Q for the community: insect bites and bug repellant

It's that time of year again...

Redheaded Wonder writes:

"Very quick and easy - do you or the other Moxettes know of a natural bug repellent that works? Last weekend we went to my parents' in the country, and my poor little guys are covered with mosquito bites. We want to go back, but I need to find a solution that does not cover them with chemicals. My sister in law thinks I'm overreacting about the chemical thing, so my concerns are legit, right? (I hate second guessing myself, I shouldn't let those people get in my head.)"

And then Marci writes:

"So my question is about bug bites.  My nearly 11-month-old's back got ravaged by some mosquitoes or something similar the other day.  He had at least 10 bites on his back (I won't go into how I missed this happening, but will say he had two onsies on so it was a determined bug).  He was up for most of the night and completely inconsolable for which I have complete sympathy.  I have prescription hydrocortisol for him for other rashes he tends to get and so put that on and also used deodorant as I saw that was recommended by parents.com.  Both of these did seem to help and the bug bites are much smaller and apparently less irritating. 

My questions are: Do you have any recommendations for avoiding bug bites that don't involve him only being outside in mosquito netting or covered in repellent?  I am not totally opposed to repellent and would love a recommendation for a safe one for babies who are still putting everything in their mouth (I just don't want him to always have it on and we live next to a wooded wetland so mosquitoes are always a problem).  And do have any suggestions for treating bug bites when they occur? "

Wow! Yet another parenting problem I've dodged the bullet on so far. Bites don't seem to bother my kids that much.

FWIW, I don't think anyone's ever wrong to worry about chemicals they put on their kids. The skin is the largest organ in the body, and anything you put on your skin gets soaked into your body. So, yeah, it's definitely a worry. But you also have to balance that with the perspective that you can't avoid everything, and it's really the buildup of multiple chemical in our environment that makes us sick, not any one time of having a chemical applied.

So if you can find a safe, nontoxic (which doesn't necessarily equal "natural" or "organic") bug repellant that works, awesome. But if you have to resort to something not quite as safe to keep your kids from being bitten, then cut yourself some slack for making a decision that made the most sense at the time.

That's all a long-winded way to say that I don't know much about bug spray. I've used the Burt's Bees stuff with some success in the past (on trips to Minnesota, even, where the state bird is the mosquito), but we're not particularly bothered by bug bites (certainly no reactions like Marci's son had).

I know some of you must live in places that have lots of biting insects. So please share with us your best suggestions for nontoxic bug bite prevention, or any compromises you've come up with in using chemical repellants. Thanks!