Best Insect and Mosquito Repellents for Children

Although once considered just a nuisance, insect bites can lead to serious medical problems. Not only can certain insects and ticks spread diseases like West Nile Virus, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever, the bites themselves can become infected with bacteria, like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

A sister spraying insect repellant her brother
martinedoucet / Getty Images

And now folks have the Zika virus to worry about, especially if they plan to travel to areas with active outbreaks, including South America, Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Since bites are itchy, even without any worries about health problems, protect your kids from insect bites by having them apply an insect repellent when they will be outside.

Which Insect Repellents Are Safe for Kids?

Although most parents know that they can use insect repellent on their older children, many are surprised that it is considered safe to use most insect repellents on infants ages 2 months and older to prevent bites from mosquitoes and other insects. However, an insect repellent that contains oil of lemon eucalyptus should not be used on children under age 3 years old.

How Long Do Insect Repellents Last?

In general, the best insect repellent provides enough protection against biting insects and ticks for your child. And that usually depends on how long your child will be outside.

For example, an insect repellent with 4.75% DEET protects your child for about an hour and a half. An insect repellent with a higher concentration of DEET will provide more protection.

  • 6.65% DEET provides about two hours of protection
  • 20% DEET provides about four hours of protection
  • 23.8% DEET provides about five hours of protection
  • 7% Picaridin provides about three to four hours of protection
  • 15% Picaridin provides about six to eight hours of protection
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus provides about two to five hours of protection

Insect repellents with other natural ingredients usually provide less protection. For example, ​citronella oil usually provides about 20 to 30 minutes of protection.

Best Insect Repellents

When choosing an insect repellent for your kids, the most long-lasting insect repellent will have either DEET or Picaridin as an active ingredient.

Insect repellent choices can include:

  • Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes (10 percent Picaridin)
  • Cutter All Family Mosquito Wipes (7.15 percent DEET)
  • Cutter Sport Insect Repellent (15 percent DEET)
  • Cutter All Family Insect Repellent (7 percent DEET)
  • Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent (7 percent DEET)
  • Cutter Backwoods Spray (25 percent DEET) and Aerosol (25 percent or 40 percent DEET)
  • Off! Active Sweat Resistant Insect Repellent, Unscented (15 percent DEET)
  • Off! FamilyCare Clean Feel, Insect Repellent (5 percent Picaridin)
  • Off! FamilyCare Smooth & Dry, Insect Repellent (15 percent DEET)
  • Off! FamilyCare Tropical Fresh, Insect Repellent (5 percent DEET)
  • Off! FamilyCare Unscented, Insect Repellent (7 percent DEET)
  • Off! Insect Repellent Spray with Aloe Vera, Unscented (7 percent DEET)
  • Off! Deep Woods Insect Repellant (25 percent DEET)
  • Repel Insect Repellent, Sportsmen Formula Spray (25 percent DEET)
  • Repel Insect Repellent, Sportsmen Formula Stick (30 percent DEET)
  • Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent, Controlled Release (20 percent DEET)

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus

There are caveats with natural insect repellents that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), a plant-based insect repellent.

  • It can't be used on kids under age 3 years old.
  • It doesn't last as long as DEET or picaridin.

With those restrictions in mind, these are products where you can find it:

  • Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
  • Repel Plant Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent
  • Badger Anti-Bug Balm
  • California Baby Citronella Summer Lotion

Using an essential oil or "pure" oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended as an insect repellent, as the EPA has never tested the safety or effectiveness of essential oils for this purpose.

What About Skin-So-Soft?

Some Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard products have IR3535 as their active ingredient, which is also thought to provide reasonably long-lasting protection. The Skin-So-Soft products with IR3535 are all combination products that include both an insect repellent and a sunscreen. Other Skin-So-Soft products contain picaridin instead.

Natural Insect Repellents

Although they are not usually thought to last as long, some parents like the idea of using a DEET-free natural insect repellent. Both natural mosquito repellents and essential oils as natural insect repellents have been marketed as being less toxic to both children and the environment.

These type of insect repellents, with ingredients like lemongrass oil, citronella oil, and soybean oil, can include:

  • Bite Blocker All Natural Insect Repellent Herbal Wipes
  • Bite Blocker Sports Deet Free Waterproof Insect Repellent
  • Bite Blocker Xtreme All Natural, "Deet Free" Insect Repellent

The problem with many of the natural repellents is that they have not been studied to the same extent as products like DEET and picaridin, and those natural products that have been studied tend not to be as effective (or last for only a short time).

Oftentimes parents need to weigh the risks and benefits of these products against the likelihood of receiving bites, which can lead to discomfort and sometimes disease. An extreme example against natural products would include malaria. In regions where malaria (which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year) is endemic, the benefits of using a product such as DEET or picaridin would far outweigh any risks posed by these chemicals.

If you are really concerned about your child getting bit, use an insect repellent with DEET, picaridin, or biopesticide repellents, such as IR3535 or OLE.

What You Need to Know About Insect Repellents

Other things to know about insect repellents for kids include:

  • Do not apply insect repellents under clothing, on a young child's hands, near their mouth or eyes, or over cuts and irritated skin.
  • In general, mosquito repellents are the same thing as insect repellents. You typically want a higher concentration of insect repellent, often with a 20% or higher DEET concentration, if you are trying to avoid ticks.
  • Wash off insect repellents with soap and water once you bring your kids inside.
  • Do not apply insect repellents that contain DEET to your children more than once a day.
  • Avoid using a combination sunscreen/insect repellent, unless your child is only going to be outside for a few hours and you won't have to reapply it, since the directions for reapplying sunscreen (every few hours) and insect repellent may differ. This is particularly important with insect repellents that contain DEET, which should only be applied to children once a day.
  • When applying both a sunscreen and an insect repellent, it is usually best to apply your sunscreen first and use a sunscreen with a high SPF in case the insect repellent makes the sunscreen less effective. As an extra note on protecting your kids, make sure to purchase sunscreens with ingredients that offer protection against UVA rays as well as UVB.
  • Don't forget the other things you can do to reduce your child's chance of being bit. In addition to an insect repellent, try dressing your kids in thin, loose-fitting, light-colored, long-sleeve clothing, encouraging your kids to wear socks and shoes instead of sandals, avoiding scented soaps and other things that might attract mosquitoes and other bugs, and controlling mosquitoes and other insects where your kids play.

Be sure to talk to your pediatrician if your child gets sick after recently getting bitten by a mosquito, tick, or another type of insect.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Safe use of insect repellents can minimize itching, scratching. AAP News. 2013;34(6):16. doi:10.1542/aapnews.2013346-16a

  2. Lupi E, Hatz C, Schlagenhauf P. The efficacy of repellents against Aedes, Anopheles, Culex and Ixodes spp.—A literature review. Travel Med Infect Dis. 2013 Nov-Dec;11(6):374-411. doi:10.1016/j.tmaid.2013.10.005

  3. American Academy of Pediatrics. Choosing an insect repellent for your child.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC yellow book 2020. Chapter 3: environmental hazards & other noninfectious health risks.

  5. National Pesticide Information Center. Insect repellents: topic fact sheet.

  6. Asadollahi A, Khoobdel M, Zahraei-Ramazani A, Azarmi S, Mosawi SH. Effectiveness of plant-based repellents against different Anopheles species: a systematic review. Malar J. 2019;18(1):436. doi:10.1186/s12936-019-3064-8

  7. Michigan Medicine. 9 DEET safety tips to know before you spray.

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
 Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.