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Bug bites are one thing that can really put a drag on summer fun. Nothing is worse than planning a fun day outside only to return home and find your little one covered in bug bites. Your poor kiddo gets itchy, irritable, and that’s not fun for anyone. The whining and complaining when little kids get bug bites is just insufferable at times. That’s why you need the best bug spray for kids. We’re going to talk about what the most effective ingredients are and which bug sprays top the charts to help you have bug free outdoor fun!
About Bug Spray Ingredients
The most common ingredients in bug sprays are: deet, picardin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, & IR3535 and 2-Undecanone.
Deet was invented back in the 40’s for use in the US Military and it’s still one of the top dogs when it comes to insect repellants.
You’d think, the more DEET, the better, right?
Consumer Reports found that there’s no need to use higher concentrations to stay protected; products with 25 to 30 percent DEET can provide long-lasting protection against mosquitoes and ticks and is why it’s consistently regarded as an ingredient in the best bug spray for kids.
DEET is generally safe, but you should be wary of DEET’s side effects—some minor (skin/eye irritation), others scary (seizures and other neurological symptoms).
Serious reactions are very rare and are usually linked to repeatedly applying way too much or ingesting it.
DEET is generally considered unsafe for infants under 2 months.
Picardin is a solid alternative to DEET. It’s a synthetic repellent modeled after a compound that occurs naturally in the black pepper plant.
Picaridin is thought to be almost as potent as DEET, without the same pitfalls: it doesn’t irritate the skin and eyes, and it’s not stinky. In the US, a recent study found no reported cases of major side effects. For this reason, I consider Picardin to be the top ingredient when picking the best bug spray for small kids.
Consumer Reports has found that you need a product with at least 20% picaridin. And they also note that while Picardin can be found in both wipe and lotion form, the spray version performed the best in all of their tests.
Picardin is deemed safe for use on infants.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE)
If you’re looking for a botanically based insect repellent, OLE is pretty much the only option you have that’s got scientific credibility. The active ingredient in oil of lemon eucalyptus is p-menthane-3,8-diol (PMD)- make sure you look for that on the ingredient label.
Don’t confuse Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus with lemon eucalyptus essential oils- they’re not the same thing. It’s also worth noting that in the Consumer Reports testing none of the products tested with essential oils (cedar, cinnamon, citronella, clove, geranium, lemongrass, rosemary, and peppermint) provided adequate protection, often failing the tests within a half-hour.
OLE, however, was found that products containing 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) warded off mosquitoes and ticks for at least 7 hours.
OLE also appears to be relatively safe when used properly, however, the Food and Drug Administration recommends against using it on children younger than 3.
IR3535 and 2-Undecanone
These are two chemical compounds that also appear often in bug sprays. IR3535 is a man-made compound that is similar to a naturally occurring amino acid. And 2-Undecanone is a version of a compound found in wild tomatoes and several other plants.
In testing done by Consumer Reports, products with these two ingredients were less effective (compared with DEET, picaridin, and OLE), offering limited protection.
They’re definitely ingredients I don’t recommend, but for sake of comparison, I wanted to at least include them in the common ingredients you’ll see at the drugstore.
Best Bug Spray For Kids
Now that you know all about the different ingredients, let’s jump in and see which bug sprays are in the top of each category.
Best Organic Bug Spray for Kids
Be very leary of products that use Organic and Natural on their labels. They usually have plant-based chemicals like lemongrass, citronella, peppermint, geraniol, soybean, and rosemary.
These products aren’t registered with the EPA, and because the agency doesn’t consider the chemicals they contain to pose any serious safety risks, it doesn’t bother to evaluate them- not good.
As a result, the companies that make botanical products aren’t required to prove that they actually work.
We’re going to stick to products with ingredients that actually work.
Taking all of that into consideration, it was actually quite hard to find an ‘organic’ bug spray. Most of the ones that market themselves as organic, don’t contain any of the ingredients we discussed above. So they’re out of the running automatically.
One product I did find was Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil Mosquito Repellent
Murphy’s Naturals plant-based, D.E.E.T. free, lemon eucalyptus oil insect repellent goes on easy with a cool, refreshing scent. This unique, plant-based spray repels mosquitoes and is a clinically proven plant-based insect repellent that is naturally and sustainably sourced. This 4 oz pump spray bottle contains 30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus — the only plant-based ingredient recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The ingredients are simply Lemon Eucalyptus Oil (30%) and Ethanol and Deionized Water (70%).
Best Natural Bug Spray for Kids
Like we just discussed with organic bug sprays, natural bug sprays posed a similar conundrum. Many of them boasted ingredients that simply don’t stand up to scientific testing. And that’s not good for you or your kids. When it comes to finding the best bug spray for kids, you need ones that acutally work.
After some searching, I did find another product that uses OLE that would fit the ‘natural’ insect repellent wicket- REPEL Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent.
REPEL is made with OLE and is DEET free, but repels mosquitoes for up to six hours! It’s also not greasy or sticky- which is great when using with kids.
Best Deet Bug Spray for Kids
This one was easy! We’re looking for a bug spray with at least 25% but no more than 30% DEET.
Ben’s 30% DEET Mosquito, Tick, and Insect Repellent consistently comes out in the top of all scientific tests, so it takes the spot for best DEET bug spray. It can be hard to find though, and you’ll usually need to get it from Amazon.
Best Bugspray for Ticks and Mosquitos
It’s important to note that most research does not test products against ticks, but past test results and our research indicate that any product that protects you from mosquito bites is also likely to protect from tick bites.
When it comes to keeping ticks away, there’s one ingredient that does the job well. And that’s permethrin. We haven’t talked about it yet- mostly because it’s not safe to put on skin directly. But when you’re really wanting top-notch protection against ticks, Sawyer’s Permethrin Spray is the way to go.
Instead of spraying it directly on your child’s skin, you use Sawyer’s Permethrin spray to treat the gear or clothing your child will be wearing. We use it on our strollers, shoes, socks, etc.
Simply spray things the night before and they’ll be dry and ready to go for the next day’s adventures.
Best Bugspray on the Market
I took several factors into consideration before picking the bes bug spray on the market: how easy it is to find, ingredient safety, side effects, etc.
Sawyer’s Picardin Spray and Natrapel Picardin Spray came out on top. Both are readily avalabile at most major stores and provide protection against bugs comparable to DEET products but without the risk for skin irritation.
- CDC recommended formula of 20% Picaridin is the recommended concentration to guard against diseases transmitted by insects including the Zika Virus, West Nile Virus, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Lyme Disease, and Dengue Fever.
- Easy to apply and easy on the air with the Eco-Spray can that delivers even, continuous spray without releasing harmful aerosols.
- Long-lasting repellent effective against Yellow Fever Mosquito, which can transmit the Zika Virus; 3-ounce pump spray
- Fragrance-free topical insect repellent with 20% Picaridin — more effective at repelling biting flies than DEET; repels disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks (Lyme and Powassan), chiggers, and more
- Spray is effective up to 12 hours against mosquitoes and ticks (14 hours for lotion); up to 8 hours against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies
That’s probably more information than you were anticipating when it comes to figuring out the best bug spray for kids. But, it’s important to understand WHY a product works before jumping into the best ones.
Which bug spray will you use for your kids?
- Consumer Reports Insect Repellant Buying Guide
- Consumer Reports Do Natural Insect Repellants Really Work?