Q. I see lots of DEET-free mosquito repellents in stores. Are sprays with DEET unsafe?
A. No. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), repellents that contain DEET are safe for children over 2 months when used according to package directions. They're actually the most effective against mosquitoes and work against other insects, like ticks.The higher the percentage in a spray, the longer it lasts; 10 percent gives about two hours of protection, while 30 percent — the highest considered safe for children — gives closer to five hours. It should be applied only once a day, so don't use products that combine it with sunscreen (which should be reapplied often).
The AAP also touts some DEET-free repellents, but none have been shown to fend off ticks. They include:
Picaridin, which is safe for kids over 2 months and thought to work as well as DEET against mosquitoes.
Lemon eucalyptus oil, though it's only been shown to be safe for children over 3. It is about as effective as a 15 percent concentration of DEET.
2 percent soybean oil, which protects skin as well as lemon eucalyptus oil.
Whatever you use, apply it by hand; don't spray it on your child's face. It's rare, but if he gets a rash or other symptoms (vomiting, trouble breathing) wash it off and call your doctor or local poison control center.