Insect Repellents

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Many insect repellents contain DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) or Icaridin (hydroxyethyl isobutyl piperidine carboxylate, also known as picaridin). If you use a product that contains DEET, ensure that you choose one that is suitable for the age of the person and for the time spent outdoors. Insect repellents that contain 30% DEET will remain effective for approximately 5 hours, 10% DEET will provide approximately three hours of protection, while 5% DEET provides approximately 2 hours of protection. Insect repellents that contain 20% Icaridin will provide approximately 7 hours of protection from mosquitos (and 8 hours of protection from ticks).

DEET-based Insect Repellents – Recommendations for Use on Children

Although current labels on insect repellents containing DEET state that these products are not to be used on children under the age of 2 years (infants or toddlers), the Pest Management Regulatory Agency’s (PMRA) re-evaluation on DEET, which included input from the Canadian Paediatric Society, is now recommending the following:

For children under 6 months of age:

  • Insect repellents containing DEET should not be used.

For children aged 6 months - 2 years of age:

  • A maximum of 1 application per day may be used in situations where a high risk of complications from insect bites exists.
  • Only the least concentrated product (10% DEET or less) should be used.
  • The product should be applied sparingly and not be applied to the face and hands.
  • Prolonged use should be avoided.

For children between 2 - 12 years of age:

  • A maximum of 3 applications per day may be used in situations where a high risk of complications from insect bites exists.
  • Only the least concentrated product (10% DEET or less) should be used.
  • The product be applied sparingly and not be applied to the face and hands.
  • Icaridin based insect repellents should not be used on infants under 6 months of age.

For more information for babies or children aged 6 months - 2 years, call your doctor or the Public Health Agency of Canada at 1-800-454-8302. Information can also be found on the Public Health Agency of Canada website External Link.

Insect repellent can dry skin, which may be a problem for those with dry or thin skin. Using a 10% or less DEET insect repellent with a skin moisturizer will help to reduce dry skin. However, you may need to reapply the repellent if outdoors for extended periods (greater than two hours).

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Using sunscreen and insect repellents together

  • When using both sunscreen and an insect repellent at the same time, apply sunscreen first and then wait 30 minutes to apply the insect repellent.
  • Sunscreen should be used liberally.
  • Always use insect repellents according to the manufacturer’s directions and apply it sparingly, avoiding the eyes, mouth and palms of the hands.
  • Insect repellents may decrease the effectiveness of sunscreen, so ensure you use other sun protective measures in conjunction with the sunscreen (e.g. shade, hats, clothing).

Keep babies under 1 year old out of the direct sun. Do not use sunscreen or insect repellent on infants less than 6 months of age.

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Health precautions when using a DEET or Icaridin based insect repellent

Carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s directions. In addition, it is recommended to do the following:

  • Do not allow young children to apply DEET or Icaridin products themselves.
  • Do not apply DEET or Icaridin directly from the container onto children’s skin. Rather, first apply it to your hands and then put it on the child’s skin, avoiding the eyes, mouth and palms of the hands.
  • It is best to use liquid or cream repellents that can be applied by hand.
  • If your child is attending summer camp, ensure that the child knows how to use the products properly.
  • Wash all treated skin and clothing after returning indoors.
  • Store DEET or Icaridin, like other chemicals, out of reach of children.

Note: There is no evidence that the use of DEET or Icaridin by pregnant or breastfeeding women poses a risk to unborn babies or children who are nursing. However, as a safety precaution, women in these situations may wish to consider the use of non-chemical methods to protect against mosquito bites.

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Non-DEET or Icaridin Insect Repellents

Insect repellents other than DEET or Icaridin based are available in Canada, although data on their safety is sparse. If you chose to use them, carefully read and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

Citronella and Lavender

Soybean Oil

  • A product containing 2% soybean oil was found to protect against mosquitoes for about 90 minutes.
  • Repellents containing soybean oil were recently registered in Canada, and meet all the safety standards.

P-menthane 3,8-diol

  • P-menthane 3,8-diol is a derivative of the lemon eucalyptus plant.
  • It can be applied up to 2 times per day and it provides up to 2 hours of protection against mosquitoes.
  • This product cannot be used on children under 3 years of age.

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