There is really no easy answer to the question: what is the best mosquito repellent for babies…mosquitoes at best are a nasty nuisance but at worst they carry life threatening diseases – occasional exposure to toxins is DEFINITELY better than getting Dengue, Zika, Malaria, Japanese encephalitis or many other of these horrible diseases.
Now, I get bitten ALL the time – they LOVE me….ever since I cleaned up my diet (so unfair!)….they used to bite my husband but now I am the rest of the family’s natural mosquito repellent – stick with me and you will not get bitten!
Joking aside, this worried me a lot when I was pregnant – we live in Hong Kong and Zika is around, although thankfully not common here.
So the challenge is we don’t want to over expose ourselves and definitely not our babies & children to nasty chemicals but we want to stay protected – in my opinion it is about using the right approach for the situation – there is no one size fits all magical solution.
Assess your risk – Zika or an itch?
Depending on where you live or where you are traveling to you should assess your risk.
What are the common diseases carried by mosquitoes in the area?
A couple of mosquitoes borne diseases that are worth mentioning:
Zika – this has been a hot topic of conversation for the past two years especially amongst people who want to get pregnant or are pregnant.
The WHO has classifications that asses the risk of Zika in different countries – they update this pretty regularly. Category 1 & 2 both have active cases of Zika being reported – the difference is for category 2 Zika has been in these countries for years where as category 1 does not have any recording of the disease before 2015. See the detailed list from the WHO here.
The recommendation is that if you are trying to get pregnant or are pregnant you should avoid travel to anywhere in category 1 or 2. That’s great but it may not be possible…or you might live in one of them so you will want to protect yourself as best you can with the suggestions below.
Dengue Fever – this is carried by the same mosquitoes as carry Zika, the Aedes. Dengue fever is endemic in most of South East Asia meaning it exists permanently there. Because of this people who live there may catch it multiple times – often the first time they get it, it will not be serious and could be just a mild fever which is what happens when most young children get if for the first time. However, it can also develop into a life threatening disease so again you want to protect yourself if you go to one of these areas.
Take precautions – 4 key steps
Take the necessary precautions if you do live or travel to infected areas:
- Cover up – try to wear long trousers & shirts in light colours
- Use mosquito nets
- Aedes mosquitoes who carry Zika & dengue bite during the day so don’t think it is just dusk & evening.
- Use a good quality insect repellent – see more on this below
Choose the best mosquito repellent for your situation
So you have assessed your risk and taken the other precautions above but you still need to find a safe mosquito repellent for you and your baby:
HIGH RISK: You live or are traveling to somewhere with recent confirmed cases of Zika, Malaria, Dengue, Japanese encephalitis etc then your first priority is TO NOT GET BITEN – you need a highly effective mosquito repellent.
The environmental working group who are always very cautious when it comes to any toxin exposure state: “the risk of these infections is far more serious than side effects from repellent chemicals”
So what are your best options? There are 4 chemicals that have been proven & approved by the CDC to be the most effective against a variety of biting insects:
- Picaridin (also known as Icaridin)
- iR3535 – can be an eye irritant
- DEET – can be a skin irritant and there have been concerns with prolonged use about neurotoxicity & nervous system damage
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus and its synthetic derivative pMD – can be a skin irritant. Not safe for under 3yrs old
DEET is the best known and does come with some warranted concerns. However, given the risk of some of these diseases DEET is an OK choice. You should be careful of the concentration. The concentration of DEET represents the length of time it is effective for not how effective it will be at not getting you bitten. So choose a lower concentration DEET and if you are still out and at risk you need to remember to reapply. EWG’s recommendation for adults is between 20-30% concentration and up to 10% for children.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is the only botanical based ingredient that has been tested by EPA and is proven to provide protection against mosquitoes. However, not enough testing has been done to maintain it’s safety for babies and small children so it is not advisable to use on the under 3s.
