What’s the Buzz? Insect Repellent and Kids Living in (or Visiting) the Lowcountry

Digital Team Writer
August 19, 2020

It’s summer in South Carolina, and as the hottest days descend upon us, so do the biggest pests of Lowcountry living. Bugs are here, and they’re everywhere. They’re on your plants, in your garden, and they’re up your nose and in your ears. Unfortunately, nobody is spared, even the littlest amongst us. Parents want the most effective insect repellent for their kids, but they also want that repellent to be safe. What’s the best bug repellent to use on children?

Kelli Williams, M.D., MPH, MUSC pediatric physician of Pediatric Allergy and Immunology, says the three most common types of effective insect repellant are DEET, Picardin, and repellents made from plant-based essential oils.


DEET is a man-made chemical repellent that protects against insect bites. Products containing DEET have variable concentrations, usually 7 to 30 percent. Dr. Williams says DEET should never be used on a child less than two months old, and says concentrations higher than 30 percent should never be applied to children of any age. Higher concentrations of DEET are reflective of how long the repellent works, not its overall efficacy, she says. “Seven percent might last two hours and 30 percent might last five hours,” she says. Lower concentrations are similarly effective at keeping away insects as higher concentrations, but they need to be applied more often.


This is Dr. Williams’ favorite insect repellent as an allergist. While Picardin is a manmade chemical like DEET, it does not carry some of the negative side effects of its counterpart. Picardin is odorless, less greasy, and does not carry the same concerns for neurotoxicity as DEET. Picardin is more commonly used on Caribbean islands and in Europe, but the CDC says it’s just as effective as DEET while being less irritating to the skin. A typical application of Picardin lasts between three and eight hours, Dr. Williams says.

Essential Oils/Natural Products

Natural products made from essential plant oils, like citronella or eucalyptus, are the third most common insect repellant, says Dr. Williams. These are effective tools against insect bites and are a great resource for anyone concerned about potential side effects of using synthetic insect repellents, like DEET or Picardin. The CDC says natural insect repellent agents are as effective as a product containing DEET at a 7 to 10 percent concentration. It’s important to note, however, that natural products must be applied more often (every 2 to 3 hours) than DEET or Picardin.

Biting Insects and COVID-19

Given the preponderance of unknowns surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s natural to wonder whether insects can be carriers of the virus. Fortunately, says, Dr. Williams, there is no evidence to suggest that COVID-19 is transmitted or spread by insects like mosquitoes. That’s because COVID-19 is spread by respiratory droplets in the air, not by blood. While it’s true mosquitoes can spread disease, they only spread viruses that can be contracted via blood transmission.

A Note About Stinging Insects

Parents should be cautioned that while all above-mentioned forms of insect repellent are effective against biting insects like mosquitoes and flies, they do not repel stinging insects like bees and wasps. “Topical repellents do not affect flying venomous insects’ desire to sting you,” says Dr. Williams.

Dr. Williams specializes in allergies in children and sees patients at MUSC’s West Ashley Primary Care offices. Make an appointment.

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Keywords: Childrens Health, Family Medicine, Kids