It could be a bad year for insects in Northwest Arkansas. Rising temperatures and a mild winter mean that mosquitoes, ticks, and more six-legged beasties could be out in force this summer. You can turn to insect repellent, but when it comes to kids, safety is an important consideration. What are the important things to know about bug product safety?
Insect repellents aren’t designed to kill bugs, just to discourage them from biting your children. They make kids less appealing to insects. DEET is approved by the EPA and the FDA as a safe and effective insect repellent for anyone over two months of age.
DEET is available in different concentrations. Kids should never use products with more than 30% concentration of DEET. A higher concentration lasts for longer time periods, but you should choose the lowest concentration possible. 10% is plenty for an hour or two outside.
You might apply sunscreen all over your kid before dressing, just in case. For DEET, however, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using products only on exposed skin, not on anything that will be covered up by clothing.
You should use DEET products just once a day. Sunscreen needs to be reapplied, so products combining DEET and sunscreen are not a good idea for kids. Kids should wash off DEET when they finish with outdoor play, and the clothes they wore outside should be washed before they wear them again.
Picaridin is a synthetic compound inspired by the plant that produced black pepper. It repels insects and is considered safe and effective. It does not require as much care as DEET, but it’s good to follow the same principles.
Smells insects don’t like
Natural repellents like peppermint, lemongrass, and other strong-smelling substances are not as effective as DEET or Picaridin. On the other hand, they are also less likely to cause irritation, especially if they are used in diluted forms, as in lotions intended to protect kids from insects.
Strong versions like peppermint essential oil can irritate children’s delicate skin. Otherwise, lotions made with geranium, citronella, or lemongrass are safe. There are armbands that contain these essential oils your children can wear to help repel mosquitos. If you are concerned about using insect repellents, these can be a good trade-off.
Bug bite treatments
If kids end up getting bug bites in spite of repellents, there are treatments. Cut children’s fingernails short if they get bitten so they will be less likely to hurt their skin by scratching. Bug product safety is less of a concern with treatment products than with repellants, but it is still important.
Calamine lotion is traditional. It’s made of a mineral called calamine, and it is not toxic. It is for external use only, but it is not poisonous. Another safe traditional treatment is a paste of baking soda and water, or a soak in water with some baking soda in it. These treatments can help relieve itching and keep kids from scratching.
Antihistamine creams can be safe for children. Over-the-counter creams or gels of this kind should be labeled with safety information for different ages. Choose a product designed for children of the age of your child. Try a small patch test before slathering these products on, since some kids may be allergic or sensitive to them.
Always check with your pediatrician if you are not sure about the safety of a product.