Insect Repellent Use and Safety
Do Not Ignore Insect Repellent Directions
Applying insect repellant is not complicated, but before you do, be sure to read the label for any warnings and to see the active ingredients. All insect repellents, including products combined with sunscreen, should be used according to instructions on the label.
Insect repellents can be used at all ages unless the label specifically states an age limitation or precaution. As long as you read and follow label directions and take proper precautions, insect repellents with active ingredients registered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) do not present health or safety concerns.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends using products that contain active ingredients registered by EPA for use on skin and clothing. EPA registration of insect repellent active ingredients indicates the materials have been reviewed and approved for human safety and effectiveness when applied according to instructions on the label.
The active ingredients DEET and picaridin are conventional man-made, chemical repellents according to EPA. Oil of lemon eucalyptus, oil of citronella and IR3535 are repellents made from natural materials such as plants, bacteria, and certain minerals.
Insect Repellents and Children
Insect repellents containing DEET should not be used on children under 2 months of age. Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under 3 years of age.
When applying insect repellents to children, avoid their hands, around the eyes, and cut or irritated skin. Do not allow children to handle insect repellents. When using on children, apply to your own hands and then put it on the child. After returning indoors, wash your child’s treated skin or bathe the child. Clothes exposed to insect repellants should be washed with soap and water.
Sunscreens Combined with Insect Repellents
If a sunscreen containing DEET is used, then a sunscreen-only product should be used if additional sunscreen is needed. The sunscreen that contains DEET should not be reapplied because repeated applications may increase potential toxic effects.
For sunscreen products made with natural insect repellent ingredients follow package directions. Re-application of the combination product may be all right depending upon the particular formulation. After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water, especially if using repellents repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days.
How Long Does Protection Last?
Although higher concentrations of any of the active ingredients provide longer protection, concentrations above 50 percent generally do not increase protection time. Products with less than 10 percent of the active ingredient offer only limited protection, about one or two hours.
Of course, protection and duration vary considerably among products and insect species. Temperature, perspiration, exposure to water, and other factors affect duration and effectiveness.
Information about insect repellents can be found at the following sites:
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates all pesticides and provides extensive information about insect repellents:
- Environmental Protection Agency Home Page
- Mosquito Control and West Nile Virus
- How to Use Insect Repellents Safely
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers information about mosquito repellents:
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has information about the use of mosquito repellents in children:
The Medical Letter contains an article on insect repellents: