Best Bug Sprays for Babies

Best Bug Sprays for Babies

Last Updated: August 5, 2016
Want to wear long pants tucked into socks when you go outdoors in insanely hot weather? Yeah, we don’t either.Best Bug Sprays for Babies

No one likes getting bug bites. Even worse? Seeing your little one suffer from itchy, inflamed mosquito bites (or a latched-on tick!). And considering the horrible diseases that insects can transmit (Zika and West Nile virus and more from mosquitoes, and Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Fever from ticks) can drive you crazy with worry.

We put together a summary of the main bug repellent types and safe-use recommendations for babies, children, and pregnant women. Before your next jaunt outdoors, arm yourself with the anti-bug supplies you need to keep you and your family well.

Do you need bug spray?

Let’s put it this way. Do you want to wear long sleeves and long pants tucked into socks whenever you go outdoors, even during insanely hot weather? Yeah, we don’t either. Unless you live in an area largely free of disease-bearing, biting bugs, you need some.

What type of bug spray is best?

Insect repellents come in lotions, sprays, wipes, and balms, but there are three primary anti-bug ingredients that can be used on children.

DEET

This chemical has long been the favorite insect repellent of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the only one it recommends for combating ticks, but it is not without some controversy. Although DEET is an awesome defense against disease-carrying insects, it has, in very rare cases (think one in 100 million), caused adverse reactions in the nervous system. Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends using formulations that contain 10% to 30% DEET (not to exceed 30%) on children. Babies two months or younger should not be exposed to DEET at all.

Note that the percentage of DEET in a product does not change the level of effectiveness. The higher the percentage though, the longer the anti-bug protections lasts. Ten percent DEET provides protection for about two hours, and 30% protects for about five hours. The AAP recommends you choose the lowest concentration that will provide the length of coverage your child needs or re-apply more regularly.

Picaridin

Similar to DEET, Picaridin is great at keeping bugs at bay, but doesn’t have any neurotoxicity issues. It also doesn’t have a strong smell like DEET, but still protects against both mosquitoes and ticks. The only downfall is that it hasn’t received as much long-term testing as DEET. A 10% concentration gets you three to eight hours of protection.

Botanicals

Many natural brands use essential oils to drive bugs away. Most essential oils haven’t undergone official testing for their repellent qualities. But there are two that have been proven effective. Catnip oil, at 7% and 15% concentrations, offers seven hours of mosquito protection. Citronella, at a 4.2% concentration, protects from mosquitoes and ticks for about an hour. While many parents report good results with botanical-based products, they often need to be reapplied more frequently, offer varying degrees of protection depending on type of mosquito, and, like any chemical, can cause an allergic reaction. It’s best to do a patch test on your baby first before applying the product all over.

Special Considerations

Newborns

For newborns ages two months and younger, the CDC recommends avoiding DEET and Picaridin products. Instead, you’ll need to rely on physical barriers like mosquito netting for strollers and carriers as well as long sleeves and pants.

Pregnant or Nursing

If you are pregnant or nursing, according to the CDC, you can still safely use DEET and Picaridin products on yourself.

Application on Babies

For babies two months and up, avoid applying insect repellent to their hands, since they often shove them in their mouths. Also, you’ll want to steer clear of putting it near their eyes or mouths or on any open cuts or scrapes.

Combo products

There are some sunscreen-and-repellent-in-one products on the market. Although it seems like a great idea, it’s not. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied more frequently than chemical bug repellents. By repeatedly slathering on a combo product, you’re exposing your child to more chemical repellent than is needed. Instead, apply a sunscreen and allow it to soak in and follow up with bug repellent. Reapply sunscreen as needed.

Phew, that’s quite a bit to digest! But if you’d like even more information, the Environmental Working Group has a comprehensive list of articles on using bug repellents on children.

Now that you’re up to speed, below are some bug repellents for you to consider that use various ingredients in their formulas. You may find that one of these popular picks works great for you and your family too.


Hardcore Defense

Cutter AllFamily Wipes - $3.97
WHY WE LOVE IT

With 7% DEET, a proven safeguard against ticks and the types of mosquitos that transmit Zika and West Nile viruses, the Cutter Wipes are all about getting the job done. Plus, application is super easy since you can coat your child’s exposed skin with one wipe. The pack includes 15 wipes.

KEEP IN MIND

Since the percentage of DEET is so low, a new application will be needed in less than two hours. And don’t say we didn’t warn you that the product is kind of sticky and will definitely need to be washed off after coming inside.

Convenient & Effective

Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes - $14.00
WHY WE LOVE IT

Throw this resealable bag of eight bug repellent packets in your purse and chill at the next BBQ. Each packet contains a towelette and protects against mosquitoes, deer ticks, gnats, no-seeums, sand flies, and biting midges with 10% Picaridin.

KEEP IN MIND

You’ll only get eight uses from this product which makes it a pricier option. And, like DEET, Picaridin also needs to be washed off after use.

Organic Choice

Honest Company Bug Spray - $12.95
WHY WE LOVE IT

Relying on citronella to fend off mosquitoes and ticks, Honest Bug Spray is DEET- and Picaridin-free. Instead of synthetic or petroleum-based ingredients, the product contains organic essential oils like rosemary, lemongrass, and peppermint, and smells divine. The bonus? You don’t need to wash it off afterward.

KEEP IN MIND

We have mixed feelings about this product. Some parents report that it almost seems to attract mosquitoes while others rave about the effectiveness. What we know? If you hate feeling oily, you’re going to hate this spray. Another annoyance: You have to reapply it at least once an hour.

Solid Protection

Badger Anti-Bug Balm - $9.58
WHY WE LOVE IT

This natural-based repellent can be slathered on the whole family to repel mosquitoes and stable flies. Very similar to the Honest Bug Spray formula, its primary anti-bug weapon is citronella. It also uses additional essential oils and smells great.

KEEP IN MIND

Again with the greasiness: the olive and castor oil balm lays like a thick coat on the skin. Even worse though are reports from multiple users that this product brought bees buzzing around.

Natural Anti-Bug Champ

doTERRA TerraShield Spray - $14.00
WHY WE LOVE IT

Usually hard to find, catnip essential oil is the main anti-bug ingredient in TerraShield along with other essential oils like lemon eucalyptus. It’s tops in keeping away mosquitoes and ticks in the all-natural category, and its Fruit-Loops-like smell is kind of addictive.

KEEP IN MIND

As far as all-natural formulations, TerraShield works well but is costly. Another downer: To ensure you’re actually getting the real deal, you need to order it from a doTERRA sales rep (it’s a direct-sales company).


Choosing What’s Right for You

Let’s face it: No repellent is 100% effective. You need to watch the clock and reapply as required and not miss a spot. If you live in an area where your child is at high-risk for getting bit by a disease-carrying mosquito or tick, it’s best to go with the heavy hitters: DEET or Picaridin. If the concern isn’t as great where you live, you can keep your options open. Most of all, don’t ditch exercising, playing and enjoying the outdoors. Just take the proper precautions and have good time.

For more guidance on the safest products for baby, check out our health pages, with articles on everything from the best baby sun screens to the best baby thermometers.