Now that we’re finally starting to see signs of spring and summer, I wanted to get some recommendations on the best (most effective and safest) bug spray and sunscreen for kids. There are so many types on the market and so many studies out there — it sounds like the “natural” versions would be better, but is this really the case? Any recommendations on particular types, what to avoid, etc.?

Any guidance would be great — thanks so much!


(Yesterday, Dr. Elizabeth Cutrell discussed staying “Safe in the Sunshine.” Today, Dr. Sarah Kohl covers bug sprays.)




By Sarah Kohl, M.D., Pediatric Alliance — Chartiers-McMurray



Using the Right Insect Repellent for Your Children


Summer is here: ballgames, picnics, hiking and fun outdoors. It’s too bad that ticks, mosquitos, and chiggers are lurking in the grass and brush waiting to bite.

How can parents protect their children without using sticky repellents or smelling all “chemically”? What is safe? What really works?

Fortunately, the folks at the American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC have advice for us. They have reviewed scientific studies and know what is safe and what works:

  • Pick a product that is proven to be effective.
  • Apply repellents according to the package instructions.
  • Pick products that last long enough to protect your family the whole time you are outdoors.


Most insect bites are annoying and uncomfortable. But recently we have been experiencing an increase in Lyme disease here in Western Pennsylvania. It’s a good idea to protect your child from insect bites when playing outside.


Use effective repellents

Skip the wristbands, garlic pills, herbal lotions, dryer sheets, vitamin supplements and the like. It’s too bad, but “all natural” products are not effective and we are talking about preventing serious diseases, such as Lyme and West Nile.

(Note: Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) has a very short duration of action and is not recommended for use with children.)

Two products proven both effective and safe are 20% Picaridin and 30% DEET (preferably in a liposomal formulation). I’ll explain how both work.



Picaridin is the new kid on the block. Many people have not heard of it before. It is designed to resemble a chemical in black pepper yet it is non-irritating to the skin.

It comes in a lotion and a spray. It protects by forming a barrier that makes your child “invisible” so that the bugs can’t find them to bite.

20% Picaridin is odorless and lasts 8 hours.



DEET has been around since the 1940’s. It works by turning off receptors in an insect’s antennae which they use to locate their prey. This, in turn, makes your child “invisible” to bugs. Increasing concentration increases duration of action but not effectiveness.

  • 10% DEET lasts about 2 hours.
  • 30% DEET lasts up to 5 hours.
  • 30% DEET in a liposome lasts 8-10 hours (and is practically odorless).


Contrary to what many people believe, DEET is safe. The AAP recommends using up to 30% DEET for any child 2 months or older.

There have been widely circulated reports of DEET toxicity in the press. But when you look closely at the events, they occurred when excessive quantities were incorrectly applied.


Tips for applying insect repellent:

  • Children younger than 2 months should not wear repellent; instead they need to be protected by nets.
  • Apply sunblock first, allow it to dry. Then apply insect repellent on top.
  • Avoid combination insect repellents/sunblock. When you apply these combination products often enough to protect your child from the sun you will accidently cause an overdose of insect repellent.
  • Always apply repellents according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Reapply if needed, especially if your child has gone swimming.
  • If using a spray, do not spray on your child’s face. Instead, spray on your hands and wipe onto their face, avoiding the eyes and mouth.
  • For young children, avoid putting on hands and fingers which may go into their mouths.
  • Whenever possible cover up with long pants, socks, etc. to prevent bites. Do not apply repellent under clothing.
  • When you come indoors wash off your child’s skin to remove any remaining repellent.


Spending a day outdoors with your children is one of life’s delights. Using the right insect repellent will keep pesky ticks, mosquitoes, and chiggers from spoiling the fun.

How often do you apply repellent when your children are outside? What products do you use?


(Dr. Sarah Kohl, M.D. sees patients in the Chartiers and McMurray offices of Pediatric Alliance.)