Health Advice



Ask the Pediatrician: Which insect repellent is best for children?

By Dr. Sophie J. Balk, American Academy of Pediatrics on

Published in Health & Fitness

— Never apply insect repellent to children younger than 2 months of age. Instead, use mosquito netting over baby carriers or strollers in areas where your baby may be exposed to insects.

— Avoid applying repellent to children's hands; children sometimes put hands in their mouth and eyes.

— Avoid repellent candles that may trigger breathing problems when fumes are inhaled.

— Never spray insect repellent on your child's face. Instead, spray a little on your hands first and then rub it on your child's face. Avoid the eyes and mouth.

— Do not spray insect repellent on cuts, wounds or irritated skin.

— Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. These products can overexpose your child to DEET because the sunscreen needs to be reapplied often — every 2 hours while in the sun, and after swimming or sweating.

“Natural” insect-repellent ingredients include citronella, geranium, peppermint and soybean oil. These are deemed safe but have not been approved for effectiveness by the EPA. Most of these keep insects away for only a short time. In addition, some natural repellents can cause skin irritation.


There are other products marketed to families that are not proved to be effective against mosquitoes. These include wristbands soaked in chemical repellents and ultrasonic devices that give off sound waves meant to keep insects away.

Natural and other alternative repellents can be fine if there is no concern about getting a serious insect-borne illness. If you are in an area known to have ticks, however, DEET, picaridin or another product that's proved to be effective is a better option.



Dr. Sophie J. Balk is an attending pediatrician at Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York and a professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She also is an executive committee member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health and Climate Change. For more information, go to, the website for parents from the AAP.

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