Bug off: Protect your family from insect bites this summer

Summertime calls for bathing suits, beach volleyball and, of course, bug spray. Whether you’re camping in the woods or simply gardening in your backyard, chances are that you’re going to bump into a mosquito or tick. But with the right protection, these pesky insects don’t have to ruin your outdoor fun.

Bug repellant made with the chemical DEET is one of the most common and sure-fire ways to deter mosquitos and ticks. If you go this route, make sure that the repellant contains at least 20 percent DEET. That way you’ll have bite-free bliss for about four hours. If you’re using a product with DEET on a child, WebMD recommends that instead of spraying it on them, you apply the product on your hands first and then rub it on the child’s skin. This way, you’ll be able to avoid getting it in your child’s eyes and mouth. WebMD also instructs that you only use products containing DEET on children two months of age or older (younger than that and their skin is too thin to block the chemical from being absorbed into their body). Finally, do not apply a DEET product to a child’s skin more than once a day, regardless of strength.

But while DEET is effective, it’s also controversial. The Environmental Protection Agency has said the use of DEET as a bug repellant is completely safe, but its use still makes some people nervous. If you would rather stay away from DEET because you’re worried about the toxicity of the chemicals, there are natural repellants like oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) and cinnamon leaf oil. A note though: Children under three years old should not use OLE because of possible skin irritation.

To get the most out of your repellant, apply it not only to exposed skin but to strategic parts of your clothing, like the tops of your boots, pant leg cuffs and waistband. You can also dress specifically to avoid bug bites. Cover exposed skin by wearing long-sleeves, long pants, hats and closed-toed shoes. You should also be sure to tuck your shirts into your pants and your pant legs into your socks. If you want to avoid spraying repellant, consider wearing permethrin-treated clothing, which remains protective after multiple washings.

Photo credit: B Rosen

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