Best Mosquito & Bug Repellents for Kids 2023
We scoured the scientific literature, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) website, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) publications, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) database, and researched the distribution of insects and diseases around the country.
We came away with a pretty good understanding of which bug sprays and lotions are most effective against tick-borne and mosquito-borne illnesses while also maintaining sensitivity and safety for little ones. Below are the top 5 kids bug repellents we've found, followed by in-depth reviews.
|Model and Link to Amazon||Our Rating|
|#1. Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard|
|#2. Sawyer Premium Repel|
|#3. Natrapel Spray|
|#4. PROVEN Insect Repellent|
|#5. REPEL Insect & Mosquito|
The number of illnesses carried by ticks and mosquitoes seems to be rising every year, with Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE), Lyme, Zika, Malaria, Powassan, and others pervading the news and making parents anxious about protecting their babies and kids with the safest and most effective bug sprays available.
The number of insect repellent options can make for a daunting decision, ranging in ingredients, method of application, effectiveness, safety, and longevity.
And which ones work best against the insects you're most worried about? What if you're more worried about mosquitoes than ticks, or vice-versa? Does that change what you should use? Well, we did the research and testing for you! For more details on what makes for a safe and effective mosquito repellent, scroll down past the reviews.
In pulling together our list of the best mosquito repellents for babies, toddlers, and big kids, we primarily considered the safety and efficacy of product ingredients. We also considered the smells, greasiness, and ease of application.
- Top 5 Mosquito Repellents Comparison Table
- 1. Best: Avon Bug Guard
- 2. Sawyer Premium
- 3. Natrapel
- 4. PROVEN
- 5. REPEL
- 6. BuggyBands Bracelets
- 7. Buzz-Away
- 8. Babyganics Mosquito Repellent
- Ingredient Safety
- DEET Safety
- Picaridin Safety
- IR3535 Safety
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Safety
- Ingredient Effectiveness
- DEET Effectiveness
- Picaridin Effectiveness
- IR3535 Effectiveness
- Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Effectiveness
Full disclosure: Some of these bug sprays, including the Proven, Quantum, and Natrapel varieties, were sent to us as free test samples by the manufacturer.
Here are the Best Bug Repellents for Kids (2023 update)!
After growing up with an aunt who drove a pink Cadillac and tried to sell our parents Mary Kay and Avon products at every family gathering, we never thought we would end up using them ourselves! Well, fast forward 20 years and here we are, absolutely loving the Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard! This product combines an SPF 30 sunscreen with one of the most effective insect repellents on the market: IR3535. This amino-acid based repellent tricks the sensory system of mosquitoes, ticks, black flies, sand flies, gnats, no-seeums, and biting midges into thinking you're not even there. Like your own Harry Potter invisibility cloak against bugs! According to published research, IR3535 shows similar effectiveness to Picaridin at preventing bug bites, which is to say it's extremely effective. In that study, a 10% solution of IR3535 prevented mosquito bites for over 300 minutes (5 hours). The Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard formulation includes 7.5% IR3535, which extrapolates to about 225 minutes of protection (3.75 hours). Also, according to the WHO and CDC, IR3535 also maintains a very strong safety and sensitivity profile.
We have been using this product in the spring, summer, and fall seasons for over two years now, and have had great experiences. It has no strong odor other than the faint smell of sunscreen, it applies like a light sunscreen and leaves no pasty residue, and it doesn't look or feel greasy on the skin (like typically seen with Picaridin). As former users of the Sawyer repellent products, we were hesitant to make the switch, but ended up not only pleasantly surprised but also Avon's biggest fans! In our experience, it shows about the same effectiveness as the Picaridin products without the odor and greasiness, and we love that it has the added layer of sun protection. We suggest reapplying this every 2-3 hours, and be careful with an SPF 30, which might not be sufficient sun protection for your little one. See our reviews of the best sunscreen for kids to see additional options. Interested? You can check out this top-rated bug repellent here at Amazon.