Overall Picaridin & IR3535 in 20% concentration are effective with the least known side effects or irritants however DEET is by far the most widely used and hence the most broadly tested. The side effects are rare so it is also a valid option when in high risk areas.
In this case for yourself and other adults find a repellent with Picaridin & IR3535 in 20% concentration or DEET in 20 – 30%. Use for when you are outside in high exposure areas and reapply if needed. Apply your sunscreen first before your mosquito repellent and wash your hands after application
The Best solution for your baby or children – any baby under 6 months should be kept away from direct exposure – mosquito nets & covered clothing. Over 6 months in a high risk area a repellent with Picaridin 20% concentration has the least irritation risk but DEET in 7%-10% should be ok too.
My main problem with these repellents is the brands do not tell you what else is in them. They give you the active ingredient information eg; DEET, Picaridin but no other information at all.
So I don’t use these on myself or my baby unless we are in a high risk area. I have looked for more info but they are mostly very secretive about the full ingredients list. The ones I found contain chemicals that I would reject in any product I put on my skin regularly. So I can not recommend a particular brand.
I have written to several of the big brands to see if they will reveal their full list….will update here. But as a place to start based only on their active ingredients (because they do not disclose other) – Picaridin is my preferred option & this one has very little scent which could be a good sign that they haven’t added anything too nasty to it…but waiting for an official reply from the company:
2. MEDIUM TO LOW RISK: you are in an area where the serious diseases are not a major concern and you just don’t want those annoying itchy bites
In this case I would stick to a botanical repellent with soybean oil or geranium oil. These botanical repellents may not be as effective against the more aggressive mosquitoes but I know exactly what is in them and in my experience in most cases they do their job at keeping the mozzies away. You do need to reapply more often.
One thing to keep in mind with natural repellents is just because they are natural doesn’t mean that they won’t cause irritation to the skin, so patch test first. And still check the ingredients for added preservatives that I talk about more in a previous article like Phenoxyethanol.
A few brands that I like are:
- All Terrain kids Herbal Armour for kids on Amazon OR IHERB
- Zoe organics insect repellent in a stainless steel container – no plastic here! But difficult to find outside of the USA.
- California baby natural bug blend bug repellent
- Moo goo tail swat body spray (HK baby central and Australia various locations)
Key tips – The dos & don’ts of Insect repellent
- Aerosol sprays – these can easily get in eyes or nose which will just add to your contamination issues!
- Sunscreen with insect repellent – It is better to use two separate products. Sunscreen applied first – allow it to settle in and then put on insect repellent. Sunscreen will also need to be reapplied much more regularly than insect repellent.
- Wrist bands/patches may seem like a good idea but for those high risk areas they are not effective enough
- Don’t use it too close to baby eyes or mouth
- Spray clothes – although some repellents may stain.
- Use roll on or if you use spray apply it to your hands first and then rub onto the baby’s skin
- Wash it off hands straight after application and off the body at the end of the day
A super quick 20 second video on how to apply repellent to kids (don’t use aerosol though…)
So, what is the best mosquito repellent for babies?
Unlike all the other products I have introduced on the blog there is no wonderful, toxin free but highly effective, one size fits all solution when it comes to mosquito repellent for babies or for anyone for that matter.
If you are going to an area with mosquitoes that carry and transmit any of the major diseases like Zika, Dengue and Malaria you need a chemical mosquito repellent – my suggestion is to use picardin or a low concentration of deet and try to find out what other ingredients are added & cross-check it against my cheat sheet.
If you are going to a low risk area then I would sick with a natural repellent, I do believe you have to try a few to find one that works for you and one that the mosquitoes in your area truly dislike!
I hope that is helpful and do let me know if you have tried anything that worked well for you – I would love to hear.
In my posts there are affiliate links which give me a small % commission on a purchase that is made by clicking through. This does not influence my choice of products in anyway I choose them on their own merit & they are items I use myself.