Q. Ever since the weather warmed up, mosquitoes have been eating my family alive! Are repellents made with DEET safe for my kids? Do you know of any natural repellents that work?
A. Rest assured, DEET has been used in insect repellents for decades and, when applied as directed, has a solid safety record in adults and children alike. (DEET shouldn't be used on infants under 2 months.) Nothing beats it for keeping away mosquitoes—welcome news considering these insects can transmit illnesses such as West Nile virus.
Still, with manmade chemicals in general I think it's best to use the smallest effective amount. Look for a repellent containing 10 percent DEET. Products with higher concentrations aren't necessarily better at repelling pests; they just last longer. There are some products I suggest avoiding altogether: those that combine DEET with sunscreen. These seemingly convenient formulas can be risky because insect repellent generally doesn't need to be reapplied as often as sunscreen, and going overboard on DEET can increase the risk of skin irritation. separate products instead, applying sunscreen first.
As for natural mosquito repellents, you could try a product containing oil of lemon eucalyptus, also known as PMD. In recent studies involving mosquitoes, PMD repellents were on par with those containing low concentrations of DEET. (Just note that unlike DEET, PMD is not proven to repel ticks.)
A nationally recognized expert on both healthy housing and teen health, Meagan T. Sandel, M.D., has been a practicing pediatrician at Boston Medical Center and Children's Hospital for more than 10 years.