June 1, 2007

bugs and kids

Nobody likes mosquitos, or ticks for that matter. With all the barbecues, camping and outdoor fun ahead this summer it makes me wonder what bug repellant products to use on the whole family. With threats of Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus in many places, repelling bugs seems like an especially good idea.

What it comes down to is the use of DEET (diethyl toluamide), which is a common ingredient in insect repellants. It is effective, but it is a pesticide. Some people have also disliked its smell and feel. Wikipedia states, "DEET was developed by the United States Army, following its experience of jungle warfare during World War II. It entered military use in 1946 and civilian use in 1957." Wikipedia also says that "Studies into the health effects of using DEET in the approved way (as a topical application) have not shown any significant harm to human health". Using DEET in the approved way means not using it under clothing, on damaged skin, and washing it off when no longer needed.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends avoiding DEET in children under 2 months of age. For all other children, it advises using DEET with a concentration between 10% and 30%.

Research at Duke University has shown that prolonged exposure to DEET can impair functioning in parts of the brain. They say children are especially at risk.

There are many natural alternatives to DEET, including catnip oil, soybean oil, citronella oil, eucalyptus oil, lavender, and pure vanilla as well as other alternatives like Avon Skin So Soft bath oil or fabric softener. However, none of these have been scientifically proven. In some unscientific tests, they don't quite match the effectiveness of DEET extreme situations.

I did see one review on Treehugger that mentions a product called All Terrain Herbal Armor Spray, but the review says, "it smelled so bad that it repelled people as well."

I have also found some interesting herbal remedies for kids, including:
Bug Stopper Spray from the Natural Newborn
Kids Herbal Armor Spray from All Terrain
Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent
Bug Ban makes bug repellant bracelets which use citronella oil instead of DEET.

There are other options, which may be more effective than the hebals. In 2005 the CDC approved 2 alternatives for DEET: Picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Consumer Reports evaluated the new options and found they were very effective.

Picaridin is found in Cutter Advanced.
Oil of lemon eucalyptus is found in Repel Lemon Eucalyptus.

While DEET might very well be safe if used correctly, the potential risks make me want to avoid it unless absolutely necessary. I think I'll try herbals for light-bug areas and perhaps the Cutter Advanced or Repel for stronger situations.


Debbie said...

Thanks again for the great research! You're the best, and it's much appreciated by those of us living in the Northeast, aka West Nile/Lyme country. One thing I did read on the CDC's website that might be helpful to other parents of toddlers is that the oil of lemon eucalyptus is not recommended for kids under 3. Not sure why, but something to keep in mind. Another thing I read suggested spraying the DEET on your pants/socks rather than your skin, which may or may not be better? In the meantime I did get some Burts Bees to try...maybe I'll spray the DEET on the deer as they roam through my yard??? Yikes.

Gift of Green said...

This is such a timely post because I just found a tick on my son last week. I also live in Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus country, so thanks for the information. Thank you!

Jenny said...

The thought of Lyme disease gives me the willies. I use Burt's Bees but I can't tell how well it works yet.

Anonymous said...

I have been using "California Baby" bug repellent spray sparingly on my 15 month old daughter. However, I also read about lemon eucalyptus not being recommended for children under 3. I am not sure what to use now.

Anonymous said...

True that eucalyptus oil cannot be used on children under 3. The same is true for citronella oil. Picaridin
is effective, but will NOT repel gnats. In fact, it has been found to attract gnats. I was going to go with Repel Lemon Eucalyptus until I found it cannot be used on children under 3. Looking into Bite Blocker now.