Learn about insect repellents, how to use them safely and how to choose the right one for your needs.
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Protecting against biting insects
Insect repellent (also called bug spray) can help protect you from insect bites. 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 use 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.
Protection from biting insects like mosquitoes, fleas, ticks and blackflies is important because insect bites can cause:
- 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
Insect bite prevention practices can protect your skin from being exposed to biting insects. You can also choose to use an insect repellent.
Choosing an insect repellent
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, online or on your mobile device.
About insect repellents
Insect repellents are available in the form of:
- clip-on products
- moist towelettes
- clothing that has been treated with an insecticide
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.
Icaridin products repel mosquitoes and ticks. 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 to protect against mosquitoes and ticks. Adults, including pregnant women, may wear permethrin-treated clothing; however, it is not available for children under the age of 16.
Adults wearing permethrin-treated clothing may touch or hug young children, but avoid prolonged contact such as carrying a young child who may suckle or chew on the fabric.
Depending on the fabric, permethrin-treated clothing can remain effective for a number of wash cycles, as indicated on the clothing label.
Soybean oil insect repellents repel mosquitoes and blackflies. There are no age restrictions 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 are no age restrictions for these products, but children should not be allowed to replace the refill disks.
Products with p-Menthane-3,8-diol or oil of lemon eucalyptus, hydrated, cyclized 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 to repel mosquitoes with a mixture of lemon, eucalyptus, pine needle, geranium and camphor essential oils:
- can be used safely when applied as directed
- should not be used on children younger than 2 years old
Products that do not protect well against biting insects
Certain products are not 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 a limited area. However, these do not protect people from insect bites.
Applying sunscreen and insect repellents
Sunscreen and insect repellents can be safely worn 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
To use an insect repellent safely, it is important to always read the entire product label carefully before use and follow all directions. Note that a product that repels mosquitoes might not work for ticks or blackflies. The label specifies what pests the product protects you from. Depending on the ingredients, some products repel insects for a longer time than others do. The label also states how old you must be to use the product, how to apply it, how much to apply, and how often.
- 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
- 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 are 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 is 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 directly to a child's hands because they may get it in their eyes or mouth
- apply sprays indoors 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 current health and environmental standards.
A pesticide will only be registered:
- when it works well to control a pest
- there is 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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