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 In Ask an Expert, Pediatrics, Pulse Blog

Q: How effective are insect repellents that don’t contain DEET?

DEET is considered the gold standard against biting insects. It was developed by the U.S. Army to protect soldiers in insect-infested areas and the general public has used it since the 1950s. While the intense chemical smell tends to make people wary, researchers believe it is safe when used as directed.

However, it’s not the only option on the market. Picaridin, modeled after a molecule found in pepper plants, is also recommended by the CDC. It performs as well as DEET—and may even repel bugs longer— and is considered safe and effective.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is another CDC-approved option, however it should not be used on children under the age of 3. It also tends to provide a smaller window of protection—about two hours.

Finally, products containing 2 percent soybean oil are another CDC-approved option. They provide one to four hours of protection and are safe to use on infants and kids.

Mosquitos and other insects can spread disease and their bites can be uncomfortable. If your family is going to be out hiking or enjoying a campfire, it’s a good idea to protect their skin. Most insect repellants are safe to use on children 2 months old and up.

Other ways to prevent you and your kids from becoming a mosquito’s snack? Avoid dressing in bright colors or flowery prints. Forego scented soaps and perfumes. And when insects are more prevalent, choose long pants and a lightweight, long-sleeve shirt.

—Calvin Chen, MD

Dr. Calvin Chen is a pediatrician at Vancouver Clinic. He believes in offering the best medical advice to families while keeping patients’ unique needs in mind.