Safer Bug Sprays for Your Family

Posted by Karalynne Call on

Bug spray season is upon us! The official start to summer is here which means we’re about to spend tons of time outdoors with our family and friends. Whether you're going camping, hiking, or just to the park, you always want to make sure you are protecting your kids from the hazards that come with the summer months aka bugs. With that in mind, I’m sharing my list of safer bug sprays below. If you’re interested in more of my safe summer picks, head over to my favorites page for the full list.

Breaking Down Bug Sprays

While no bug spray is perfect, as rates of insect-borne illnesses rise, with some debilitating like Lyme Disease, it’s important to consider efficacy, as well as safety or toxicity, when selecting your bug spray. The repellent you choose also needs to take into consideration where you live or are visiting, and what diseases and insects are endemic, meaning regularly found in a certain area.

This sounds like a lot, so I want to break down a little bit further to help you understand what is going on with bug sprays and share a few of my favorites. Consider this post a tool to inform and educate you on what to look out for in bug sprays, and how to choose a bug spray brand for your family. I know finding balance can be tricky, so let’s work on it together!

Recommended Ingredients in Bug Sprays

There are 6 top ingredients in bug sprays that are recommended by EWG and are EPA-registered. Let’s break them down:

  1. DEET. While DEET has gotten a bad reputation over the years because animal studies have shown possible neurotoxicity, large human studies are inconclusive. EWG decided in 2018 that DEET is generally safe when used as directed. Keeping this in mind, aim for 10-30% concentration, and an even lower concentration for younger children. It’s important to know that concentration is a measure of how long the protection lasts, not how effective it is. Less than 10% DEET concentration offers about 1-2 hours of protection. Using a concentration of 50% or more does not offer more protection and may pose toxicity risks. 

  2. Picaridin. Picaridin is a great alternative to DEET. The EWG has found it to be as effective as DEET, without the neurotoxicity concerns found in the animal studies. Be sure to look for less than 20% concentration.

  3. IR3535. This ingredient can cause eye irritation, but poses few other safety risks. As long as you make a conscious effort to avoid eyes when applying, this is a good ingredient to go with if you choose to avoid DEET. Stick with less than 20% IR3535 concentration here too. 

  4. Undecanone. Undecanone is a relatively new repellant, and has been typically used to repel certain animals including cats, dogs, and even raccoons. Because it’s new, the side effects are unknown at this time. Additionally, it is not as effective at repelling ticks and mosquitos as the other options listed.

  5. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus does not protect against ticks, so keep that in mind if you are traveling or living in an area with a lot of ticks. For this ingredient, stay within 30-40% concentration. It’s also not recommended for children 3 and under.

  6. Para Menthane-diol. Para Menthane-diol is a synthesized version of the oil of lemon eucalyptus. Developed to be even more effective than its original form, Para Menthane-diol has low toxicity to the environment and wildlife, making it a good choice for our planet. Para Menthane-diol is not recommended for children 3 and under.

What Should I Look For When Choosing a Safe Bug Spray?

Similar to sunscreens, concentration indicates how long the repellent lasts for, not how effective it is. Concentrations higher than 50% are not more effective than lower concentrations. The CDC recommends using concentrations less than 10% in no known disease risk area. In a known disease risk area, they recommend using less than 30%. If you’re in a high risk area, I recommending asking your pediatrician what the ideal concentration is for your kids. As a reminder, you should not use bug spray on babies younger than 2 months. Additionally, concentrations over 30% should not be used on children at all.

Another thing to note, because essential oil or botanical repellents are unregulated and have varying efficacies, they are okay to use if the risk of bug-borne disease is low. In high-risk areas, however, consider using more effective repellents. As always, it is best to avoid parabens, phthalates, synthetic fragrance, or products combined with sunscreen.

Some Safer Bug Spray Recommendations

Remember that when you combine bug spray and SPF, it lowers the efficacy of both. So, if you are in the sun and around bugs, be sure to reapply both products.

Do you have a favorite bug repellent that is clean for the whole family? Let me know in the comments!

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