If there’s one thing that’s more irritating than a sunburn, it’s bug bites.
Mosquito bites are one of my least favorite things in the world. I’d rank them somewhere below “rotten egg smell” and “stepping in water with socks on.”
There’s no quicker way to run summer fun than by a tick or mosquito.
Not only that, but they can transfer diseases like: lyme disease, human anaplasmosis, west nile virus, malaria and spotted fever – and that’s just a few of them!
If you know me, I’m all about safe, chemical-free and gentle baby products.
However, there are some things you should know about the chemicals found in bug repellents so you can make an educated decision on which is right for you.
DEET & picaridin: what you should know about these chemicals.
DEET & picaridin are strong chemicals found as the active ingredients in most mainstream bug repellents.
Let’s make one thing clear: they’re effective.
But if you’re like me, you’re probably concerned about how these strong chemicals might affect your little one.
Here are some facts:
- DEET & picaridin work by basically confusing the insects. It effectively “blinds” the insects to the senses they use to the chemicals they detect to know where to feed (meaning you).
- Picaridin is thought to be less irritating than DEET but provides equal or even superior protection to biting insects.
- According to the CDC, DEET & picaridin are fine for children, but only those older than 2 months. However, you should not use a repellent with a DEET content of over 30%, and make absolutely sure not to get it in their eyes or mouth.
- Higher concentrations of DEET don’t mean better protection; it only means that you can go longer without reapplying. This means a stronger exposure to the chemical. You’re better off using a lower-concentration spray and reapplying it more often.
Why DEET & picaridin are better than natural repellents
The risks of getting bitten by a tick or mosquito are FAR worse than those of using a bug spray that has DEET.
Here is a list of diseases that can be transferred by a tick bite. There are 15 diseases on that list, with several of them being deadly. And here is a list of diseases you can get from a mosquito bite.
a recent study by Consumer Reports showed that natural repellents are nearly useless against Aedes mosquitoes, the species known to transmit the Zika virus.
Among the other diseases include several severe ones that can even cause death.
I know some people won’t agree with me, but why would you put your little one, or even yourself in the risk of getting these awful diseases?
I would always recommend using a baby bug spray that contains effective chemicals like DEET & picaridin, and so would experts like the EWG.
The baby bug repellents I recommend
Now that we’ve gone over that, I hope you agree that getting an effective repellent is the most important thing.
Here are 3 great repellents that you can depend on!
1. Cutter All Family Insect Repellent Mosquito Wipes
Active ingredient: 7.15% DEET
There are two reasons why I love wipes:
First of all, once you’ve tried applying bug spray to a squirming toddler, you know how much of a pain it can be.
When you use wipes, it’s SO much easier. Not only that, but when using the repellent on younger children, it’s much easier to avoid getting it in the eyes or mouth, because you can just wipe it where it needs to go.
The Cutter All Family wipes (click here to check price on Amazon) are a great choice!
Do know that these wipes contain a fairly low amount of DEET: 7.15%. While that’s great for lowering your little one’s amount of exposure to the chemical, it means it won’t last quite as long as higher concentrations. Therefore, you should be prepared to reapply every two hours.
This is one large pack of 15 wipes that comes in a resealable pouch. You can just throw it in your diaper bag, and away you go!
And if you’re worried that it’s not a lot of repellent, they’re pretty cheap and you get enough of the product on one wipe to apply it to two children at once, so it’s fairly reasonable.
If you’d prefer, Cutter is also available in spray form which you can see by clicking here.
2. Bug X Insect Repellent Towelettes
Active ingredient: 30% DEET
Another great wipe, Bug X Insect Repellent wipes (click here to check price on Amazon) contain much more DEET, while still within the recommendations of the CDC.
This means that you won’t have to reapply it to your little one as often, but it does mean more exposure to the chemical.
Something you might really prefer about these compared to the Cutter wipes is that these are individually wrapped, so you don’t have to carry the whole package around. You do also get more wipes in this one: 25 per box.
These are a great option if you want a longer-lasting repellent or prefer to pack light!
3. Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard + Picaridin Towelettes
Active ingredient: 10% picaridin
An option with picaridin rather than DEET, Avon’s Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard wipes (click here to check price on Amazon) may interest you.
Picaridin is thought to be potentially less irritating than DEET while being just as effective, so if your little one has sensitive skin, you might want to consider these over the DEET options.
