DEET Safety Tips

Summertime signals the return of warm weather, backyard barbecues and lots of outside time.

And, once again, it’s shaping up to be a buggy summer in Michigan — especially when it comes to ticks.

The best way to avoid the not-so-fun bugs of summer? Wear long sleeves and long pants, and avoid being outdoors at dusk, which is often the buggiest time of day. It’s also a good idea to avoid perfumes and scented shampoos and lotions.

Still, there are certainly times when we can’t avoid bugs. That’s when many of us reach for bug repellents.

The most effective repellents contain DEET, which leads many parents of our young patients to ask us the big question:

Is DEET safe for young children?

The answer is yes. Insect repellents containing DEET have been tested and approved for kids when used as directed.

You can use DEET-containing bug repellents on children ages 2 months and older, but there are some guidelines to follow:

  • Products containing DEET should be used only once per day on children.
  • We do not recommend sunscreen-bug spray combinations, as sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly.
  • The percentage of DEET determines how long it will last, so use the lowest percentage that you can for your needs. If your kids will be outside for only an hour or two, you can get away with a lower concentration — 6 to 7 percent will last for about two hours; 20 percent will last for about five hours. Choose a repellent with no more than 30 percent concentration.
  • Apply products containing DEET in an open area with good ventilation.
  • Do not apply products containing DEET to broken or sunburned skin.
  • Do not apply products containing DEET around the mouth, eyes or hands. I tell parents to spray a hat, let it dry and then put it on their young child. That will help keep the bugs away from a person’s face.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after applying products containing DEET.
  • Wash your child’s skin with soap and water when he or she comes inside; launder clothing before it’s worn again.
  • Read labels carefully, and always follow the directions on the packaging of the product you choose.

Other options for bug repellents include products that contain oil of lemon eucalyptus or a product called picaridin. These products don’t last as long as the 20 percent DEET, but they can be reapplied throughout the day.

Permethrin is an effective repellent for ticks, but it should be applied only to your child’s clothing.

Products that contain citronella, however, are not effective against bugs.

Find the original blog post on the Michigan Health blog.