Is Bug Spray Bad for Babies?

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Venturing outdoors brings you and your baby in contact with some of nature’s most fascinating creations, including insects. But while watching a butterfly land on your little one can be a whimsical experience, seeing a mosquito poised to strike can be downright alarming. Even more disturbing is knowing that most often you won’t see the mosquito, which can not only leave your child with an itchy, painful welt but also has the potential to transmit deadly diseases like West Nile virus. Equally insidious, ticks can spread Lyme disease, among other dangerous maladies.

Bug spray helps reduce the risk, but which types are safe for use on your baby and you, especially if you’re pregnant? You’ll find answers in a new online guide from the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit research organization dedicated to eliminating harmful chemicals from consumer products.

“Our scientists reviewed the available safety and efficacy data of repellent chemicals in virtually every bug repellent for sale in the U.S.,” explains EWG President Ken Cook, who says the resulting EWG’s Guide to Bug Repellents aims to help consumers find the least toxic way to protect themselves from bug-borne illness, based on their particular needs.

Which bug sprays are safe for babies?

As a first line of defense to protect your baby from bug bites, the EWG echoes an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation: Before going outdoors, dress in long sleeves, pants, socks, and shoes that cover feet entirely. Reject bright colors, which attract bugs, and consider treating clothes with permethrin, the most effective defense against ticks, according to the AAP.

The EWG found that picaridin and DEET can also be safe, effective bug sprays for pregnant women and children over 6 months old when applied to exposed skin as directed; however, check with your doctor before using DEET daily for a prolonged period.

Long-term overexposure to DEET can have serious side effects, including severe skin irritation, neurological damage and seizures, according to the National Institutes of Health. Also, the AAP warns against the use of products combining DEET and sunscreen. DEET may reduce sunscreen’s effectiveness, and the reapplication needed for sun protection may cause overexposure to DEET.

More bug bite safety for babies

Another effective bug guard is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, according to the EWG, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that it not be used on children under 3 years old. Other EWG dos and don’ts for expectant moms and babies:

  • Don’t use bug sprays on infants under 6 months old. Cover strollers and carriers with fine netting.
  • Don’t use high concentrations of repellent, which may require less frequent reapplication. Opt instead to use the lowest concentration effective for your circumstances and reapply as needed.
  • Don’t apply repellent to unexposed skin. For a child, apply repellent to your hands first, then transfer it to the child’s exposed skin. Don’t put any on the child’s hands. Wash your hands afterward.
  • Do try to avoid bug bites and excessive repellent use.
  • Do test repellent on a small patch of skin a few days in advance and watch for a reaction.
  • Do wash off all repellent and check skin thoroughly for ticks at day’s end. No repellent is 100% effective.
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