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Use insect repellents correctly to avoid possible overexposure to chemicals

Insect repellent helps prevent bites from mosquitoes, other insects
Insect repellent helps prevent bites from mosquitoes, other insects
Photo by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

It’s summer, and the mosquitoes are out in droves. But beware of how you apply insect repellent, because some products may not be safe for young children, and using too much of a product may be toxic.

“Applying insect repellent is not complicated, but before you do, be sure to read the label for any warnings and to see the active ingredients,” according to new information provided by the U.S Food and Drug Administration. “All insect repellents, including products combined with sunscreen, should be used according to instructions on the label.”

Many insect repellents are safe for people of all ages, but products containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) should not be used on children under two months old. In addition, products containing natural oil of lemon and eucalyptus products should not be used on children under three. Check the label to make sure there are no age limitations for other specific products.

If the active ingredients in insect repellents are registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and they are used correctly, they are considered safe, the FDA notes.

There are many active ingredients in insect repellent, including DEET and picaridin, which are man-made; natural ingredients such as lemon, eucalyptus, or citronella oils are used as well.

The FDA gives these warnings regarding insect repellents and children:

  • When applying insect repellents to children, avoid putting it on their hands, around their eyes, or onto cut or irritated skin.
  • Don’t allow children to handle insect repellents.
  • When applying insect repellents to children, rub them to your own hands and put it on your child.
  • After coming back indoors, wash your child’s treated skin or bathe him or her.
  • Wash clothes exposed to insect repellants with soap and water.

If you are using a sunscreen containing DEET, use a sunscreen-only product as well if more sunscreen needs to be applied. Sunscreens that contain DEET should not be reapplied because they may increase the risk for toxic effects from DEET.

However, for sunscreens that contain natural insect repellents, follow package directions. It may be safe to reapply more of those products, but read the label first before doing so. Still, as with the DEET products, wash skin and clothes with soap and water upon returning indoors, especially if insect repellents are being used repeatedly throughout the day or on consecutive days.

Some insect repellents contain lower percentages of active ingredients than others; for example, products with less of 10 percent of active ingredient only offer about one to two hours of protection, and must be reapplied after that time. Some factors may affect the effectiveness of insect repellent as well, such as temperature, perspiration, and exposure to water. Follow package directions for guidance on how often to reapply the product.

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