Yes, you can avoid mosquitoes without using DEET

I got my first mosquito bite of the year yesterday, so I knew it was time to get out the bug spray and post a new version of this diary.

Unfortunately, many public health authorities still recommend using insect repellents containing DEET. Having researched this issue a few years ago after my older son was born, I would not recommend DEET for anyone, especially children or adults living in a household with children.

The Environmental Protection Agency does not permit DEET products to be labeled “child safe” and requires labels directing parents not to allow children to handle the product. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Environmental Protection Agency both recommend precautions when applying DEET to children, such as washing skin treated with DEET as well as treated clothing when children return inside. Few families find it practical to bathe their children and wash their clothing every time they come in from outside during the summer.

Kids Health for Parents, a web site published by the Nemours Foundation, recommends that repellents containing DEET be used “sparingly” on children between the ages of 2 and 12 and not put on their faces or hands, because children so frequently put their hands in their mouths.

The Lyme Disease Foundation has this advice for keeping ticks away: “On skin, use a repellent containing DEET. But don’t overdo it. Too much bug spray can cause breathing difficulty, especially in children.”

In any event, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found that “repellents containing the ingredient picaridin or the oil of lemon eucalyptus can protect people against mosquitoes as well as repellents containing the chemical DEET.”

Grist reviewed several DEET-free alternatives last summer. The Daily Green listed a few more DEET-free insect repellents here.

I’ve tried several of the products mentioned in those pieces. We mostly use Buzz Away, but other DEET-free brands seem to work well too. The main difference between them and DEET is that you have to reapply the natural repellents more frequently, about every one to two hours. Usually that’s no problem for me, because I only need it when I walk the dog or take the kids to the park for an hour or two.

Share your tips for beating the mosquitoes in this thread.

UPDATE: I got an e-mail from an avid gardener who swears by generic-brand listerine in a spray bottle. Reapply every hour or two, she says.

SECOND UPDATE: At Mother Talkers, Jenniferfree2bme posted a great tip about home-made spray using catnip oil.

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