REPELLENT AND CHILDREN’S HEALTH
It’s that time of year again; mosquito season. Now you
must ask yourself: suffer the irritating itching left behind after a mosquito
has paid you a visit, or slather yourself with a dizzying array of chemicals
and concoctions, some of whose health effects are completely unknown? Perhaps
you can avoid either alternative. Here are some facts to help you decide…….
Here’s a list of tips to avoid using repellents
standing water in low spots, ditches, gutters and similar areas.
weekly or remove receptacles that collect rainwater (bird baths, old
netting and tight screens can provide mosquito-free areas.
mosquitoes are attracted to lights. Reduce unnecessary lighting to make
yards less attractive.
zappers" do not reduce mosquito landing or biting. They attract and
kill many insects but few are mosquitoes that attack humans. Many of the
insects killed are beneficial because they feed on Garden pests.
newly created "Mosquito Magnet", on the other hand, has been shown
to be safe and effective.
clothing is less attractive to adult mosquitoes. Tightly woven fabrics
give some protection against biting.
wearing scented personal care products (perfumes, lotions, shampoo, etc.)
and clothing that is scented from detergents and dryer sheets.
are many botanically based repellents available for consumers, and although
they don’t last as long as conventional repellents that contain DEET, studies
show many of them to be just as effective for shorter periods of time.1
These natural repellent products contain plant-based oils, such as oil of
geranium, linseed oil, cedar, citronella, clove, peppermint, lemongrass, eucalyptus,
or soy (research shows eucalyptus and soy based formulas to be most effective.)
Even though they are “natural”, caution should be taken with these products
as they can cause allergic reactions, skin and respiratory irritation, and
other adverse health effects.
To get the most out of
natural repellents, you should follow these directions:
- Reapply often (Using only as much as is recommended).
Most plant-based repellents rely on fragrance to repel insects.
- Keep natural repellents out of eyes and mouths.
- Don't apply repellents to children's hands
since they tend to stick them in their mouths.
- Don't apply over cuts or wounds.
- Apply only to exposed skin and clothing.
- Don't use sprays directly
on face. Spray first on hands for application and then wash hands
DEET is the most widely used and considered the
most effective mosquito repellent, but there is concern about undesirable side
effects on young children and others who might be unusually sensitive to this
chemical. Side effects
rashes, hives, muscle spasms, headache, irritability, confusion and nausea.2
Seizures, encephalopathy, and even death have been associated
mostly with heavy use to avoid transmission of Lyme disease by ticks.2
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends that great caution should be
taken when using DEET on children. Follow these guidelines:
- Insect repellents
should be used sparingly on children and should not be used at all on
children under the age of 2.
- Use products with
concentrations less than 20%. (The American Academy of Pediatrics
recommends concentrations less than 10 percent for children under 6.)
- Apply only to
exposed skin and clothing, not to skin under clothes.
- Avoid frequent
reapplication or skin saturation; use as little repellent as possible.
Saturation will not necessarily improve the repellent’s efficacy.
- Do not apply to
cuts, wounds or irritated skin.
- Keep away from
eyes and mouth.
- Do not apply to
hands of young children.
- Do not spray
directly over face.
- Avoid breathing
DEET aerosol sprays.
- Wash off
immediately after use.
- Pregnant women
should avoid the use of DEET in their first trimester. DEET can cross the
placenta and expose babies in the womb.
- Avoid combination sunscreen/insect repellent
creams that contain DEET. Since sunscreens must be applied frequently and
generously, use of combination formulas may lead to unnecessary
overexposure to DEET.
Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides recommends avoiding
purchasing any product unless all ingredients are identified. If the label
lists “inert” ingredients or doesn’t identify all ingredients, choose another
Permethrin has come under question for use on humans as an insect repellent.
The EPA has classified it as a carcinogen and it is considered acutely toxic.
Never apply permethrin directly to skin. If you choose to use it, apply it only
to clothing. Apply it to clothing in a well- ventilated area, allow 2 hours
drying time, and then put on clothes.
1. Consumers Union. 2000. Buzz Off! Consumer Reports (June): 14-17.
2. Reigart, J.R., and J.R. Roberts. 1999. Recognition and management of
pesticide poisonings. Washington, D.C: U.S. EPA. Office of Prevention,
Pesticides, and Toxic Substances. pp. 80-81.
“If you think
you are too small to be effective, you have never been in the dark with a
Minnesota Children’s Health Environmental Coalition www.checnet.org/mnchec