Learn about insect repellents, how to use them safely and how to choose the right one for your needs.
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About insect repellents
Insect repellent (also called bug spray) can help protect you from mosquito, blackfly and tick bites. The product label will specify what pests it protects against. For example, a product that repels mosquitoes might not work for ticks or blackflies. Some products also repel insects longer than others, depending on the ingredients.
Using the right insect repellent and applying it properly is important because insect bites can cause health problems, such as:
- potentially serious diseases, such as:
In Canada, West Nile virus and Lyme disease are health concerns. However, for most Canadians, the risk of getting these illnesses and serious health effects is very low.
Be aware that:
- blackflies are active in daylight hours during springtime
- ticks are often found along trail edges, mostly in wooded areas or tall grass
- mosquitoes can bite at any time of the day, and are more active at dawn and dusk
Choosing an insect repellent
Insect repellents are available in the form of:
- clip-on products
- moist towelettes
- clothing that has been treated with an insecticide
There are many products on the market that claim to protect against insect bites. Only insect repellents that have been government approved for their safety and effectiveness are allowed for sale in Canada.
Make sure you use a registered product that is labelled as an insect repellent for use on people, and read and follow all label directions.
You can recognize a pest control product authorized by Health Canada by the Pest Control Products (PCP) number on the label, for example:
- Reg. No. 00000 P.C.P. Act
- Registration No. 00000 Pest Control Products Act
To find the right insect repellent for your needs, consult the Pesticide Product Label Database.
Insect repellent ingredients include:
Insect repellents containing DEET can be used safely when applied as directed and in the right concentration, depending on age.
The right concentration of DEET for:
- adults and children older than 12 years old is up to 30%
- children aged 2 to 12 years is up to 10%
- you can apply the product up to 3 times daily
- children aged 6 months to 2 years old is up to 10%
- you should not apply the product more than once a day
For children younger than 12 years old, do not use a DEET product on a daily basis for more than a month.
For infants younger than 6 months old, do not use an insect repellent containing DEET. Instead, use a mosquito net when babies are outdoors in a crib or stroller.
Mosquitoes and ticks can be repelled by using an icaridin product. These products should not be used on infants younger than 6 months old.
In Canada, clothing that has been treated with the insecticide permethrin is available for adults. Permethrin-treated clothing is not available for children since it has not been proven to be safe for children.
Permethrin-treated clothing is effective through several wash cycles.
Soybean oil insect repellents work on mosquitoes and blackflies. There's no age restriction for these products.
Repellents with citronella oil repel mosquitoes. These products should not be used on infants and toddlers.
Clip-on devices containing metofluthrin repel mosquitoes. Some of these products also repel blackflies. There's no age restriction for these products, but children should not be allowed to replace the refill disks.
Products with p-Menthane-3,8-diol or p-Menthane-3,8-diol and related oil of lemon eucalyptus compounds repel mosquitoes. Some products also repel blackflies. These products should not be used on children younger than 3 years old.
Mixture of essential oils
Insect repellents with a mixture of lemon, eucalyptus, pine needle, geranium and camphor essential oils:
- can be used safely when applied as directed to repel mosquitoes
- should not be used on children younger than 2 years old
Products that don't protect well against biting insects
Certain products aren't recommended for protection against insect bites because they may not be very effective or long-lasting. These products include:
- citrosa houseplants
- odour-baited mosquito traps
- electronic or ultrasonic devices
- electrocuting devices, like bug zappers
- skin moisturizer or sunscreen combined with insect repellent
- products that combine skin moisturizer and insect repellent are not approved in Canada
- wristbands, neckbands and ankle bands that contain repellents
Many area repellents, such as lanterns and coils, are approved in Canada to repel mosquitoes from an area. However, they do not protect you from insect bites.
Applying sunscreen and insect repellents
Sunscreen and insect repellents can be worn safely at the same time. Apply the sunscreen first and then the insect repellent. Combination sunscreen and insect repellent products are no longer available in Canada.
Using insect repellents safely
Always read the entire label carefully before using an insect repellent and follow all directions, including:
- restrictions for use on children
- what insects the repellent works against
- the maximum number of applications allowed per day
When using an insect repellent:
- keep all product containers out of the reach of children and pets
- use only in well-ventilated areas
- supervise its use on children
- apply only a small amount of repellent on exposed skin or on top of clothing
- repeat applications only as needed and directed on the product label
- wash treated skin with soap and water when you return indoors or when protection is no longer needed
If you're concerned that you might be sensitive to a product:
- apply the product to a small area of skin on your arm
- wait 24 hours to see if you have a reaction
If you think you or your child is reacting to an insect repellent:
- stop using the product immediately
- wash treated skin
- get medical help
- take the product container with you when visiting your health care provider
When using insect repellents, do not:
- use it on open wounds or skin that's irritated or sunburned
- spray directly onto your face because you may get it in your eyes
- instead, spray it on your hands first and then apply to your face
- if you've accidentally sprayed repellent in your eyes, rinse them immediately with water
- apply it to a child's hands because they may get it in their eyes or mouth
- apply sprays inside a tent or near food because you may inhale or eat the spray mist
How we protect you
All pesticides must be registered before they can be imported, sold or used in Canada. We conduct science-based risk assessments to ensure that pesticide products meet health and environmental standards.
A pesticide will only be registered:
- when it works well to control a pest
- there's evidence to prove that the pesticide won't cause harm to human health or the environment
For more information, contact the Pest Management Information Service at 1-800-267-6315.
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