Insect Repellent and Sunscreen Safety Tips for Children in Child Care

Insect repellent and sunscreen may seem harmless, but they are still medications. Child care providers using these chemicals need to treat them like any other medication. Be sure parents sign release forms allowing you to administer these substances to their children. The following guidelines will help you use insect repellent and sunscreen safely.

Mosquito repellent

Insect Repellent

  • When using insect repellent, apply it to your own hands and then rub it on the child. Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands, mouth or eye areas. Only use a small amount around the ears. Do not apply to any irritated areas or scraped skin. Get parents’ permission before using.
  • For children under 2 years of age, repellents should contain no more than 10 percent DEET. The chemical is absorbed through the skin and can cause harm in higher concentrations. Products containing up to 30 percent DEET are safe for children over 2 years of age. The concentration of DEET varies greatly from product to product, so it is very important to read the label carefully on any repellent you purchase.
  • Insect repellents containing 10 percent DEET provide protection, but require reapplication every 1-2 hours to remain effective.
  • Remove insect repellent by washing with warm water and soap when the child comes indoors and before the child eats.


Sunscreen is an important tool to protect children, but must be treated like an over-the-counter medication. The following guidelines provide general guidance on using sunscreen. For more specific guidelines for child care programs, check out the Better Kid Care America article on applying sunscreen in child care.
  • Sunscreen should not be used on babies under 6 months old. Babies under 6 months should be exposed to the sun as little as possible.
  • Coat children’s skin liberally and evenly. Rub sunscreen in well. If babies or toddlers are squirmy, apply the sunscreen to your hands first.
  • Apply the sunscreen at least 30 minutes before the child goes outside, and reapply every two hours. If the children are playing in the water or sweating a lot, reapply more often.
  • Don’t forget hands, ears, nose, lips, and the area around the eyes. Zinc oxide on the nose and ears can provide extra protection. An SPF 15 lip balm should be applied to the lips, and toddlers may enjoy applying it themselves. UV-blocking sunglasses will help protect the vulnerable eye area.

For More Information

To learn more, check out Guidelines for Applying Sunscreen in a Child Care Program, or visit the Health and Safety section to learn more about keeping children safe and healthy in child care.

Photo by KaurJmeb / CC BY