How to Safely Use Insect Repellents on Your Skin

Female and Nymph Ticks. Getty Images, licensed to


When using an insect repellent that is applied to the skin, it is important to ensure that it is EPA registered and applied at the proper frequency. But even when using a registered product, EPA recommends the following for safe use:

Use of Skin-Applied Insect Repellents

Applying repellents:

  • Always read and follow all label directions to ensure proper use.
  • Apply repellents only to exposed skin and/or clothing. Do not use under clothing.
  • Never apply repellent on cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply near eyes and mouth, and apply sparingly around ears.

Also, when using sprays:

  • Do not spray directly into face; spray on hands first and then apply to face (avoiding eyes and mouth, and applying sparingly around ears).
  • Do not spray in enclosed areas.
  • Avoid breathing the spray product.
  • Do not use near food.


Use of Insect Repellents on Children

When using any insect repellent on children, do all the above, plus:

  • Children often put their hands in their mouths and eyes, so you should not allow children to handle the product or apply it to children's hands.
  • When using on children, apply to your own hands and then put it on the child.
  • After returning indoors, wash the child's treated skin and clothes with soap and water or bathe.
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus products should not be used on children under the age of three. Other ingredients do not have an age restriction.
  • Despite frequent questions, DEET is approved for use on children with no age restriction and no restriction on the percentage of DEET in the product. According to EPA, data do not show any difference in effects between young animals and adult animals in tests done for product registration. Nor is there any data showing incidents that would lead EPA to believe there is a need to restrict the use of DEET.
  • For other questions on use of repellents on children, EPA recommends that you consult a health care provider, visit the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) webpage, or contact NPIC at 1-800-858-7378 or by email,


General Insect Repellent Safety Tips

  • Look for an EPA registration number (EPA Reg. No.) on the product label. This registration number means the company provided EPA with technical information on the effectiveness of the product. There are, however, some insect-repellent ingredients that have been determined to be safe but are exempt from registration. These include citronella oil, cedar oil, geranium oil, peppermint and peppermint oil, soybean oil. (For more information on registered and exempt products, see 7 Questions about Insect Repellents, Questions 4 and 5.)
  • Product effectiveness can vary due to conditions such as physical activity/perspiration, water exposure, air temperature, your own attractiveness to mosquitoes and ticks. Thus, it is important to apply/reapply repellents according to the label instructions. Don't overuse the products, but be sure to apply the amount of repellent indicated by the label.
  • After returning indoors, wash treated skin and clothes with soap and water.
  • Do not use on pets or other animals unless the label clearly states it is for animals.
  • Store insect repellents safely out of the reach of children, in a locked utility cabinet or garden shed.


More Information

For more information on Insect Repellents, see: