In this post, you'll learn how to keep your young children safe from biting insects. The best insect repellent for babies depends on their age and what threats they are being exposed to. This post will cover chemical and natural so you can make the right decision for your family.
Best Insect Repellent for Babies: Parent’s Guide
Every parent that loves being outside with their family, knows there is nothing that breaks that peaceful moment quicker than the familiar bzzzz of a mosquito! As the slapping and annoyance begins, your fun in the great outdoors disappears quickly.
But, what about babies that can't slap away mosquitoes and blackflies? They don’t know how to and can’t protect themselves from that biting foe. Then there’s the worry about all those nasty virus’ or diseases that mosquitoes carry (like West Nile Virus, Dengue or Yellow Fever – depending on where you live / travel).
How do you protect your little bundles of joy from returning home covered in itchy red welts?
By applying that good old insect repellent, the same as your Mom did for you. But there are so many different types and brands it can be a little overwhelming. Plus, many have a range of chemicals in them that you may not feel comfortable putting on a baby’s delicate skin.
This post is divided into 3 sections:
- To DEET or Not to DEET (jump to section)
- Artificial, Synthetic or Manufactured Products (jump to section)
- Natural Insect Repellents for Babies (jump to section)
In this guide, we will discuss all of your options, from commercial products to all-natural products in addition to their effects so you can make the right choice for your family.
Most new parents are unsure what will irritate their babies skin so would prefer to go for something gentler, more organic and natural that is a softer option and less likely to irritate that sensitive baby skin. Something without chemicals and harmless when absorbed into their blood stream is ideal, and that is exactly what most parents are leaning towards as they are getting better educated in this day of global communication.
Babies skin is delicate and also the largest organ they have so just remember that whatever you put on the outside, yes that’s right, can end up on the inside. Which brings us to the much debated question…
To DEET or Not to DEET…
This is a question not for the faint hearted. Parents on every continent debate the pros and cons of DEET being applied to babies and children. When manufacturers recommend that full strength DEET (the top insect repellent in the USA) should not be used under clothing or applied near broken skin, and can cause skin irritation in adults, do you really want to smear that on your precious newborn?
In fact, it’s not recommended to use any insect repellent on infants under two months old. Mosquito mesh over their stroller and light weight long sleeves are the best deterrent for babies.
There are so many Do’s and Don’ts depending on the information you read that parents heads are swimming with all the information, so here we will include some handy tips and some of the universal researched and proven methods of keeping your baby bug free.
Don’t use insect repellent/ sunscreen combination products as they need re-application at different rates. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied more often whereas the insect repellent does not, so your baby’s skin may become irritated with the extra insect repellent that comes with every reapplication.
So how do you choose? There are commercial products and essential oil products that all swear to keep your baby safe from those nasty biting insects.
We will cover them all here so you can make an informed decision and educated purchase. Or you could have fun and even make your own with the information we provide.
Artificial, Synthetic or Manufactured Products
Just to provide some clarification, when these terms are used, it is referring to product that it is not made or found in nature. It is a chemical or synthetic which is manmade to deter insects, confuse their senses so they do not know exactly what and where their food source is (meaning you) so they don’t land on you for a quick snack.
EPA-Registered Insect Repellents
- DEET (chemical name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide). Products containing DEET include, but are not limited to, Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon.
- Picaridin (KBR 3023 [Bayrepel] and icaridin outside the US; chemical name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester). Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the US).
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE. Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off ! Botanicals. This recommendation refers to EPA-registered products containing the active ingredient OLE (or PMD). “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended; it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy and is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent.
- IR3535 (chemical name: 3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester). Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.
- 2-undecanone (chemical name: methyl nonyl ketone). The product BioUD contains 2-undecanone.
This list is via CDC.gov
The two most effective products are DEET and Picaridin. They can be found in most commercial insect repellents as the main ingredient to varying strengths.
Some brands will have a small amount, while others have up to 98% which is nearly pure DEET. These come with strong warnings and very specific instructions for application. Able to tarnish furniture and damage certain fabrics, it cannot be sprayed onto children, rather has to be put on your hands first then applied to your child, never around the hands, eyes or mouth and should not be used on babies at all.
The CDC states that DEET is safe for children as young as 2 months old, but in a milder form which means something more like 7% DEET is more ideal for children. Be sure to read the product ingredient list and application instructions on the back of the spray bottle first.
Download the CDC DEET Fact Sheet. (Opens a PDF file)
Picaridin is a synthetic compound which is increasing in popularity across the US as it’s less irritating and said to have superior protection against all insects. It is newer to the USA but has been very popular and widely used throughout Europe for over a decade. As it is a synthetic chemical the CDC states once again that it is safe for children but not to be used on children under 2 months old.
The strength doesn’t represent effectiveness against biting insects, rather the duration before re-application is needed. So, a 98% DEET may last 10hrs without re-application while a 15% may last 2-3hrs before re-application is required.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following:
- “The current AAP and CDC recommendation for children older than 2 months of age is to use 10% to 30% DEET. DEET should not be used on children younger than 2 months of age.
- The effectiveness is similar for 10% to 30% DEET but the duration of effect varies. Ten 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 concentration of DEET varies significantly from product to product, so read the label of any product you purchase. Children should wash off repellents when they return indoors.
- As an alternative to DEET, picaridin has become available in the U.S. in concentrations of 5% to 10%.
- When outside in the evenings or other times when there are a lot of mosquitoes present, cover up with long sleeved shirts, pants and socks to prevent bites.”
Here is an option for each of the two top repellents: DEET and Picaridin.
- Cutter All Family provide a low DEET (7%) effective insect repellent that is non-greasy and with a clean non-chemical scent it even smells good. Easy to cover arms and legs with the pump spray, it is probably easier for all the moms out there to spray it on their hands and then apply to happy wriggling babies. Check price and details on Amazon.
- Sawyer Insect Repellent provides great protection with a lotion containing 20% Picaridin. Easier to apply on a wriggling baby as they are trying to take in the natural wonder around them it also reducing your stress worrying about any stray spray getting into your babies eyes, nose or mouth. Check price and details on Amazon.
You also have the option of commercially made insect repellent spray or wipes which are good to have on hand. They also make application easy.
Just remember to keep insect repellent wipes in a separate, preferably zipped up pocket of your baby’s bag. After all, you don’t want to make the mistake of grabbing the wrong wipes when you head off to change a diaper!
Insect Repellent Products
There are patches, bracelets, buttons and clip-on fans all made to help deter insects before they ever make it to your wee one. All the gadgets and gizmo’s available for enjoying the outdoors these days apply in the realm of insect repellent as well. Now, your family can enjoy alternatives to the once and only option of a traditional bug spray.
If you are concerned about putting anything on your baby’s skin you now have that alternative option of using a clip-on button or fan which attaches to your baby’s stroller or outdoor play pen allowing you to sit back and not worry about them putting chemicals in their mouths because there is nothing on their skin that can harm them.
Clip-on Insect Repellent: This is great for a parent’s peace of mind with a newborn as you shouldn’t put anything on an infant under 2 months old.
A good example of this would be Happy People’s Clip On Mosquito Bug Repellent. This lasts for 2 months and comes pretty well reviewed by parents. See details on Amazon.
There are a number of these type products, some last a very long time like 1400hrs which means as an added bonus you can use them in the baby’s nursery when you get home as well. Others you fill as you need, purchasing new refills before each camping trip or outdoor adventure.
Mosquito Repellent Bracelet: For those that hate the smell of bug spray, lotions and creams, there is a nifty way to repel those pesky bugs in the aesthetically pleasing form of a bracelet. The number of bracelets on the market means there is bound to be a design to suit every taste.
Conisco has a great Mosquito Repellent Bracelet in a variety of colors to suit any occasion. Lightweight, adjustable and waterproof, your baby will be good to go anywhere from the backyard to the National Parks or lakefront. See details on Amazon.
Natural Insect Repellents for Babies
Chemical free, 100% natural botanicals are increasing in popularity daily as the number one insect repellent for babies. Harmless if some accidentally makes its way into the baby’s mouth they also smell divine!
Made from nature, essential oils like Cedarwood, Citronella, Peppermint, Geranium, Eucalyptus, Lavender, Lemongrass and Tea Tree are absolute powerhouses when it comes to deterring insects, ticks, fleas and other creepy crawlies. Some of these oils will actually kill mosquitoes.
More reading: Campers Guide to Essential Oil Bug Repellent
Luckily, experts mix-n-match these essential oils, natures insecticides and dilute them in a neutral base oil like almond or grapeseed oil so it is safe for your baby, harmless if ingested and some even relieve itchiness and swelling. For example – lavender will sooth areas irritated by flea bites, plus it smells great.
You also have the option of purchasing pre-made all natural products or making them yourself. If your child has sensitive skin issues or any allergens these may turn out to be the best option for you. Just remember that these natural oils are natures insecticides and can be so powerful that only a couple of drops may be needed.
Bug Mace Insect Repellent
Bug Mace is 100% natural, it’s safe for babies, your family, pets and the environment! It includes the following essential oils: Lemongrass, Citronella, Soybean, Geranium, Rosemary, Clove, and Thyme oils.
Designed to deter a broad spectrum of insects, mosquitoes, no-see-ums and creepy crawlies it’s DEET free and great for any outdoor activity.
Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent
Babyganics is plant based and made with 100% natural essential oils. Not only is this DEET free but it’s also free of all other chemicals, dyes and artificial fragrances – great for babies and young children with sensitive skin
It includes the following essential oils: Citronella, Peppermint, Rosemary, Lemongrass and Geranium.
All Terrain – Kids Herbal Armor
All Terrain – Kids Herbal Armor is allergy tested and proven non-irritating so this one is great for babies and children with sensitive skin. DEET and GMO free it holds 6 essential oils making it a dynamo against all manner of biting insects deterring everything from mosquitoes to those little no-see-ums that always appear to make their way through the toughest barriers.
Most essential oils have the added benefits of coming out easily in the wash so they don’t discolour or stain clothing, they smell great and being a softer natural product act as an added moisturiser for your baby’s skin.
More reading: 14 Homemade Insect Repellents (That Actually Work)
How to Use Insect Repellents for Babies
To summarize, the best insect repellents for your baby are:
- 0-2 Months: Nothing. Lightweight long sleeves and mosquito mesh over the baby’s stroller is all that is recommended. In this instance is where you could use a button or clip on repellent outside of the mosquito mesh.
- 2 Months to 2 Years: Natural products or commercially made products with a very low DEET or Picaridin content.
Now all you have to do is decide which insect repellent best suits your family for your next holiday, BBQ or outing in the great outdoors. Whether you are camping, going on a fishing trip or a weekend away in a remote peaceful lakeside cabin, insect repellent is one of the first things you pack.
What type of insect repellent do you use for your children? Join us in the comments!