Beat Bug Bites with These Simple Steps

Beat Bug Bites with These Simple Steps

January 29, 2023

By Megan Boyle, Editorial Director

Warmer temperatures and extra daylight hours add up to lots of outdoor fun these days—along with the buzzing, swatting and smacking of pesky insects. You know what that means: bug bites.

These tiny chomps can cause painful irritation and in some cases, carry the risk of West Nile virus, Lyme disease or other serious illnesses.

How do you protect your family from bug bites while keeping them safe from chemicals? Follow these steps to reduce the odds your loved ones will get nibbled this summer:

  1. Cover up!

Any exposed skin can tempt a biting bug, so the best defense is to keep your kids covered. Light-colored pants, long sleeves, high collars and bandanas all help. Shoes and socks shield vulnerable feet and ankles, especially when moving through brush or long grasses. Send your kids to camp with similar gear and pack bunk netting for sleepovers.

  1. Make bugs unwelcome.

Turn your family’s fun zones into places bugs avoid. Drain standing water and remove excess brush around your home. Insects gravitate toward food, so use nets and fans to keep pests away while eating. Skip candles, bug zappers and treated wristbands. They’re usually ineffective.

  1. Use bug repellent wisely.

Look for products made with active ingredients that have been registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These four offer protection and a good safety profile:

  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • DEET
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and its synthetic derivative PMD

Read the labels and check concentration levels. Use only as much as is recommended for your time outdoors and to deter the insects common to your area.

Interested in botanicals? Unregistered botanically-based bug repellents may not repel bugs for long, and they may not work at all. Several common botanical repellents—citronella, geraniol, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil and oil of lemon eucalyptus—can cause allergic skin reactions.

Visit EWG’s Guide to Bug Repellents to learn more about picking the right bug repellent for yourself and your family and to find the best bug repellent choices for kids.

  1. Keep kids extra safe.

Pay particular attention to babies under six months, who are too young for insect repellent. Instead, keep them covered up well and secure fine netting over carriers and strollers. For little ones older than six months, limit the amount of repellent and how often it’s applied. Seek low concentrations of chemicals, too. Avoid using Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD on kids under age 3.

Apply bug repellent to kids by rubbing it on their skin with your own hands, carefully avoiding their eyes, mouths, and hands (which may end up in their mouths!). Limit the amount near their ears as well.

Be sure to keep all repellents away from children to reduce the risk of swallowing, inhalation, over-application or exposure to the eyes or face.

  1. Follow these best practices:
  • When applying bug repellent, wash your skin and clothes as soon as you come indoors.
  • Although DEET has a better safety profile than many realize, concentration level is key. Never use a product with more than 30 percent of this chemical.
  • Avoid sunscreens mixed with bug repellents. They may result in overexposure to repellent.
  • Choose repellents in lotion, pump or towelette form—not aerosol sprays, which can be inhaled.
  • Thoroughly check yourself, your family, and your pets for ticks after coming indoors. Remove ticks carefully if found.