In the box you get 8 individually-wrapped packets, so they’re great for travel but are slightly more expensive than the other options I listed earlier.
If you’d prefer this repellent in spray form, you can see it by clicking here.
What about natural repellents?
While I would always recommend an effective DEET or picaridin repellent for your baby, if you absolutely want to avoid these chemicals, you do have some options.
The following repellents use essential oils, and they do work.
However, they’re not nearly as effective as repellents that use DEET & picaridin, and you have to keep in mind that they have to be applied liberally and well; you can’t miss any areas, or the mosquitoes will find it.
I would strongly consider using one of the effective solutions listed above, but if you’re absolutely stuck on using an alternative, the following are some recommendations.
My Picks: 5 Great All-Natural Insect Repellents
My Favorite: Badger Balm Anti-Bug Balm
Organic, safe and works really well. What more could you ask for?
I absolutely love Badger Balm (click here to check price on Amazon).
Unlike most products for babies, this is a balm as opposed to a spray, which I personally think is the best for babies and much easier to apply correctly for proper coverage.
Like most natural bug repellents, you have to apply this liberally and make sure not to miss a spot.
Don’t forget to put it behind their ears, in the bend of the elbows, and anywhere that will be exposed, like the back of the neck.
You could try applying it sparingly at first and watching to see if the bugs leave them alone. Some people find that this works, but you might not be as lucky.
What’s great about this stuff is that it has long staying power. Unlike DEET-filled repellent that you have to reapply every 30 minutes on a hot day, this stuff can last for hours before you have to use it again. And even when you do, you don’t have to use as much as the first time.
This stuff is really moisturizing, too. Plus it smells really pretty! It doesn’t have added scents; it’s a byproduct of the essential oils used.
Another great baby-safe bug repellent, and my favorite!
Active Ingredients: 10% *Ricinus Communis (Castor) Oil, and Essential Oils of 5% *Cymbopogon Nardus (Citronella), 2% *Cedrus Atlantica (Cedar), 2% *Cymbopogon Schoenanthus (Lemongrass), 1% *Rosmarinus Officinalis (Rosemary), & 1% *Pelargonium Graveolens (Geranium).
Inactive Ingredients: *Olea Europaea (Extra Virgin Olive) Oil, and *Cera Alba (Beeswax).
California Baby Natural Bug Blend
A really awesome all-natural bug repellent, California Baby Baby Bug Spray (click here to check price on Amazon). works really well, but you have to apply it pretty liberally.
If you miss a spot, the mosquitos will find it. I’ve heard a few people complain that it doesn’t work, but it does.
You just have to make sure not to miss a spot. Not a big deal, since the ingredients are all non-toxic.
You should still spray it on the clothes as opposed to directly on the skin, just to make sure there’s no irritation. Essential oils can sometimes cause irritation to those with sensitive skin, but it doesn’t happen that often.
The product doesn’t have added scents, but it still has one that’s pretty pleasant due to the oils used.
For an all-natural product, this is a great baby-safe bug spray!
Ingredients: Pure essential oils of *cymbopogon nardus (citronella) 5%, *cymbopogon schoenanthus (lemongrass) .5%, *cedrus atlantica (cedar) .5%.
EcoSMART Insect Repellent
Another safe, non-toxic and organic bug spray, ecoSMART Insect Repellent (click here to check price on Amazon) is a little less known than the rest on the list. It’s not marketed as for kids, but the lack of chemicals makes it perfect.
You may or may not like the smell; it’s natural and from the ingredients used, but some people find it overwhelming. Not a great thing if you’re putting it on your child, but honestly, it’s not like it’s chemicals.
I don’t personally think it’s a huge deal. Just make sure to apply it in a well-ventilated environment, or ideally, outdoors.
On the upside, it’s not at all greasy and doesn’t feel odd on the skin like some other bug sprays.
There’s not much more to say. Just make sure to apply it well and evenly and it should work great.
Active Ingredients: 0.5% Rosemary oil, 0.5% Cinnamon Leaf Oil, 0.5% Lemongrass Oil, 1% Geranoil
Other Ingredients: Isopropyl alcohol, isopropyl myristate, and wintergreen oil.
All Terrain Kids Herbal Armor Natural Insect Repellent
While not organic, the natural ingredients of Kids Herbal Armor (click here to check price on Amazon) are toted as being GMO-free, which I suppose is still pretty good.
