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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask Doctor K: Insect repellents safe if used as directed

Anthony L. Komaroff M.D.

DEAR DOCTOR K: Which ingredients should I look for in a mosquito repellent? Are there any I shouldn’t use on my kids?

DEAR READER: Many people worry that insect repellents themselves are dangerous. However, used properly, they are quite safe. It is particularly important to use insect repellents carefully, as described on their labels, for certain groups of people. This includes children, pregnant women and people who work outdoors and use insect repellent every day. These people may be more vulnerable to adverse effects.

Here’s a look at ingredients that will help keep mosquitoes away:

• DEET. This is the most commonly used repellent – and the most effective. The stronger the concentration of DEET in a product, the longer it will protect you. The American Academy of Pediatrics has said it is safe to use products with up to 30 percent DEET.

• PICARIDIN. This repellent, which is also applied to your skin, is less widely available but is also effective.

• LEMON EUCALYPTUS OIL. This plant-based repellent should not be used on children under 3 years old.

• PERMETHRIN. This repellent works well but shouldn’t be used on the skin – just on clothing or mosquito netting.

There are other repellents on the market, but they are not as effective as these.

Just as important as which repellents you use is how you use them. Here are some tips:

• Don’t use insect repellents on infants younger than 2 months old.

• When you use spray repellent (rather than a cream) on your skin, clothing or mosquito netting, apply it outdoors, not indoors.

• Don’t spray a repellent directly on your face. Instead, spray it on your hand and then rub some on your face.

• When you use a spray repellent, don’t overdo it: You need only a little, and using more is not necessarily better.

• Don’t reapply repellent unless you are outside for more than six hours or so.

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