Available as a pump, aerosol spray, or lotion, this Sawyer product contains one of our favorite tick and mosquito repellents, Picaridin, at a 20% concentration. This concentration is expected to be effective against both mosquitoes and ticks for about 8 hours after application. Sawyer claims up to 12 hours with this product, but we're going by the existing research in making a more reasonable claim of about 8 hours. That duration happens to match exactly what Sawyer's instructions say for reapplication time (reapply after 8 hours). That's not to say it won't work after 8 hours, but the effectiveness decreases considerably with time. This is truly an excellent tick and mosquito repellent, and is a great option for babies and toddlers over 6 months of age. There are no powerful odors, no DEET, it's less greasy than DEET, and it's effective for protecting against mosquitoes carrying Zika, EEE, West Nile Virus, Chikungunya, and Dengue, and ticks carrying Lyme Disease. It also protects very well against biting flies, gnats, chiggers, and sand flies. In our testing, we found it easy to apply with the pump-spray version, but even easier with the continuous aerosol sprayer. If you have the space to carry the larger sprayer bottle (it's 6 ounces, about the size of a hairspray bottle), we highly recommend it. We also found it initially a bit greasy, but after a few minutes of drying and absorption it became a nice soft protective layer. The odor was nearly non-existent, which is a nice contrast to some repellents with strong DEET or Lemon Eucalyptus smells.
We wore it for 4 hours during a long hike through New England woods in June, a prime time for both ticks and mosquitoes. We applied it to ourselves and two kids, ages 6 and 8. Not only did we not get any bites, but we weren't constantly annoyed by (and swatting at) buzzing insects around our heads. We found it to be very protective, and we were confident that it would have lasted even longer if we pushed into the later evening. To apply, we put it on all exposed skin: arms, legs, ankles, and necks. To put it on our faces, we sprayed it into our hands and rubbed it on to prevent accidentally inhaling it or getting it into the eyes (especially with the kids). We also sprayed it lightly onto our clothing and hair. It worked excellently, and we were very impressed with it overall. With the kids, they preferred it to the smellier options, and they slept soundly that night without any giant mosquito welts, and without me worrying that they were harboring ticks! This product usually sells for about $8-10, depending on whether you get the pump, lotion, or sprayer (we strongly prefer the sprayer!). Interested? You can check out the Sawyer Premium Insect Repellent here.
This is another great 20% Picaridin option, with very similar effectiveness to the Sawyer product. The Picaridin 20% concentration is highly effective against mosquitoes and ticks for about 8 hours before reapplication. Like the Sawyer product, they claim 12 hours of protection, but we think 8 hours is more reasonable. In our testing, we found this product to be exactly as effective as the Sawyer product. It sprayed on easily with the convenient (non aerosol) continuous sprayer, had good coverage, and protected against a ton of insects. All the same ones as the Sawyer product, of course. But it's listed below the Sawyer product for a few reasons. First, it's a bit harder to find and purchase than the Sawyer products, and tends to drop off websites such as Amazon in the peak of the summer months when you need it most. Second, the sprayer isn't as evenly-misting as the Sawyer sprayer, as it tends to have some clumping/drops that come out in addition to the mist. A bit like a spray-on sunscreen.
Third, in our opinion, there was too much perfume in it. One of the advantages of Picaridin is that it's essentially odorless, which is a nice departure from DEET. But the addition of a fragrance was unfortunate; we didn't like the smell and neither did our kids. We realize these are some small nit-picky downfalls especially considering how effective and easy it is to use. Overall, this is an excellent insect repellent that will protect you and your kids (approved for children over 2 months old) for several hours in even the densest swamps! As with the Sawyer product, to apply, we put it on all exposed skin: arms, legs, ankles, and necks. For our faces, we put it on hands first and then rubbed it onto our face. We also put a bit on our clothing and hair, and we thought that the product worked excellently. Usually sells for about $8 for a 6-ounce sprayer. Interested? You can check out the Natrapel Insect Repellent here.
PROVEN sent us a few samples of their odorless insect repellents, including a pump spray and lotion (thanks, PROVEN!). Our children didn't really like the spray because it had a alcohol-like odor, which we agreed with. That could be the ethanol denatured solvent, or the polyethylene glycol; either way, we thought the scent was a bit too strong. The lotion on the other hand is actually odorless and we think it's great! The PROVEN Insect Repellent lotion uses 20% Picaridin (using the brand name Saltidin) in an odorless formulation, claiming to provide 14 hours of protection from mosquitoes and ticks, and 8 hours of protection from a range of other biting insects (black flies, noseeums, sand flies, etc). It comes in a 2 ounce or 6 ounce tube and ends up around $2.50 per ounce for the larger size. It is made in the USA and registered with the EPA.
