Insect repellent guidelines for kids and grownups

Consumer Reports News: July 07, 2010 12:08 PM

Tis the season for biting bugs. A good repellent can help you enjoy the outdoors without the company of mosquitoes and ticks. But there are a few caveats for young children.

To rate insect repellents (see the full insect repellents Ratings report), brave testers bared their arms in mosquito-filled cages and let ticks crawl on them (see video at right).

Five repellents in our tests protected against deer ticks and two common types of mosquitoes for 8 hours or more. Four of those contain deet in varying levels. The Environmental Protection Agency judges deet safe when used as directed, but it has caused rare toxic reactions when misused. It shouldn't be applied to infants less than 2 months old. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using repellents with deet concentrations higher than 30 percent on any children. We think that no one needs a repellent with more than 30 percent deet. The active ingredient in Repel is oil of lemon eucalyptus. (It's not recommended for children under 3.) Almost as effective was Natrapel, which protects with picaridin, a chemical newer than deet. (See How to apply insect repellent to young children.)

Bottom line. Most of the tested products will do the job if you're going to be outside for only a couple of hours, but look for a highly rated product to protect you on longer excursions.

When applying any repellent, follow directions. Use your hands to apply it to your face, avoiding your eyes and mouth, and don't apply it to cuts. Use just enough to cover exposed skin. Some directions suggest using it on clothes, but most tested repellents damaged leather and vinyl, and some of them stained synthetic fabrics. Wash repellent off your skin and launder treated clothes.

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