Insect Repellent Safety

You can use repellent to protect yourself from the bites of disease-carrying ticks and mosquitoes.

When to Use Insect Repellent

In NYC, ticks and mosquitoes are most active from May through October. Ticks are most commonly found in tall brush, leaf litter and grassy, wooded areas. The mosquitoes that spread West Nile virus typically bite between dusk and dawn.

Other types of mosquitoes in the city that are not known to spread diseases are most active during the day and aggressively bite in the morning and late afternoon. The number of these types of mosquitoes has risen in the city in recent years.

Use repellent both in NYC and when traveling outside the city. In wooded areas, you can repel ticks by treating your clothing and gear with products that contain 0.5% permethrin. You can buy clothing that has already been treated with permethrin at outdoor stores. Do not apply permethrin to your skin.

Repellent Safety

Most insect repellents need to be registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Repellents with natural ingredients do not need to be registered. When used as directed, EPA-registered and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended insect repellents are safe and effective, even for children and pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Repellents can cause eye irritation. Some people may be more sensitive to repellents and develop skin reactions. To test a repellent, apply it to a small area of skin on your arm. Wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction. If you think you are having a reaction, wash the repellent off as soon as possible.

Here are some more tips to stay safe while using repellent:

  • Follow the directions on the repellent’s label.
  • Apply a light coat of repellent to exposed skin. You should not spray repellent under your clothes.
  • Do not apply repellent to clothing.
  • Do not apply repellent to cuts, wounds, or irritated skin.
  • Do not apply products directly to your face. Spray your hands and then rub them carefully over your face, avoiding the eyes and mouth.
  • Do not use repellent near food or drink.
  • When inside, wash treated skin with soap and water. Always wash your hands before eating or drinking.

If mosquitoes are biting you inside, check window and door screens for holes that allow mosquitoes inside. If after checking mosquitoes are still biting, hire an exterminator certified by a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Children

When putting insect repellent on children:

  • Use DEET or picaridin-based repellent with less than 10% of the active ingredient.
  • Do not apply repellent to infants younger than two months. Dress infants in long sleeves and long pants whenever possible, or use netting over their strollers and playpens.
  • Do not allow young children to apply insect repellent themselves. Keep repellents out of reach of young children
  • Apply repellent to your own hands and then rub it on the child. Avoid their eyes, mouth and hands and use it sparingly around their ears

Parents should talk to local school or day camp officials about how they use repellent in their facility. Only an adult should apply repellent to young children. If older children bring repellents with them, they should review the label with an adult prior to use.

Types of Repellents

You can find many types of insect repellents in NYC. Depending on the active ingredients, repellents last for different amounts of time. Generally, but not always, the higher the percentage of the active ingredient, the longer the protection time.

Look for repellents with a yellow EPA repellency awareness graphic. This symbol shows if a repellent is effective for mosquitoes or ticks and how long the product will last.

Repellents can be reapplied to add longer protection time. You should not exceed the maximum number of applications.

The Health Department recommends products with one of the following active ingredients:

  • DEET
  • Picaridin
  • IR3535
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus

“Natural” Repellents

Most repellents with natural ingredients have not been tested for safety or effectiveness. The Health Department does not recommend you use these repellents.

Examples of common ingredients found in repellents marketed as “natural” and not EPA-registered include:

  • Citronella oil
  • Cedar oil
  • Geranium oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Soybean oil

Additional Resources

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