Waking up to little red-colored mosquito bites on your little one’s face is unnerving for sure. This post on mosquito repellents for babies will help you prevent these. No matter how many mosquito nets or covered clothes you use, the mosquitoes always seem to find a way around them. It is mosquitoes and other insects and bugs that never leave a chance to creep up those open areas and leave a mark of their presence.
In such cases, mosquito repellents might come in handy. But before using any ointment or repellent cream on your baby’s skin, it is advisable to check for allergic reactions. So which repellent do you choose for your baby?
Read on to know about the various types of mosquito repellents available and the ones that are safe to be used for your baby.
How Safe Are Various Forms Of Mosquito Repellents For Babies?
Mosquito repellents come in different forms and packages. Some repellents seem ostensibly harmful to the baby’s health (such as the smoke-making mosquito coils), while some seem to be safe (mosquito bands). We look at these various forms of mosquito repellents and tell you which ones are safe to use for your baby.
Some types of mosquito repellents are usually more popular than others. A survey done among 5,209 participants noted that most people (48%) use DEET spray, with citronella candles being a close second (43%). ‘Natural’ repellent sprays are also commonly used (36%). The graph below shows the various mosquito repellents preferred by the survey participants.
Various mosquito repellent methodsSource: An online survey of personal mosquito-repellent strategies; PeerJ Publishing
We look at these various forms of mosquito repellents and tell you which ones are safe to use for your baby.
1. Mosquito coils
Let us begin with something that you must never use as a mosquito repellent for your babies. Coils are flattened incense that are burnt to release mosquito repellent smoke. This can effectively drive away insects from a localized area but the smoke can cause respiratory irritation in the baby. If your baby already suffers from respiratory problems, then the smoke from a mosquito coil will surely aggravate the condition.
Verdict: Not safe for babies of any age. Besides being a fire hazard, burnt coils release smoke that contains carbon monoxide and other various fumes. These fumes can be harmful to your baby’s health as his lungs are tiny and underdeveloped. Moreover, a study has found that inhaling smoke from one burnt mosquito coil is equivalent to inhaling smoke from as many as 137 cigarettes (1)! That is surely quite unsettling.
2. Mosquito repellent lotions
The lotions are convenient and portable, and hence are a favorite with many mothers. Mosquito and bug repellent lotions, creams, and gels are topical ointments applied directly to the exposed skin. They also work well in repelling other insects such as flies and crawling bugs because the active ingredient in these ointments usually is DEET, picaridin or IR3535.
Also, you should avoid products that have more than 30% DEET. In fact, 10% DEET is as effective as 30%; so go for a product that has the ingredient within this range.
A study by the independent organization Consumer Reports showed that picaridin is safe for babies (3). IR3535 was also found effective but offered protection for just three hours.
Verdict: Safe for babies older than two months when used as per manufacturer’s instructions. Mosquito repellent lotions should never be applied around the baby’s eyes and mouth. Also, do not put it on his hands where there is a risk of ingestion. Always test a small spot on the baby’s skin before applying on the rest of the body. This will let you know if the baby has an allergy to the ingredients used in the product. Do not apply a mosquito repellent cream to a baby younger than two months.
3. Mosquito repellent liquid vaporizer and mats
Liquid vaporizer and mats are known for their convenience of ‘plug and play’. They use heat to vaporize the insect repellent, which then dissipates into an area. They are generally made of household insecticides allethrin, prallethrin and permethrin that repel insects when sprayed in the vapor form.
Allethrin is known to be toxic when it comes in contact with skin, but has little toxic effect when inhaled (4). Prallethrin has low toxicity to mammals. Permethrin is said to have similar low toxicity and there is no evidence that it could be extremely toxic for babies (5).
Therefore, it can be said that there is no conclusive indication of negative health effects due to long-term inhalation of these compounds. However, the chemicals can affect babies differently than adults.
Verdict: Mostly safe when used with caution and after reading manufacturer’s instructions. Avoid using liquid vaporizers and mats when the baby is in the room. Instead, use them before he is brought into the room. Always place the vaporizer away from the baby’s bed, and close to the entry point of mosquitoes such as windows. Do not use it anywhere around babies younger than two months since they can be sensitive even to the slightest amount of insecticide fumes.
4. Mosquito repellent sprays
Mosquito repellent and bug sprays are aerosol-based sprays that contain compounds similar to those present in vaporizers like allethrin and prallethrin. In addition to these compounds, sprays also use the compound deltamethrin, which is chemically similar to allethrin. It has the same level of toxicity as allethrin thus making mosquito repellent sprays quite similar to vaporizers. Deltamethrin is not known to cause any serious long-term effects on usage although babies can be sensitive to it (6).
Sprays can work faster than vapors and this is achieved by dissolving the active ingredient (the insecticide) in a volatile solvent like dichloromethane (DCM), or methylene chloride. Long term inhalation of this compound has been linked to carbon monoxide poisoning (7). And that is not encouraging.
