Mighty Blog

Sunscreen and bug spray: what parents need to know

Warm, sunny days are a great time for children to spend time playing outside and enjoy the fresh air. We also know this is when bugs are biting, and the sun can cause some nasty sunburns if you’re not protected.  

Dr. Gigi Chawla, chief of general pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota, shares how to choose the right bug spray and sunscreen for your kids. 

Dr. Chawla on WCCO

Dr. Chawla spoke with WCCO about this topic.

Bug spray tips for kids 

What are we trying to protect our kids from with bug spray? 

When we put bug spray on kids (and adults!), we’re trying to prevent illnesses that spread from insects to people – a big one in Minnesota is Lyme disease 

Also, insect bites are annoying and irritating. And there’s also a risk for a child to get infected from scratching the bite spot too much. 

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is a bacteria that can spread after a bite from an infected tick. This infection can cause problems with your skin, heart, brain and joints. 

Learn more about Lyme disease from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). 

What’s the most effective bug spray? 

DEET bug sprays

“Bug sprays with DEET are by far the most effective,” says Dr. Chawla. Here are some tips and facts on DEET bug sprays: 

  • DEET is proven to be safe and effective for kids and adults. 
  • DEET bug sprays are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 
  • Bug sprays with DEET are safe to use on children over 2 months of age.  
  • Apply DEET bug spray sparingly and as needed. 
  • Bug sprays must be applied to skin – not on or under clothing. Only apply it once per day and wash it off at the end of the day. 
  • A bug spray that has 10% DEET will protect your child for about 2 hours. 

Other bug sprays

“Natural” insect-repellent – those with ingredients like citronella, peppermint and soybean oil – have not been approved for effectiveness by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Sunscreen tips for kids 

What should families look for when choosing sunscreen? 

“For kids, there is no reason to be using an SPF that is less than 30,” said Dr. Chawla. Here are additional sunscreen tips for kids: 

  • Don’t wait until you’re outside to put on sunscreen. It needs 20-30 minutes to absorb into your skin, so apply it before you and your family head outside.
  • Sunblock, like zinc oxide, is a physical barrier that starts protecting skin immediately. Anticipate using several ounces for every application. 
  • Reapply sunscreen every two hours. Also, make sure to reapply after swimming, sweating or drying off with a towel.  
  • Sunscreen lotion (rather than spray) is your best bet for full protection because you can actually see where you’re applying it. 
    • With spray, it’s difficult to tell where it has and hasn’t been applied. Plus, it’s uneven and the layer of protection is thin. 
  • For babies under 6 months of age, please minimize time in direct sun and use sun protective clothing. 

What should families look for when choosing sunscreen? 

The reason for wearing sunscreen is to prevent sunburn and melanoma, which is a type of cancer. The risk of melanoma is fully dependent on the sun exposure you got as a child. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, even one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence more than doubles your chances of developing melanoma later in life. 

This is exactly why applying sunscreen is such an important habit to start developing with your kids when they are young.