Do your kids get eaten alive by mosquitoes? Do you live in a tick-endemic area? Or are you planning travel to a land of mosquitoes and tropical diseases on your summer vacation? All three are a resounding “yes” for me – so I have been getting ready for battle. One of the worst things about summer is worrying about all those summer bugs that like to feast on our flesh. But I’m here to offer some solutions and tips you may not have considered.
I have a six-month old and four-year old as of this writing so that’s one too delicate for many standard bug sprays and one that gets into everything!
(Note: I’m sure there are many non-toxic home remedies to prevent bug bites; I know because I have tried them all, to little or no avail. This article is for people who need more serious chemical protection.)
Tip 1: Pre-treat clothes with Permethrin
This is a great discovery because Permethrin is safe for adults, kids, and even infants. Permethrin spray treats your clothing with mosquito and tick repellent. It’s odorless when dry, and lasts through 6 washes. You can buy it on Amazon or REI – make sure you get the one that says it’s for “clothing and gear.”
To apply, go to an outdoor area then saturate the clothing with the spray and let it dry fully, then it’s ready to go. Permethrin-treated clothes repel mosquitoes and can even kill ticks.
Tip 2: Cover up
Since my son has such an affinity for mosquito bites, I have him wear long pants (treated with Permethrin!) if there is a risk of bug bites. I buy soft cotton with cool patterns, and then ask his grandma or caregiver to sew him some super simple pants with an elastic waist and elastic cuffs. (Here is a tutorial on how to make easy kid pants – for a hot area, I would use cotton and not a t-shirt.) Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors, so I like to look for white or light colored fabrics. Since the pants are patterned, I pair them with light-colored plain tees and long sleeved tees from Primary. The long-sleeve pajama tops look like “normal” shirts, are super comfy, and have tight sleeves which help keep mosquitoes out.
Tip 3: Protect all day
We tend to think of mosquitoes that carry disease as being most active at dusk, but there are some types of mosquitoes that are active during the day–including the ones that carry Zika virus and Dengue fever. Lest you think those are exotic tropical diseases, both have been found in the US this year. If you or your kids are susceptible to bites, think about protecting 24 hours a day.
Tip 4: Sunscreen first
Insect repellent is inactivated somewhat by sunscreen if put on in the wrong order. Put sunscreen on first and let it dry or soak in for about 5-10 minutes before applying insect repellent on top. If you need to reapply sunscreen, you need to reapply repellent on top every time. And don’t be tempted by sunscreen/repellent combo creams: they don’t work as well on either count.
Tip 5: Wipes for the win
Putting insect repellent creams or sprays on skin can be a little off-putting. I like individually packaged, single use wipes – so much easier to apply on a squirmy kid, less smelly, and you can always have a few in your bag without risk of leaking or spilling. Something like Ben’s 30% DEET wipes works well for about 8 hours protecting 2 people (more if your people are little).
Tip 6: Picaridin vs. DEET
While DEET reigns as the king of repellents, there are other alternatives. Picaridin is a repellent and DEET alternative that is commonly used in Europe. It is harder to find, because it only began to be sold in the US in 2005, but it offers similar protective effectiveness as DEET but with less odor and a less greasy feeling. Picaridin comes in lotion, spray, and wipes.
Tip 7: Percent –> Protection Time
You may have noticed that repellents say things like “20% DEET” or “10% Picaridin.” The larger the percent, the longer it lasts. If you are going out for 1-2 hours, then you can use a lower concentration of the active repellent ingredient – like 10%. For protection that lasts 6-8 hours, you will need 30% active ingredient.
In case you are wondering, kids should stick with DEET levels of 30% or less. (Levels over 30% haven’t actually been found to be that much more effective anyway, so they are not missing out.) The CDC has approved up to 30% DEET and Picaridin for infants over 2 months.
Tip 8: Skip the hands
When applying repellent to infants or toddlers, do not put it on their hands – while safe for skin, you don’t want baby to be able to ingest the repellent. If you are breastfeeding, avoid putting repellent on your breast area so the baby can’t get it on hands or mouth while nursing. Some moms swear by Avon Skin-So-Soft as a nontoxic repellent for mom to wear while holding baby, to keep bugs at bay without putting anything on baby or exposing baby to active ingredients in repellent.
Be ready to face off against mosquitoes and ticks with this stuff:
- Permethrin spray treats your clothing
- Ben’s 30% DEET wipes
- Picaridin lotion and wipes.
- Long-sleeve pajama tops to cover skin
NOTE: If you are really worried about Zika, Dengue fever, Malaria, or scary tick-borne illnesses check with your pediatrician. Karen is an experienced traveler and parent, but she is not a doctor.
[All photos by Karen Merzenich; all rights reserved]