Verdict: Not safe for babies. Insect repellent sprays may work faster but the chemical can harm your baby’s health. Moreover, most sprays have a pungent smell due to the presence of kerosene, another insecticide. Kerosene is proven to be toxic to the body when inhaled in the form of vapors (8).
5. Natural insect repellents like essential oils
You find a plethora of essential oils in the market to naturally repel mosquitoes and other insects. They are usually sold dissolved in a topical ointment base and prove to be DEET-free insect repellent for babies. Several homemade and Ayurvedic insect repellents also use essential oils. Although they are natural plant oils, they may not be safe for babies. For example, one of the most common essential oil used in mosquito repellents is lemon eucalyptus oil and its synthetic variant is PMD. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that oil of lemon eucalyptus must not be used on the skin of children below three years of age (9). It is mainly because their skin is underdeveloped to handle the natural chemical compositions of the oil.
There are also other essential oils like citrus oils, cedar, lemongrass (known as citronella oil), and rosemary. But consumer study of over-the-counter essential oil-based insect repellent lotions found that these essential oils were ineffective in protecting against insects with the exception of lemon eucalyptus oil. Even if they offer protection, it is for a little time. Essential oils, in general, provide protection against insects for no greater than two hours (10). Refrain from using these oils in combination with other ingredients such as witch hazel or vanilla extract to make a natural mosquito repellent spray or baby oil as it may not be safe for the baby.
Verdict: Safe or not safe depends on various factors including the type of essential oil, mode of application (on skin or through spray) and whether the baby is sensitive to essential oils or not. Lemon eucalyptus oil should not be used for children below three years of age, as mentioned earlier. The synthetic version of lemon eucalyptus oil called PMD (p-Menthane-3,8-diol) is commonly found in anti-mosquito wipes for babies. It has the same properties as the natural version; therefore, it can be a potential allergen.
When it comes to essential oils like cedar, lemongrass (known as citronella oil) and rosemary, then the usage can be subjective depending on whether the baby is sensitive to it or not. Oil of lemon grass/ citronella is known to be a dermal and respiratory irritant (11). Some babies can be sensitive to the topical version of the essential oil but may not show any adverse effects to the vapor form.
Thus always check if the baby is comfortable with the essential oil-based repellent and consult a doctor if you have any queries. Either way, essential oils are never safe for babies younger than two months old.
6. Mosquito patches and fabric roll-on
Mosquito repellent patch is like a bandage that is laden with an insecticide. The effectiveness of the patch decreases as the chemical slowly evaporates in the air. Mosquito repellent bands and bracelets work on a similar principle and can be refilled with a small tablet.
Fabric roll-ons look like deodorant roll-ons that can be rubbed in small portions on clothes leaving small amounts of insect-repellent. These are all portable mosquito repellent solutions similar to mosquito repellent lotions.
There are a variety of mosquito patches and roll-ons available for babies and generally have the same ingredients as in lotions. A patch should never be stuck to the skin or the clothes of the baby. It may be stuck to an object close to the baby yet away from his reach. Manufacturers of insect repellent roll-ons recommend using it on cots and strollers instead of clothes for babies younger than two years.
Patches containing DEET or picaridin should be avoided for babies younger than two months old. Many patches contain essential oil as an insecticide and as mentioned earlier, you must be careful about their usage since they can be potential allergens.
Verdict: Safe depending on the ingredients. Always look at the label for the active insecticides used in the patch or roll-on. As always, never use these for babies younger than two months of age.
7. Mosquito nets and mosquito bats
Physical barriers are the safest and most cost-effective means of protecting your baby against mosquitoes and other insects. Mosquito nets are one such example that come in numerous sizes and can be customized to meet the requirements of your baby’s crib. They can be used 24 x 7 without worrying about your baby being exposed to any harmful chemicals.
Electronic mosquito killers such as electric bats and mosquito trapping night lamps are equally safe as long as they are kept away from the baby’s reach.
Verdict: Safest means of repelling insects for your little one. Electrical mosquito repellents should be placed away from the baby’s reach and preferably used when a parent is present in the room. Mosquito nets work great. They are an effective means of protection against mosquitoes and are even vouched by the World Health Organization (12).
Nets must be periodically checked for any tears or openings. Certain mosquito nets are sprayed with insecticides and are good but can be avoided since the baby may grab the mosquito net once in a while thus causing the risk of ingestion through hands.
Mosquito nets are the best insect repellents if your baby is younger than two months of age.