In our testing, we found the lotion very smooth and easy to apply. There is a faint and unidentifiable odor at first, but nothing too strong. At first, it looks like it might end up being a bit greasy, but then after about 30 seconds it absorbs very nicely into the skin. After a few minutes, there is only a faint shine remaining, no greasiness to the touch, and no discernable odor. At the beach, in the woods, and around the campfire, the PROVEN Insect Repellent proved to be one of the most effective repellents we've ever used! It prevented bites in all five of us, ranging in age from 2 to 42, in all settings. You need to be careful to apply it evenly everywhere - don't miss the ankles and the back of your neck and arms! If you do, and you reapply it every 3-4 hours, you'll love how it performs! The only con with this product is that PROVEN is not transparent about their ingredients; we searched the EPA website, the PROVEN website, and all over the internet and could not find a full ingredient list. Because we cannot be confident about the safety of the other ingredients in this lotion, we are ranking it a bit lower than its effectiveness would warrant! Interested? You can check out the Proven Odorless Insect Repellent here.
This product contains the naturally-derived Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, which is one of the few CDC-approved insect repellents approved for repelling ticks and mosquitoes and reducing the likelihood of contracting illness. This product contains 30% p-menthane-diol (PMD, from lemon eucalyptus citriodora oil), is DEET-free, and works very well against ticks and mosquitoes alike. In our own testing, we found that the smell was very strong. Not necessarily bad smelling like DEET, but a strong and noticeable lemon smell. Personally, we prefer this to the odor of DEET, and given the naturally-sourced ingredients in this repellent, we think it's an excellent option. According to REPEL, it's also free of a variety of allergens and questionable ingredients, including: fragrances, petroleum distillates, dyes, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds, bronopol, DMDM hydantoin, BHA, boric acid, triclosan, parabens, PEG, phthalates, urea, Quaternium-15, propylene glycol, butylene glycol, sulfates, soy, nuts, milk, eggs, or gluten. However, it does contain ethanol so do not apply near a source of flame, such as campfire, grill, or cigarette. The product suggests that it repels mosquitoes for up to 8 hours, though in our testing we re-applied it every 6 hours and found it work very well.
In our opinion, just about as well as a 15% DEET product. In our testing, we didn't think this worked quite as well as Picaridin-based repellents like Sawyer or Natrapel, but that was very specific to mosquitoes. If you're looking for an excellent DEET-free insect repellent for kids and adults, this is a great option for kids 3 and older. Interested? You can check out the REPEL Lemon-Eucalyptus repellent here.
BuggyBands are different from the other mosquito repellents on this list for two primary reasons. First, they are bracelets that can be wrapped around the wrists and ankles, rather than a lotion or spray. Second, they use a blend of essential oils (geraniol, lemongrass, citronella) rather than picaridin, IR3535, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. We haven't discussed geraniol oil yet: it is a terpene found in citronella oil, and is considered a moderate risk ingredient according to the Environmental Working Group. Just like citronella candles are used outdoors as an insect repellent, these bracelets have a very familiar odor (with some added lemon) and are expected to work similarly well at repelling mosquitoes. According to the manufacturer, these bracelets are effective at repelling mosquitoes for up to about 350 hours after opening the package. Note that the packaging also states that they should not be used with children under 3 years old - basically, you do not want to have these bracelets in a baby or toddler's mouth.
