It’s the season of icky, sticky bugs. Going outdoors with the kiddos is fun until you’re all covered in bug bites. And since we all know putting kids to sleep is hard, if they’re too busy itching to follow their bedtime routine then no one is getting any sleep.

One way to protect your child from insect bites is with insect repellants or, as we like to call them, bug sprays. The best bug spray for kids can repel biting insects including mosquitos, ticks and fleas but, they don’t kill them altogether. Essential oils such as citronella and peppermint are some of the plant-derived ingredients you’ll find in most bug sprays but other ingredients such as DEET and picaridin are doing the real work. The AAP recommends using DEET sparingly because of kids’ sensitive skin and the fact that it can cause rashes.

Picaridin is an effective alternative to DEET and also protects against biting insects. The concentration amount will determine how long the protection lasts. So if a product contains 5% picaridin, it can protect against mosquitoes and ticks for 3 to 4 hours. Since ticks love hanging out in the same places kids hang out (grassy areas), picaridin is one way to effectively repel ticks.

Finding kid-safe bug spray that works for your family can be a challenge but we’ve got doctor-recommended ingredients to look for and effective bug spray options for your little ones.

How to choose the best bug spray for kids

According to Dr. Leah Gordon, ND, and Dr. Morgan MacDermott, ND, who works in pediatric health, “When choosing a bug spray you want to choose ingredients that bugs don’t like. There are more natural and arguably safer ingredients such as plant-derived oils and ingredients and there are more man-made and sometimes more harmful ingredients like DEET.”

It’s a good idea to opt for natural ingredients, derived from plant oils. Here are the top essential oils that repel bugs:

  1. Citronella
  2. Thyme
  3. Sage
  4. Lemon eucalyptus
  5. Lavender
  6. Peppermint

“Ingredients to avoid if at all possible are DEET and synthetic fragrance, which you would identify on the ingredient list as it would say “fragrance” or “parfum,” ___dr says. If they must be used, she recommends applying DEET containing products by “spraying clothes and not skin.”

The AAP recommends limiting DEET usage until children reach 2-years-old but to be especially cautious with newborns and premature babies. They also recommend opting for a product that contains less than 30% DEET.

How to apply bug spray

Bug spray is not like your favorite sun screen stick that you can rub all over—over and over again. Even kid safe bug spray shouldn’t be overly-applied. Each bottle comes with directions but generally you shake the bottle and spray it on exposed skin. If you’re applying it on their face, spray it on your hands first and then rub it in! Oh, and it’s a good idea to wash it all off at the end of your outdoor adventures.

The best bug spray for kids

All Terrain Herbal Armour Deet_Free

All Terrain

Herbal Armor DEET-Free

$9.18

This bug spray for kids features a non-irritating, DEET-free and herbal lemongrass scent. It’s powered by soybean, citronella, peppermint, cedar, lemongrass and geranium, and despite its natural ingredients list, it does a pretty fantastic job of keeping mosquitos and other annoying bugs at bay. It’s not left any stains on clothes or other fabrics either! The formula itself has a thicker, milky consistency which makes it a little tough to spray sometimes, but the screw top makes it easy to just pour a bit into your hand and rub on.

badger bug spray

Badger

Plant Powered Mosquito Repellant

$19.99 (2 pack)

From their chapped hand-saving Badger Balm to their convenient sunscreen sticks, we’re all around fans of the women-owned, solar-powered Badger brand. Their “anti-bug” spray is another favorite of both ours and Dr. Leah’s. Packaged in a sustainable aluminum spray bottle, it’s DEET-free and includes cold-pressed oils from citronella, rosemary and lemongrass. It’s suggested that it offers three hours of protection, but in our experience you might have to spritz a little more often for it to really do the trick.

sawyer bug spray

Sawyer

Premium Insect Repellent

$18.08

With 20% Picaridin, this impressively powerful bug spray came highly recommended not only from Dr. Leah, but various experts and friends. It absolutely works like a charm whether you’re sitting in the backyard or hiking deep in the woods. Mosquitos, ticks, flies, chiggers, gnats, those little suckers don’t stand a chance–and it’s not even scented! And while it’s what’s inside that counts, I also have to shout out the squat little bottle which is so much easier to tote along than the big ‘ol cans of Deep Woods Off that it so handily replaces.

murphy's bug spray

Murphy's

Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Oil

$19.98 (2 pack)

This all natural bug repellent keeps a variety of ticks and mosquitos at bay. The lemon and eucalyptus scent is pretty strong, but it’s still pleasant and effective. (Just make sure you don’t spray it near your face!) Since it’s DEET-free, it doesn’t leave marks on fabric or other surfaces.

 

OFF! Clean Feel Insect Repellent

OFF!

Clean Feel Insect Repellent

$5.58

OFF! is practically synonymous with bug spray, so it’s probably no surprise to find one of their formulas on our list. But unlike the kind you probably doused yourself in as a kid, this Clean Feel formula has a few major improvements. For one thing, it’s powered by 20% picaridin and does an impressive job deterring all the biting and harassing bugs summer has to offer. I also love that it’s fragrance-free and not at all sticky or greasy. (I’m possibly more whiny about being sticky and stinky than my children.) Thanks to a thin aerosol mist, it offers complete coverage in just a few sprays. Our family has used it while camping in the woods of Vermont and it was the difference between being driven mad and actually enjoying ourselves.

 

Babyganics DEET Free Travel Size Insect Repellant Wipes

Babyganics

DEET Free Travel Size Insect Repellant Wipes

$23.88 (2 pack)

Squirmy babies and bug spray aren’t exactly a match made in heaven. So why not apply it in the most baby-friendly way possible? The brilliant plant-based wipes from Babyganics are made with a blend of plant and essential oils including citronella, peppermint, rosemary, lemongrass and geranium and free of the bad stuff like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, synthetic fragrances or dyes. And not only is the application smart, they’re so easy to stick in your diaper bag or purse!

Zevo On Body Mosquito + Tick Repellent Spray

Zevo

On Body Mosquito + Tick Repellent Spray

$9.98

I recently brought this along on a family trip to the drive-in and could not believe how effective it is. It’s like a cloak of invisibility against the swarms of mosquitos that generally feast on us while we feast on popcorn. The aerosol application doesn’t stain or mark fabrics and while there’s a faint scent at first spray, it doesn’t leave any on your skin, and it’s not sticky in the least. It’s actually hard to believe it’s DEET-free!