Choosing a safe and effective insect repellent for your children is no easy task, given their sensitive skin. Not surprisingly, some parents are turning their backs on DEET-based products in favor of plant-based insect repellents. Not all natural ingredients are safe for children, toddlers and babies, however.
As with all lemon eucalyptus oil products, our Best Reviewed natural repellent, Repel Lemon Eucalyptus (Est. $9 for 4 oz.) can't be used for kids under 3; another option for toddlers and kids, Buzz Away Extreme (Est. $10 for 4 oz.) can't be used on children under 1. For babies and toddlers, you're better off with a child-safe alternative like Bite Blocker Organic Xtreme Insect Spray (Est. $9 for 6.7 oz.) , Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent, Off! FamilyCare Insect Repellent Smooth and Dry (Est. $5 for 4 oz.) or California Baby Natural Bug Blend Bug Repellent (Est. $17 for 6.5 oz.)
If you want a natural insect repellent for kids under the age of 3, a soybean oil-based insect repellent like Bite Blocker Organic Xtreme Insect Spray is a great option and our Best Reviewed pick. It's safe for kids of all ages (though you should still check with your doctor to use on infants) and contains 3 percent soybean oil and 6 percent geranium oil. The manufacturer claims it protects against mosquitoes and flies for up to eight hours and ticks for two hours, but adds that it should be reapplied every three and a half hours for maximum effectiveness.
One professional review found it to repel Culex mosquitoes (the most widely distributed mosquito in the world) and ticks for at least eight hours, but Aedes mosquitoes (originally found in tropical and subtropical climates) started biting after three hours. The spray (it also comes in wipes) is waterproof and sweat-proof.
Burt's Bees Herbal Insect Repellent, which blends soybean oil, citronella oil and six other oils, is one of the least effective in a test by ConsumerReports.org, scoring just 24 out of 100. It repelled Aedes mosquitoes for only one hour and ticks for two. One plus: It was the least apt to damage materials it came in contact with. California Baby Natural Bug Blend works on kids 2 months and older, but consumers say it requires constant reapplication in bug-infested areas.
Baby Natural Bug Blend is praised for its light, quick-drying formula. Though users say Burt's Bees' formula is greasy and needs to be rubbed in, it gets the best reviews for its neutral scent. Bite Blocker gets mixed reviews on its scent, which is typical for insect repellents, but overall experts and users are satisfied with its results making it our best reviewed pick.
Finally, for those comfortable using a DEET-based formula -- which experts say is safe in concentrations of up to 30 percent on kids two months and older -- Off! FamilyCare Smooth and Dry contains 15 percent DEET but proved to be as effective as repellents with higher concentrations in one professional review. Testers describe the odor as fruity and say it dries quickly.