We tested the BuggyBands late last year and were impressed with their practicality, effectiveness, and price. Our kids loved wearing the colorful bracelets on their wrists and ankles, and they were very easy to put on and take off. We stored them in zippered baggies when not in use, which helped them maintain their effectiveness and not stink up the house! Outdoors, we think these perform about as well as picaridin or IR3535 after about 3 hours. They are best for recreational outdoor time when your child is likely to be in the sun (not in the shaded woods) and there is a mild risk of mosquito bites. In our experience, they did not work very well in the woods, shady areas, or around dusk. If you're trying to prevent bug bites on the soccer field or while you're on a walk with your child, the BuggyBands are a great option - they are easy to put on and take off for short durations, they don't leave any film on the skin that needs to be washed off, and they do a decent job at preventing bites (especially during the first day of use). Interested? You can check out the BuggyBands here.
This is the only all-natural kids bug spray on our list, and the only one that doesn't contain DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus. It contains a mix of essential oils that have some mild to moderate effectiveness in repelling mosquitoes and ticks. These include Castor Oil, Geranium Oil, Soybean Oil, Cedarwood Oil, Citronella Oil, Peppermint Oil, or Lemongrass Oil. Some of those should sound familiar, particularly Citronella, which is often used in candles for outdoor mosquito repellents. It's not highly effective as a repellent with humans, but does provide some mild to moderate protection for a limited period of time. That's basically the story behind all of the ingredients in this all-natural kid-friendly bug spray: they are of mild to moderate effectiveness, and only last for up to about 30-60 minutes. That means you'll need to use a lot more of this, a lot more frequently, in order to get similar protection that you'd get from one of the above sprays. But if you're looking for all-natural ingredients, then this is the way to go.
In our testing, we found the odor to be moderate and tolerable. Doesn't necessarily smell like a bug spray, but maybe just a mixture of essential oils. Not a great smell, but also not terrible. It's definitely not greasy, and goes on quite easily. The company claims 4 hours of protection, but in our testing we found that up to an hour seems reasonable in the woods. On the beach, you'll get away with longer times before reapplying. Within the first 30-60 minutes of application, we found that it does an impressive job against mosquitoes, ticks, and other pesky flying insects like black flies and gnats. Because it's all natural and made by a reputable company, it's one of the only insect repellents sold at Whole Foods, and that's where we initially found it. Now, you can also get it on Amazon for a similar price, which is usually under $15 for a 6 ounce pump-sprayer. Highly recommended for the parents who want a natural insect repellent for their kids, but are willing to compromise effectiveness and convenience (in terms of reapplication) a bit to get there. Interested? You can check out the Buzz Away Extreme repellent here.
This is one of several natural and organic mosquito repellents and insect repellents that have emerged on the market over the past few years. This specific one is all-natural and uses a blend of essential oils to repel mosquitoes and other insects, including soybean oil, rosemary oil, citronella oil, geranium oil, cedarwood oil, peppermint oil, and lemongrass oil. The advantage of using these oils is that they are all rated as low risk in the Environmental Working Group (EWG) database, and therefore can be used on young babies. The ratio of oils is predominantly soybean (over 95%) and then about 1% of the others. The other advantage of using essential oils is they tend to smell a little better than things like DEET or Picaridin. In our testing, we thought this spray was very oily and smelled strongest like a citronella candle, which wasn't necessarily bad but it's worth mentioning. It was definitely effective against daytime mosquitoes when freshly applied. We didn't risk it at night because it didn't seem as effective as the stronger (and CDC approved) ingredients. If you're willing to reapply frequently, this could make a nice natural mosquito repellent alternative for younger babies with limited exposure to mosquitoes or ticks. The other thing we noticed, and this is the same issue for the other popular natural and organic mosquito repellents (like the Sky Organics Mosquito Spray or Buzz Away), is that it tends to attract bees (and maybe wasps). At least one of those essential oil odors seems to be attracting bees to come investigate the smell; we didn't experience any stings, but this is a really important point for any kids with bee allergies. It's definitely not worth the risk. Overall, we think it's great that natural and organic mosquito repellent options are emerging on the market and are suitable for babies, and while this seems to be reasonably effective we don't think it's a top-pick. Interested? You can check out the Babyganics Mosquito Repellent here.
Safety and Effectiveness Considerations
Safety. The best mosquito sprays and tick repellents contain either DEET, Picaridin, or IR 3535. Some others contain Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, which is only moderately effective. According to the EWG and CDC, each of these ingredients has a slightly different safety profile. We consider each of them in turn, below. With any bug repellent, we suggest always washing it off before bedtime, and never using it for several days in a row. Any negative side effects of bug spray ingredients are assumed to be compounded with chronic exposure, and the longer you leave it on the skin, the more is absorbed into the body. This is the same issue with even the best baby lotions, which is why we are always so careful about ingredients!