Most people think it doesn’t smell great, but honestly, it smells a lot better than the chemical-ridden crap you’ve probably smelled before. It does wear off after a while, and it shouldn’t bother your child at all.
This stuff works well for about 2 hours, and then you should think about reapplying it. Of course, make sure you get all of the areas exposed to get rid of those stupid mosquitoes.
Note: this comes in both “regular” and “kids” versions, but after asking the company, it turns out that both products are literally the exact same thing but with different labels.
Active Ingredients: Oil of Soybean 11.5%, Oil of Citronella 10.0%, Oil of Peppermint 2.0%, Oil of Cedar 1.50%, Oil of Lemongrass 1.00%, Oil of Geranium 0.05%.
Inactive Ingredients: (73.95%): Water, Glyceryl Stearate, Beeswax, Vegetable Glycerin, Xanthan Gum, Potassium Sorbate, Citric Acid.
Buzz Away Extreme Towelettes
I included Buzz Away Extreme Towelettes (click here to check price on Amazon) because they’re different: they come in what’s basically baby wipe format unlike the sprays and balms on the list.
This format makes them pretty convenient; you can easily throw them in your diaper bag and they’ll always be there when you need them.
Plus, the wipe format makes them easy to apply, because you just wipe it on the skin without having to mess with sprays or your hands. A wiggly baby can sometimes be a tough customer, especially when it comes to getting the hard-to-reach places like behind the ears and feet.
It’s pretty effective, again, as long as you apply it properly.
As an alternative to sprays and balms, Buzz Away isn’t anything special, but it is unique.
Ingredients: Soybean Oil, Geranium Oil, Castor Oil, Purified Water, Coconut Oil, Glycerin, Citric Acid, Lecithin, Sodium bicarbonate, Citric Acid, benzoic Acid. In a blend of Essential Oils of Wintergreen, Citronella, Cedarwood, Peppermint and Lemongrass. (Patented base HOMS® formula*)
Bug Repellent & Babies: Some Safety Tips
While all of the repellents I recommend are chemical-free, you should still take care to use them properly. Here are a few guidelines to follow:
- Avoid getting it in their eyes or mouth. While not chemical-based, the essential oils used in the products can sting.
- Never spray directly onto the face. Spray it onto your hands, then apply it to the rest of the face.
- Use spray repellents in well-ventilated areas. Some of them can smell pretty strongly.
- Be sure to reapply at least every 2 hours to make sure they stay effective.
- Keep the package out of your child’s reach. Self-explanatory.
Other Natural Ways to Avoid Bugs
Instead of slathering on the bug spray, you could try other ways of keeping the bugs at bay first.
- Put them in well-covering clothes. I realize this sounds dumb considering it’s summer, but if the bugs can’t get to the skin, they can’t bite. Mosquitoes can bite through thin clothing, however. Long sleeves, pants, good socks, hats are all vital for protecting from ticks, too.
- Eliminate standing water at home. This is where mosquitoes breed and multiply. Places like fountains, old tires, gutters, buckets are all awful places you should look out for.
- Mosquito netting. Putting this over strollers and car seats is an excellent way to keep bugs away from them, especially for newborns.
- Avoid scented lotions. Anything scented can and will attract insects.
My Baby Got a Bug Bite! What Do I Do?
If your child does end up getting bitten by a bug, there’s no need to panic. It happens, even if you slather them up with baby insect repellent from head to tippy toes.
To treat a bug bite, the best way is to just sooth it the same way you would if you got a bite!
- What I like to do is get an icecube and wrap it in a washcloth. If you apply it to the spot, it helps a lot to relieve the itching.
- Calamine lotion also works well and should be safe. Just apply a little bit to the affected area with your finger.
- You should try your best to keep them from scratching the affected area, too. That’ll only make matters worse.
Beware of signs of an allergic reaction. You won’t know if your baby has an allergy to bug bites until it happens, so if you think they’ve been bitten, keep a close eye on them.
If you notice the swelling of the bite getting worse, redness expanding along the body, you should go to the doctor.
If they seem like they’re having difficulty breathing or swallowing, call 911 immediately. She might be experiencing an extreme allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis.
For a more complete list of what you should do if you think your child is having a negative reaction to a bug bite, Seattle Children’s Hospital has a thorough guide.
Don’t Miss The Rest of My Summer Safety Series!
Summer is a fun time, but there are a lot of dangers and concerns during those hot (and sometimes wet) months.
The other articles in my Summer Safety series: