Are insect repellents safe?

Almost half of West Nile cases in Texas

Finger points to ingredients on insect repellent container

Health officials recommend using an insect repellent to prevent West Nile virus, a serious disease spread by mosquitoes.

The number of West Nile infections continues to grow, especially in Texas. As of August 21, there were 1118 cases of West Nile virus across the country, according to the CDC. As of last Wednesday, 640 of those cases have been in Texas with 23 deaths.

Despite the threat, parents may be concerned about the safety and effectiveness of insect repellents.

Dr. Stacia Miles, an ADC dermatologist, says insect repellents are safe as long as you follow the safety instructions.

“The most effective products are those which contain the chemical DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide). Although DEET-containing repellants have been a source of concern by many parents — they are approved as safe for children as long as certain safety precautions are followed.”

  • The concentration of DEET should be kept to in the range of 10 percent to 30 percent.
    Higher concentrations (30 percent DEET) protect for more than three hours of outdoor time.
    Lower concentrations (10 percent DEET) will protect for about two hours.
    DEET concentrations above 30 percent have not been tested or approved in children.
  • DEET should be applied only once per day
    It should not be applied to the face/near mouth, on open skin or palms (to avoid ingestion)
  • DEET is not recommended in children under 3 months old.
  • Bathe children following outdoor play to wash DEET off skin

The CDC has also approved repellants containing picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus (PMD or P-menthane diol) for mosquito protection in children. Both of these ingredients have been shown to have protection similar to products with low level DEET.

Insect repellents aren’t the only ways to deter mosquitoes.  You can also wear light-colored clothing, long sleeves, and avoid being outside at dawn and dusk to prevent mosquito bites. Permethrin-based spray applied to clothing can also repel mosquitoes.