Thumbs up, thumbs down: Which bug repellents should you use on kids?

HOUSTON – hould you take a chance that a bug bite might lead to a mosquito- or tick-borne illness, such as Lyme disease, or expose kids to the chemicals in some insect repellents, such as DEET?

Experts say DEET is more helpful than harmful since it can protect against ticks and mosquitos, which carry disease. In our area, we have serious reason to be concerned about West Nile Virus, too. There have been several mosquitos test positive for it this summer in Harris County and the city of Houston.

The American Academy of Pediatrics advises refraining from using repellent on infants younger than two months and not letting kids under 10 apply it themselves.

According to Dr. Helene Sheena, a pediatrician with Kelsey-Seybold, adults should apply it to their own hands, then rub the repellent onto young children.

Here are her other recommendations for insect repellants:

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DEET is considered the most effective protection against both mosquitos and ticks.

Sheena said she prefers products like OFF! which contain the longest-lasting protection (up to 30%) of DEET.

"The higher the strength is going to be how long the repellent will be effective for," Sheena said. "So, if you go with something 30%, it's going to be effective for more hours as opposed to something that's 10%.”

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Lemon eucalyptus is considered safe and effective, but it ranks third in the level of protection, behind DEET and Picaridin.

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If you're going to be in an area where there may be a lot of mosquitoes, have kids wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

“Let's say that you're wearing a long-sleeve shirt," Sheena said. "You wouldn't have to spray under the t-shirt, you would spray the shirt."

Spray over clothes and onto exposed skin, like the hands and the feet.

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Sheena does not recommend wearable devices like clip-on bug repellants or bracelets with ingredients like citronella.

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Products that combine sunscreen and repellent are not recommended.

Sunscreen may need to be reapplied more often and in larger amounts than needed for the repellent component to provide protection from biting insects. 

The CDC’s general recommendation is to use separate products, applying sunscreen first and then applying the repellent.