Everything You Need To Know About DEET and Protecting Your Kids From Mosquitos
The mosquitos are out there. And obviously they like to feast on me (see my gorgeous, itchy leg to the right). So I'm right there with you trying to figure out the best next steps.
Let’s talk about the satisfaction of avoiding the world’s most annoying bug (and most devastating disease vector).
So…what is the best mosquito repellent out there?
Answer: DEET. (But you’ve got options.)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: DEET may not be the most natural thing on the planet, but you know what is natural? Disease. Like Dengue fever. Malaria. West Nile Virus. Chikungunya. Zika. All carried and passed by mosquitos. Super natural.
Few things I want you to know (all backed by evidence – see my links below if you wanna read more):
- There is no product out there that is as effective or lasts as long as DEET when it comes to repelling mosquitos, chiggers, fleas, and ticks.
- DEET comes in all kinds of concentrations – from 10% to over 75%.
- DEET is safe. This has been proven time and again in numerous studies. It doesn't cause cancer.
- However - it doesn’t mean that it can’t be sometimes irritating to our skin and airways, and you should be cautious with it. It can cause numb or burning lips, nausea, and headaches. But it causes more problems if ingested than just if on skin. And some people are allergic to DEET.
- More on safety: There have only been roughly 20 cases in the world of severe DEET reactions, like a seizure or brain encephalopathy. They were due to massive ingestion of DEET (think a small kid drinking a large bottle of it).
- DEET is safe to use as young as age 2 months. Yes, you read that correctly.
- If your baby is 2 months or older, spray the DEET spray on your hands, and wipe it onto their body. Don’t put it on their hands or face. Use a DEET concentration somewhere between 10-30%.
- 10% DEET lasts about 2 hours. 24% lasts about 5 hours. Sweat, rain, wiping, and swimming all make it not last as long.
- If you need to put on both sunscreen and DEET, apply the sunscreen first, let it soak in for 15 minutes, then spray on the DEET.
- What do I think you should use if DEET is not an option for you? Picaridin!
- Picaridin is plant-based and almost as effective as DEET, but you need higher concentrations of it typically and it usually doesn’t last as long. Still though – a good option.
- DEET is better than Picaridin when it comes to tick protection in particular, but both work.
- Picaridin is often tolerated a little better by people (and clothing). It’s less stinky and not greasy, and it doesn’t irritate the skin as much.
- Lemon Eucalyptus oil (PMD) is about one-half as effective as DEET in studies (for example, 30% lemon eucalyptus oil works about as well and as long as 15% DEET). Still more studies needed though. Don’t use this on hands or face of kiddos either; it can irritate the skin and eyes.
- Citronella is meh.
- The bracelets just don’t work. Don’t waste your money.
- Botanical oils (sandalwood, lemongrass, citronella, geranium, soybean oils) and essential oils are way inferior to DEET, Picaridin, and lemon eucalyptus. They are well tolerated with less irritation, but I don’t think I’d use these until more studies prove they work.
- There are a lot of theories out there as to why some people get bitten more than others. Those theories include:
- Blood type
- The kinds of bacteria living on our skin
- The amount of carbon dioxide we exhale (my husband does think i'm full of hot air....)
- If you’ve recently had a beer (!!)
I use DEET on my kids and don't really think twice about it. I use somewhere between 10-20% and spray it on my hands, and then rub it on them. I avoid the hands and face. And we take a bath once we've come inside (less chance for skin irritation if it's not on the skin all night).
Hope this helps you navigate your fight against these beasts.
Below is the evidence I promised:
- Efficacy of DEET and lemon eucalyptus compared to other products
- Efficacy of DEET
- DEET Safety in Infants and Lactating/Pregnant Women
- Applying DEET to skin does not harm fetuses
- PMD/Lemon Eucalyptus efficacy
- Picaridin efficacy
- Poor Efficacy of Citronella and most wearable bands
- Comprehensive look at plant-based insect repellents
Get to know Diane Arnaout, M.D.
"Dr. Diane Arnaout is a pediatrician at the Cook Children's Forest Park practice. If you would like to see her at Forest Park, call 817-336-3800 or click here for an appointment. Dr. Diane has been a Cook Children’s physician since 2011.
She got her undergraduate degree at Texas A&M University, went to medical school at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio, and completed her pediatric residency in the Texas Medical Center at UT Health Science Center in Houston.
She is board-certified by the American Board of Pediatrics. She has two small kids, whom she credits as being her toughest (and best) teachers. She loves being a pediatrician and loves to teach parents all about their childrens’ health daily, both in-person and online.”