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What are the Different Types of Insect Repellants and Are They Safe?

Mosquitoes are nuisances.  In Alberta, mosquitoes are everywhere and in some cases can ruin a perfect day outside if they are particularly high in population.  

In order to fully enjoy the spring and summer weather while we have it, we may want to prevent itchy mosquito bites by using insect repellent (bug spray).  But not all insect repellents are created equal in their effectiveness.  So how do we choose which ones to use for our children and ourselves?

Types of Insect Repellants

Only products that have been approved by Health Canada for safety and effectiveness can be labeled and sold as insect repellants.  There are other products sold in stores that you may hear are effective as bug sprays – but these do not have Health Canada approval to be marketed as such.  There are five insect repellents approved for use in Canada. 


  • Most common and well known
  • Not recommended for less than 6 months old
  • For ages 6 months to 2 years, use up to 10% DEET once daily 
  • For ages 2 to 12 years, use up to 10% DEET to a maximum of 3 times a day.  Do not use daily
  • For 12 years old and up, use up to 30% DEET to a maximum of 3 times a day
  • Safe to use in pregnancy or breastfeeding  
  • Side effects are rare and may include rash, redness, itching, eye irritation
  • Oily and sticky, can damage some fabrics


  • Considered the first choice of insect repellent by the Public Health Agency of Canada
  • Not recommended for less than 6 months old
  • For 6 months and up, use 10-20%
  • Safe to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding
  • No allergic reactions have been reported, nonirritating
  • Odorless, non-sticky and non-greasy which makes it more attractive to use than DEET

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus 

Soybean Oil

  • No age restriction or limitations to the frequency of use 
  • Low toxicity, rare reports of skin irritation
  • Safe to use in pregnancy and breastfeeding as it is not absorbed

Oil of Citronella

  • Not recommended for less than 2 years old
  • Not recommended in pregnant due to lack of safety data

How To Use Insect Repellents Safely

It is important to always follow the instructions on the product for age restrictions, how many applications per day, and what insects it works against.

Children under the age of 10 should not apply their own bug spray.  Apply the product lightly on exposed skin and on top of clothing.  Bug spray should never be used under clothing.  Do not apply insect repellent to a child’s hands to avoid it getting into their mouth or eyes.  If applying to a child’s face, apply the repellent to your own hands and then applying to their face.  

If both sunscreen and insect repellent are being used at the same time, apply the sunscreen about 20 minutes before the insect repellent.  Do not use combination products that contain both sunscreen and insect repellent.  This is because sunscreen should be applied more frequently than bug spray.  

Spray repellents should only be used outside in well-ventilated areas.  

Mixtures of essential oils should not be applied to children under the age of 2. 

Other Ways to Prevent Mosquito Bites

You can take some physical precautions against mosquito bites by doing the following:

  • Wear light coloured clothing, long sleeves and pants, and avoid sandals
  • Cover your baby’s stroller or playpen outside with a fine mesh netting
  • Avoid outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are at their worst
  • Remove any standing water from your yard

This post was co-authored by Erin Manchuk, BScPharm, BCGand  Stephanie Liu, MD, MSc, CCFP, BHSc.

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