The good news is that using this stuff correctly will go a long way to keeping those disgustifying beasts from burrowing into your poor kid’s hide. The bad news is that they’re pretty potent, and most parents in 2015 think twice about bathing their kids in potent chemicals.
Here’s what you need to know about both, and how to use them safely and effectively.
What It Is: The most popular bug repellant in the world, N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide (in case you wanted to impress your chemistry nerd friends/wife) is a liquid that is usually applied by spraying directly onto skin in an ethanol solution.
How To Use It With Kids: The CDC says DEET is safe for kids 2 months old and up, provided you follow guidelines. Use products with between 10 and 30 percent concentration — the longer they’ll be exposed to ticks, the higher the concentration you should use. Don’t use it on the face or the hands, because the hands often touch the face, and the face is by the mouth. That’s a long way of saying, don’t let your kids eat this stuff. Keep it out of open sores while you’re at it.
How Gnarly Is It?: There are all kinds of scary side effects that have been observed in kids with DEET poisoning (which you can read about here), but it’s important to note that these are cases where kids were exposed to WAY too much of the stuff, and the instances are extremely rare. The symptoms of things like Lyme Disease are plenty scary themselves, so parents should weigh one against the other and recognize that DEET can be handled in such a way to mitigate the vast majority of risk.
What It Is: A synthetic formulation of naturally occurring chemicals called pyrethrins, which are found in certain flowers (ones in the genus Chrysanthemum, if you want impress your botanist nerd friends/wife). Unlike DEET, which is a repellant, permethrin is an insecticide and is considerably more effective against ticks because it kills them dead. It is usually applied to clothing with a spray.
How To Use It With Kids: The reason permethrin is used on clothing is that the “kills ticks dead” chemicals are diluted by the oil in human skin, so it’s far less effective when applied there. Just apply permethrin spray to clothes as directed; you can also buy clothes that are pre-treated with the stuff.
How Gnarly Is It?: Compared to DEET, hardly at all. The EPA considers the exposure risk to toddlers wearing permethrin-treated clothes to be 27 times lower than its official Level Of Concern, and when it does hit human skin, it absorbs 20 times less than DEET does. Based on the available evidence, the stuff is fine for kids — but not cats. It’ll seriously mess up your cats.
What You Can Do With This Information
Simple: Use as much permethrin-treated clothing as you can reasonably expect your kid to wear given the temperatures they’ll be out in, and then use DEET on the remaining exposed skin (minus the hands and face). Check them thoroughly after they’ve been exposed to ticks and, if you do find one on them, remove it with tweezers by grasping as close to its head as possible. Don’t twist, and try not to freak out over how disgustifying the tick is.
Get Tick-Killing Clothes For Kids
Whether your buy pre-treated clothing or treat it yourself, you can expect the chemical to remain effective after up to 70 washings. There isn’t a ton of pre-treated stuff available for little kids, but Bug Smarties has a full line of toddler-sized shirts and pants. For older kids, look for clothing with Insect Shield.
Bug Smarties Performance Shirt ($19.95)
Bug Smarties Athletic Pants ($24.95)
Bug Smarties Performance Shirt For Girls ($24.95)
Bug Smarties Leggings ($19.95)
Bug Smarties Hoodie ($24.95)
Bug Smarties Roll-Up Pants ($34.95)
Permethrin Spray ($16)