Insect Repellents | Illinois Poison Center 

Insect Repellents

Jul 22, 2019
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Why do Mosquitoes Bite Humans?

  • Mosquitoes bite people because they need the protein found in blood to help develop their eggs.  They are attracted to the moisture, warmth, carbon dioxide and odor produced by humans. The insect will readily find and bite any area of untreated skin. N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (DEET) blocks the receptors on mosquitoes’ antennae that are attracted to these traits, reducing the risk of being bitten. Repellents do not kill mosquitoes.

What active ingredient should I be looking for in an insect repellent?

  • Experts from the Illinois Poison Center (IPC) and the CDC advise using an insect repellent containing DEET or Picaridin (KBR 3023). 

How do I know which percentage of the active ingredient to use?

  • Generally speaking, the higher the concentration of active ingredient, the longer it provides protection. For example, a 5% DEET product will provide approximately 90 minutes of protection; a 24% product can provide 5 to 6 hours of protection.
  • Current guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics allow for using insect repellent with up to 30 percent DEET concentration on infants as young as 2 months of age. Covering the arms and legs of your children is another way to protect them from mosquito bites.
  • Do not use DEET-containing products in children younger than 2 months of age. Instead, cover your baby's carriage or playpen with mosquito netting when outside.

What are the side effects of too much DEET?

  • When applied excessively (such as over-saturating the skin), insect repellents with high concentrations of DEET have been associated with neurological symptoms, such as coma, seizures, movement disorders and various diseases of the brain.

 Choosing and applying repellent

  • Read and follow all directions and precautions on the product label.
  • Verify that the repellent is EPA approved. It should say so on the label.
  • Higher concentrations of repellent with DEET provide longer periods of protection, but not more effective protection.
  • Use just enough repellent to lightly cover skin. It is not necessary to saturate the skin.
  • Repellents should be applied only to exposed skin or clothing or both. Do not apply repellents underneath clothing.
  • To apply a repellent to face, dispense it into palms, rub hands together and apply a thin layer to face, avoiding contact with the eyes and mouth.
  • Do not allow young children to apply insect repellent to themselves; have an adult do it for them.
  • Do not apply a repellent to childrens’ hands. Children are likely to put their hands in their mouths or rub their eyes.
  • After applying, wipe or wash the repellent from palms to prevent inadvertent contact with eyes, mouth or genitals.
  • Never use repellents over cuts, wounds or skin that is inflamed, irritated or affected by eczema.
  • Take care not to inhale aerosol sprays, or let it drift into eyes.
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas or near food.
  • When finished working or playing outside, immediately wash treated areas with soap and water.  Change and wash clothes before wearing again. 
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