Using Insect Repellent & Sunscreen in Children

Because they often spend a lot of time outdoors, children are at increased risk for health issues related to insects and to sun exposure. These risks include painful, itchy insect bites that can become infected and can spread disease (e.g., Lyme disease, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis [EEE], western equine encephalitis [WEE], St. Louis encephalitis [SLE], Rocky Mountain spotted fever), and sun damage (e.g., sunburn) that increases the risk for skin cancer. When used as directed, insect repellents and sunscreens can help reduce these health risks.

Whenever possible, other measures, such as mosquito netting, screens, wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats, and avoiding sun exposure between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. should be used to reduce the risk for insect bites and sun damage in children.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates the ingredients in insect repellents, and health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), provide recommendations regarding the use of insect repellents and sunscreens in children.

Before using insect repellents or sunscreens in children, parents and caregivers should read the label carefully and should speak with a qualified health care provider. Generally, sunscreen should not be used in babies under 6 months of age and insect repellent that contains DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) should not be used in children under the age of 2.

Some insect repellents are to be used on the skin and some types are meant to be applied to clothing only—read labels carefully. Use sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) 15 or 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Apply sunscreen 20–30 minutes before going out into the sun and re-apply it frequently (about every 2 hours) throughout the day.

Keep insect repellents and sunscreens out of the reach of children and do not allow children to apply these products themselves. An adult should apply the product to his or her hands and use his or her hands to apply it to the child. Avoid getting insect repellent or sunscreen on the child's hands, and do not apply it near the eyes or mouth or over cuts. Use soap and water to wash off insect repellent and sunscreen as soon as possible after outside activity.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 27 Aug 2008

Last Modified: 08 Sep 2015