Insect Repellent Use & Safety
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- Which mosquito repellents work best?
- How often should repellent be reapplied?
- What precautions should I follow when using repellents?
- Can insect repellents be used on children?
CDC recommends the use of products containing active ingredients which have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as repellents applied to skin and clothing.
Of the products registered with the EPA, those containing DEET, picaridin, IR3535, and some oil of lemon eucalyptus and para-menthane-diol products provide longer-lasting protection.
EPA registration means that EPA does not expect the product to cause adverse effects to human health or the environment when used according to the label.
Repellents containing a higher percentage of the active ingredient typically provide longer-lasting protection. Regardless of what product you use, if you start to get mosquito bites, reapply the repellent according to the label instructions.
Always follow the recommendations appearing on the product label. EPA recommends the following when using insect repellents:
- Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing (as directed on the product label). Do not apply repellents under your clothing.
- Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
- Do not apply to eyes or mouth, and apply sparingly around ears. When using repellent sprays, do not spray directly on your face—spray on your hands first and then apply to your face.
- Do not allow children to handle or spray the product. When using on children, apply to your own hands first and then put it on the child. Avoid applying repellent to children’s hands because children frequently put their hands in their eyes and mouths.
- Use just enough repellent to cover exposed skin and/or clothing. Heavy application does not give you better or longer lasting protection.
- After returning indoors, wash treated skin with soap and water or bathe. This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or on consecutive days.
- If you (or your child) get a rash or other reaction from a repellent, stop using the repellent, wash the repellent off with mild soap and water, and call a local poison control center for further guidance. If you go to a doctor, it might be helpful to take the repellent with you.
Yes. Most products can be used on children. Products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus should not to be used on children under the age of three years. EPA does not recommend any additional precautions for using registered repellents on children other than those listed above.
Yes. EPA does not recommend any additional precautions for repellent use by pregnant or nursing women.
Yes. People can, and should, use both a sunscreen and an insect repellent when they are outdoors. Follow the instructions on the package for proper application of each product. In general, the recommendation is to apply sunscreen first, followed by repellent.
It is not recommended to use a single product that combines insect repellent containing DEET and sunscreen. Repellent usually does not need to be reapplied as often as sunscreen. There are not specific recommendations for products that combine other active ingredients and sunscreen. Always follow the instructions on the label of whatever product you are using.
Permethrin is a repellent and insecticide. Certain products containing permethrin are recommended for use on clothing, shoes, bed nets, and camping gear. Permethrin-treated products repel and kill ticks, mosquitoes, and other arthropods. These products continue to repel and kill insects after several washings. Permethrin should be reapplied following the label instructions.
- Page last reviewed: March 31, 2015
- Page last updated: March 31, 2015
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