DEET Safety. This ingredient has been used for over 60 years as an insect repellent, and is the single most effective mosquito and tick repellents in existence. But DEET also has a bad reputation, stemming from 1980's reports of severe side effects (encephalopathy) in children exposed to DEET. However, no evidence exists to suggest that DEET was the cause of these illnesses, and more recent research has demonstrated no severe adverse events if DEET is used as recommended. This is an important point: used as recommended. For any bug sprays, you should always follow the instructions and never over-apply. Given DEET's effectiveness, it is the #1 doctor recommended insect repellent for people visiting regions with mosquito- or tick-borne illnesses. DEET is not recommended for use in infants under 6 months of age. From 6-24 months of age, for high bug risk areas a 20-30% DEET product is suggested, with 1 application per day. From 2-12 years of age, a 20-30% DEET product is suggested, with a limit of 3 applications per day. And for teens and adults, a good upper limit is a 30-50% DEET containing product, with applications based on product instructions.
Picaridin Safety. This synthetic compound was developed in the 1980's, by Bayer, used extensively in Europe and Australia, and only recently introduced to the US market in 2005. It is marketed as highly effective and "less smelly" than DEET, and is generally considered the best DEET alternative for protecting kids against ticks and mosquitoes. In comparisons of safety risks for using DEET versus Picaridin, no differences have been found in the rates of toxicity in children or adults, which are extremely low. In general, Picaridin is less likely to irritate eyes and skin than DEET, so it might be a good option for kids or adults with allergies. It is suggested for use in children over 6 months of age.
IR3535 Safety. This is another synthetic compound developed in the 1980's, by Merck. It is a synthetic amino acid that affects an insect's sense of smell, making then less likely to recognize you as a tasty meal. It's not only less smelly than DEET, it's basically odorless, making it more appealing than Picaridin in terms of its sensory profile. As with Picaridin, the safety profile of IR3535 is great, and the World Health Organization found only mild eye irritation in humans (avoid getting it in your eyes), suggest no long-term negative impacts on humans or the environment, and it is recommended by the CDC. It is relatively rare (versus Picaridin and DEET), and most popularly found in a line of Avon Skin-So-Soft bug repellent sprays and lotions.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Safety. This naturally-derived alternative mosquito and tick repellent has received a lot of recent attention, and is one of the four active repellents recommended by the CDC. Lemon Eucalyptus Oil is extracted from the eucalyptus tree and then refined to increase the concentration of a particular chemical (PMD) that is great for repelling ticks and mosquitoes. However, because Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and synthetic PMD are relatively new to the market as a bug repellent, and safety data are very limited, the CDC suggests it not by used in children under 3 years old. That is not because there is any evidence of toxicity. Rather, it is because there is no evidence either way (yet). So we do suggest avoiding it with young children until more data become available. Also, it is important to point out that natural Lemon Eucalyptus Oil is not the same in safety or effectiveness as Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, even though some sprays will mix these two ingredients.
Effectiveness. The best mosquito repellants are not only safe, but parents also want them to be super effective for their babies and children. This is a tough question, because independent scientific data are basically non-existent comparing the effectiveness of all-natural bug sprays to the effectiveness of any of the four CDC recommended repellents (DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, Lemon Eucalyptus Oil). The other problem is that the research that does exist tends to be funded and conducted by the company manufacturing the ingredients or products, so it's difficult to ascertain the actual effectiveness without bias or conflicts of interest. That being said, DEET tends to be the most effective against both ticks and mosquitoes, with Picaridin and IR3535 being the next most effective, and Oil of Eucalyptus being moderately effective. Regardless of what you're using, apply the bug spray or lotion to exposed skin only (arms, legs), never apply under clothing, use sparingly around eyes and ears, don't spray onto face (use hands to rub on), and spray on the outside of all clothing. If you follow these instructions, the spray will not only be effective, but you will also reduce the likelihood of irritation. Here's the run-down of effectiveness of different insect repellents:
DEET Effectiveness. DEET is the most effective bug repellent on the market, and works tremendously well for repelling both ticks and mosquitoes, including the ticks and mosquitoes that carry the worst diseases. In general, the higher % of DEET in a repellent, the more effective it is as repelling mosquitoes and ticks, and also the longer it will last throughout the day. In general, a product with a 10% DEET content is effective for about 2 hours, and then every 5% increase in DEET adds about another hour of protection. So a product with 15% DEET content is effective for about 3 hours, a product with 25% DEET content is effective for about 5 hours, and so forth. At our maximum recommended DEET content for adults, 30%, it is effective for about 6 hours.
