DEET for Babies?

We have a great pediatrician.  I’m so happy with how through he is, how well he listens, and how seriously he takes my son.  Having said that, I was shocked at the advice we got at our last visit.

He was advising us on proper outdoor summer care for our baby.  He recommended sunscreen to prevent sunburn and DEET for insect repellent.  I said, “unhuh, okay.”  He said that we should just use a tiny amount of the really strong stuff rather than spraying him all over with the “family” DEET.  I said, “oh, okay.”  And then he said that the herbal insect repellents don’t work nearly as well.  And I said, “oh, okay.”

In my defense, I think I was so shocked to hear him recommend DEET for a baby that I didn’t know what to say.  I’ve been told by people who are not really very “naturally minded” that I should never use DEET, and he was telling me to use it on my baby?!?  But as he was saying it (and as I was saying, “okay, doctor”) I knew I would not use DEET on Max no matter what he said.  I really need to work on this.  I usually trust doctors and I don’t know how to question them.  But with my son in the condition he is, I really need to know why they recommend what they recommend in any situation.  “why do we need this test?  What will it show?  And why is it important to know one way or the other? How is knowing going to change his care plan?” (This is important for every parent, by the way.  Doctors should explain things much better than they do, and give alternative treatments.  Unfortunately, most of them aren’t even aware of alternative treatments because the drug companies give them lots of money to promote their products.  But that’s beside the point!)

So when the doctor told me to put DEET on my baby I just said, “okay doctor.”  When I should have said, “Really? I’ve heard that DEET isn’t advised for anyone, and I would think that would apply especially to babies.”  But in my defense, I wasn’t educated about the alternatives.  I knew that herbal insect repellents don’t work very well, but I didn’t know what would.

So when we got home I talked it over with my husband a little bit.  Mosquito bites are uncomfortable, but not really life threatening (at least in our area, West Nile is not an issue).  And you can keep from getting a lot of bites if you are careful and smart about when you are out.  The more serious concern would be ticks and contracting Lyme disease. So I did some research.

I found an article by an herbalist about Lyme Disease (2009 Pathways Magazine).  Apparently, it is easily treated with an antibiotic in many cases.  There are, however, cases that hang around after multiple series of treatments.  These are cases where the tick passes a viral infection in addition to the common bacteria associated with Lyme Disease.  The antibiotics treat the bacteria, but the viral infection continues to cause symptoms.  So the risk relates to the cases where there is both a bacteria and viral infection.  Andrea Candee (author of the article) recommends Eucalyptus essential oil for preventing tick bites.  Now, granted, she is not a doctor (she’s an herbalist!).  Her recommendation hasn’t been peer reviewed or clinically tested, but she’s a mother who spends a lot of time outside in “tick territory,” so I trust her experience.  Here are her dosage recommendations:

16 oz. of water

1 oz. eucalyptus essential oil

Put it in a spray bottle and spray on skin before spending time outside – stays potent for several months

For longer Protection:

10 drops eucalypts

½ oz. almond or sunflower seed oil

Apply to skin and clothing.

So that’s what I will be trying out this summer for insect repellent.  Nothing is a guarantee against insect bites (just like a vaccine won’t guarantee you won’t get a disease).  We still have to be smart.  We will look Max over – head to toe – if we are going to be somewhere there is a large tick population.  We will try to keep him inside during the really buggy time of the night.  We do want to protect him.  We just don’t want to do it with harsh chemicals.

3 thoughts on “DEET for Babies?

  1. judi anderson says:

    I work for the DEET Education Program. We suggest that you use an insect repellent containing one of five active ingredients registered by the EPA: DEET, picaridin, IR3535 or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (this comes in an aerosol can and is NOT a homemade concoction). Keep in mind that you can use a DEET-based product with up to a 30% concentration on infants as young as two months of age. (This guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics). OLE should not be used on children younger than 3 YEARS of age. EPA-registered products have been tested for safety and efficacy. For mosquitoes, use a concentration based on the amount of time you will be outside. For 90 minutes or so,use a 5-7% product. For ticks, you must use a DEET-based product with a concentration of at least 20%. This guidance comes from the CDC. You are welcome to call me at 800-789-3300 for more details. Using essential oils is not advised because they do not work (see Consumer Reports and many other sources) and because many people have serious skin rashes associated with their use. They have also not been tested for safety and efficacy. As a conscientious mother, you owe it to your child to be knowledgeable…but we urge you to consider following what medical professionals suggest. I do not agree, however, with your pediatrician’s recommendation to use a higher concentration product. Concentration determines the length of time a registered product will provide protection. Higher concentrations do not work better than lower ones–only LONGER. Always follow label instructions. See for videos showing proper application on children.

    • I’m a little confused. Did you say safe for infants over two months and then not to be used on infants under 3 years? There are a lot of things I don’t exactly agree with the CDC or the general medical community on, so that’s not necessarily convincing to me. Just because something hasn’t been clinically tested doesn’t mean it’s dangerous. I understand that as a parent I am responsible for my child’s safety, and for that reason I have a right to make my own decisions. PS note that essential oils are DILUTED before use on skin. This reduces risk of a reaction, however you should always test a small area first – as with any topical treatment.

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