Here is the list of the insect repellents that are safe, not-safe or perhaps-safe for babies:
|Mosquito nets and mosquito bats
|Mosquito patches and fabric roll-on
|Safe depending on the ingredients
|Liquid vaporizer and mats
|Mostly safe when used with caution
|Essential oils based repellents
|Safe or not safe depending on the oil
|Mosquito repellent lotions
|Safe only for babies older than two months
|Mosquito repellent sprays
Tips For Safe Usage Of Insect Repellent For Babies
Here are some points you must keep in mind while using insect repellent for babies:
- Read the instructions and safety information label on the outer packaging of the repellent. This will give you an idea of what went into the making of the repellent and whether it is generally safe for a baby.
- Never apply an insect repellent around cuts and wounds since it may enter the body.
- Do not apply an insect repellent on the baby’s face and palm since it can lead to accidental ingestion.
- Do not use products that combine DEET with sunscreen. DEET generally reduces the effectiveness of sun protection factor (SPF). This means one may have to apply more sunscreen to protect from sun. This is okay for adults but for babies it may overexpose them to DEET, which is not good for their skin.
- Always keep an insect repellent, including the outer packaging, away from a baby’s reach.
- Stop the usage of an insect repellent immediately if you doubt that the baby is showing an allergy (such as rash) towards it.
- Read the manufacturer’s advice on the packaging for an allergic reaction and also consult your doctor.
Insect Repellents Deemed Ineffective
Some mosquito and bug repellents available in the market are basically ineffective. Here is a list of insect repellents, which the American Institute of Pediatrics has found to be ineffective:
- Wristbands: Wristbands are often soaked in chemical-based insect repellents and sold as effective insect repellents.
- Ultrasonic devices: These devices claim to emit sound waves of ultrasonic frequencies that act as an ultrasonic repellent and can keep insects at bay.
- Backyard bug zappers: It looks like an electronic lantern with a bright luminescent bulb at the center. When the insect approaches the bulb, it is zapped by the external metal mesh that is electrically charged. Contrary to their claim of being an insect repellent, they actually end-up attracting more insects to your house.
- Bird or bat houses: Many species of birds and bats are insectivores, which means that they eat only insects. While this may sound an eco-friendly solution, there is very little credibility attached to using birds and bats around human habitats to prevent insect infestation.
- Garlic or vitamin B1 consumed orally: Another colloquial mosquito repellent hack that has little scientific backing.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why do mosquitoes bite babies more?
Babies may be oblivious to mosquitos’ bites, unlike adults, and may not know the strategies to push them away. This might make them more susceptible to the bites of mosquitoes.
2. Can babies get sick from mosquito bites?
Mosquitoes are vectors and may carry pathogens causing malaria, dengue, and the West Nile virus. These conditions could make a baby sick (13). Even if the mosquitos do not carry pathogens, their bites could lead to irritation, rashes, and swelling.
3. Is coconut oil good for mosquito bites?
A study conducted by USDA has stated that coconut oil could be a natural repellent for mosquitos (14). The fatty acids in coconut oil and its derivatives may work as a safe repellent for babies.
Mosquitos are known vectors for many diseases, and it is essential to protect babies from mosquito bites. You may use a mosquito repellent for babies but check for allergies first. Coils and sprays are not suitable for babies’ health, while liquid vaporizers should be used with caution. Fabric roll-ons and some lotions may be safe, depending on their ingredients. Home remedies such as lavender oil and citronella oil can be diluted with a suitable medium before use, but their effectiveness may vary. Use mosquito nets and secure possible entry points at peak hours of mosquito activity during the day.
Infographic: Mosquito Repellent Plants
Selecting the right plants for your garden or indoors can be a great way to keep mosquitoes away. It is also an earth-friendly and natural way of pest control. Have a look at the infographic below to know which plants can keep mosquitoes away.
- Physical barriers such as mosquito nets and bats are the safe forms of mosquito repellent for babies.
- Mosquito coils and repellent sprays should be avoided for babies due to the potential emission of toxic fumes.
- Before using any mosquito repellent on a baby, it’s important to read and follow the instructions and safety information provided with the product.
- Repellent should not be applied to a baby’s face, palms, open wounds, or cuts.
- If a baby shows signs of an allergic reaction to a repellent, its usage should be stopped immediately.
- Wristbands, ultrasonic devices, backyard bug zappers, and bird or bat houses are considered ineffective methods of mosquito repellent.
Bugs can be a menace, more so if you have a baby at home. Safeguard your home and baby from pesky bugs by discovering safe and effective repellent options in this enlightening video.
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- C. Sinha et al.; (2004); Mosquito repellant (pyrethroid-based) induced dysfunction of blood-brain barrier permeability in developing brain.
- J. Fagin et al.; (1980); Carbon monoxide poisoning secondary to inhaling methylene chloride.
- Hazardous substances fact sheet – Kerosene.
- West Nile Virus – Prevention.
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- Treated mosquito nets are safe and effective.
- Mosquito bite;
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- Gideon Koren et al.; (2003); DEET-based insect repellents: safety implications for children and pregnant and lactating women.
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