Picaridin Effectiveness. Picaridin is as effective as DEET, and is recommended by the WHO for repelling at effectiveness levels similar to, and sometimes superior to, DEET. It also has a lot of positive attributes in contrast to DEET, including its low odor, non-toxic nature, low irritation and allergic profile, and less greasy feel. It is excellent at repelling both ticks and mosquitoes, including those that carry diseases. Just as with DEET, the higher % of Picaridin in a repellent, the more effective it is and longer it will last throughout the day. In general, a product with a 10% Picaridin content is effective for about 2 hours, and then every 5% increase in Picaridin adds about another 3 hours of protection. So a product with 15% Picaridin content is effective for about 5 hours, a product with 20% is effective for about 8 hours, and so forth. A 20% Picaridin content is about the highest you'll find on the market.
IR3535 Effectiveness. The research available for the effectiveness of IR3535 is relatively sparse, given its recent release to the US market. In one study published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, a product with 7.5% IR3535 was effective for about 30 minutes against mosquitoes, which is much less than the effectiveness of a 7.5% DEET formula (about 1.5 hours), or a 7.5% Picaridin formula (about 1.5 hours). Other research has shown, however, that a 10% or 20% IR3535 content is effective for several hours, and may even have a similar protective efficacy to DEET for mosquitoes. For example, one study shows that 10% IR3535 shows the same level of mosquito protection as Picaridin, preventing bites for over 5 hours on average. There is some research suggesting it's not quite as effective against ticks, however, at least in comparison to Picaridin. Because the research findings are mixed, we prefer using the products that have more consistently demonstrated their effectiveness, such as Picaridin.
Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus Effectiveness. The natural Lemon Eucalyptus essential oil itself is only effective for about 1 hour after application, but the Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, or PMD, shows very high efficacy. The CDC suggests that it is nearly as effective as DEET in repelling mosquitoes, when used in higher concentrations. For instance, a 50% PMD concentration is as effective as a 20% DEET in repelling mosquitoes, and a 30% PMD has been found similarly effective to a 15% DEET. It is also highly effective against ticks, and has been shown to be effective for several hours and even days against ticks. It can also be applied repeatedly due to no evidence of toxicity, and very low rates of skin irritation.
Other Various Ingredients Effectiveness. Of the 15,000+ bug repellent products on the market, there are a ton that market themselves as all-natural, organic, and highly effective against ticks and mosquitoes. We want to caution parents against buying into any of these claims, as the research tends to show very low effectiveness of most products against mosquitoes. In most cases, things like Castor Oil, Geranium Oil, Soybean Oil, Cedarwood or Citronella Oil, Peppermint or Lemongrass Oil, etc, (the ingredients of the popular Buzz Away Extreme) actually can be effective against mosquitoes and ticks, but there are a few things to think about. First, many of these ingredients are allergens, so be careful if your child tends to have sensitive skin. Second, many of these ingredients can be effective, but for very short durations, requiring re-application every 15-20 minutes. Third, the effectiveness of these ingredients, even within the first 15-20 minutes, is nowhere near the effectiveness of DEET, Picaridin, IR3535, or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (PMD). So, all things being equal, these mosquito and tick repellants are not very effective, not long-lasting, and can cause allergic reactions. We also want to consider Permethrin as an insect repellent. Permethrin is as effective as DEET, but not only repels mosquitoes and ticks, it also kills them on contact. However, while it's great for protecting clothing, it's not recommended for use on bare skin.