It’s that time of year: Mosquitoes and ticks are out in full force, and so are all the latest bug repellent products claiming to keep them at bay. So what bug repellent ingredients do EWG scientists recommend for kids? Our top picks are DEET, Picaridin and IR3535. These ingredients have low safety concerns and offer a high level of protection from a variety of biting insects and ticks.
But check the bottle’s active ingredients for concentration percentages. The product should contain a maximum of 10 percent DEET, 20 percent Picaridin or 20 percent IR3535 for children.
One exception: If you’re using DEET to protect kids in an area known for ticks’ carrying Lyme disease bacteria or for Zika outbreaks, a concentration of 20 percent to 30 percent may be appropriate. (See our Guide to Bug Repellents for details and links to the Centers for Disease Control’s list of insect-borne outbreaks, below.)
Contrary to popular belief, bug repellents with higher concentrations – such as old-school 100 percent DEET – are not necessarily more effective and may even be harmful. To avoid that risk, we recommend steering clear of DEET products with concentrations over 30 percent. The concentration determines the protection time. If there’s no risk of bug-borne disease in your area, choose a spray with a lower concentration and reapply if necessary.
Can I really use DEET? I thought it was dangerous.
Yes, DEET is a reasonable choice when used as directed, even for children. Still, after reviewing the evidence, EWG researchers concluded that it is best to use the lowest effective concentration of DEET, even though it’s effective and generally safer than is commonly assumed.
Picaridin is a great alternative to DEET. It effectively repels both mosquitoes and ticks and, compared to other repellents, is less likely to irritate eyes and skin.
EWG research indicates that, in general, “natural” bug repellent ingredients like castor, cedar, citronella, clove, geraniol, lemongrass, peppermint, rosemary and/or soybean oils are often not the best choice.
How do I know if there’s a risk of insect-borne disease in my area?
Ask your pediatrician or check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maps listed below. If you’re traveling internationally, check the CDC website for information about the Zika virus.
- U.S. Map of Reported Cases of West Nile Virus
- U.S. Map of Reported Cases of Lyme Disease
- U.S. Maps of Ticks Carrying Lyme Disease