Sunscreen and Insect Repellent

This is a summary of the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (“AAP”), and other relevant groups and agencies, regarding sunscreen and insect repellent. Consult their websites, which are linked below, for additional information.

Sunscreen

  • Generally, it is okay to apply sunscreen to infants 6 months and older. Use extra care applying sunscreen near the eyes. If your baby rubs the sunscreen in his or her eyes use a damp cloth to clean his or her eyes and hands.
  • For infants less than 6 months of age, it is better to use other forms of protection from ultraviolet (UV) rays if you can. Young infants’ skin is less mature and more sensitive. They have a higher surface-area to body-weight ratio making their exposure to any chemicals in sunscreen relatively greater. Keep young infants out of direct sunlight. Use shade, umbrellas, stroller canopies, clothing, hats, and other devices to protect them.
  • If protective clothing and shade are unavailable for young infants less than 6 months of age, it is usually better to use a small amount of sunscreen on small areas of the body rather than risk unprotected UV exposure. You may want to test your infant’s skin sensitivity by putting a small amount on the inner wrist first. If possible, discuss using sunscreen on young infants with your pediatrician before you do so.
  • For all children, use a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen which protects against UVA and UVB rays.
  • For most people, a SPF 15 or 30 (up to 50) sunscreen is fine. There is insufficient evidence to conclude whether SPF ratings higher than 50 provide increased protection but, thus far, most studies suggest that SPFs above 50 provide little, if any, additional protection.
  • If sunscreen irritates your child’s skin, try a different brand or sunscreen with inorganic filters like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
  • If possible, avoid sunscreens containing oxybenzone because of possible mild hormonal properties.
  • If possible, avoid using sunscreens that include insect repellant because sunscreen must usually be reapplied more regularly (usually at least once every 2 hours) than insect repellant. Also, young children may lick their hands or put them in their mouths.
  • Children with skin conditions or sensitive skin may need special care as directed by a pediatrician or dermatologist.
  • Do not assume that just because your child is wearing sunscreen he or she is protected. Be alert for signs of sunburn and dehydration.

Insect Repellent – General Recommendations & Information

  • Carefully read and follow a product’s instructions. Some products are meant to be applied only to clothing or equipment, while other products may be applied to the skin.
  • Insect repellents usually protect against biting insects (e.g., mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, etc.) but not against stinging insects (e.g., bees, wasps, etc.).
  • The AAP recommends that insect repellents not be used on children younger than 2 months of age. However, depending on the circumstances, environment, and risk of insect borne disease there may be times when it is preferable to use insect repellent.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”) and the Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) recommend that products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus not be used on children under 3 years of age.
  • Avoid inhaling or ingesting insect repellents. Apply them in ventilated areas to exposed skin and clothing. Bath your children and wash their clothing after they are indoors again.
  • Do not apply insect repellents directly to the face. Instead, put some on your hands and then rub it on the face (avoiding the eyes and mouth).
  • Do not apply insect repellent to children’s hands if they are still at an age when they put their hands in their mouths or lick their hands.
  • Store insect repellents out of children’s reach. Do not allow young children to apply insect repellent themselves. Supervise older children when they apply insect repellent.
  • Do not rely only upon insect repellent to protect from bites and insect borne illness. Dress appropriately, minimize outdoor activities when biting insects are most active, and teach children to stay away from stagnant pools of water, flower beds, garbage cans, etc. if biting insects are present.

Insect Repellent – Types of Repellents

Repellent Information
DEET
(N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide or diethyltoluamide)
Repels biting insects. Has been in civilian use in the U.S. since 1957. Comes in varying concentrations, usually between 10-30%. Higher concentrations typically offer longer protection. The AAP recommends that DEET products used on children contain no more than a 30% concentration.

Picaridin
(KBR 3023)
Repels mosquitoes. May repel other biting insects. Available information suggests it works about as well as DEET. Has been widely used in other countries for some time. Available in the U.S. since 2005. Fewer long-term follow-up studies are available regarding these products.

Essential Oils from Plants
(e.g., citronella, cedar, eucalyptus, soybean)
Repel biting insects. Available information suggests these products work about as well as DEET, with duration comparable to products with 10% DEET. Fewer long-term follow-up studies are available regarding these products. Some groups have requested that additional studies be done on how well these products repel ticks. Allergic reactions are rare, but can occur when using any repellent made from essential oils. It is recommended that products containing oil of lemon eucalyptus not be used on children under 3 years of age.

Permethrin Kills ticks. It is the most effective repellent product for ticks. Repels or kills other insects belonging to the arthropod family (like mosquitoes). These products are usually designed to be applied to clothing or outdoor equipment (e.g., tents or sleeping bags), not directly to skin. Permethrin is a synthetic chemical which has many uses aside from personal insect repellents (e.g., agricultural pesticide, public health mosquito control, scabies and lice treatment, pet flea/tick control). In appropriate doses, studies indicate it is safe for most mammals, including humans. However, it is highly toxic to cats and fish and products with high concentrations (45-65%) can be deadly to them. It is also toxic to beneficial insects, like bees.

Websites with Additional Information About Sunscreen and Insect Repellent