Summer is not only known as camping and barbecue season, it’s also known as bug season – the latter not being so pleasant. If you enjoy spending time outdoors, you have presumably been the victim of a few insect bites by now.
As insect bites often come with unpleasant symptoms, such as itchiness and redness, you have likely tried all things possible to avoid getting bitten, including candles, smoke coils and numerous creams and sprays. The number of repellent choices has grown in recent years, so you may be wondering which of these products actually work and which ones are safe for children.
There are three formulas designed to repel insects that were reviewed and approved by Health Canada. These formulas are the following: DEET, icaridin (also called picaridin) and natural formulations such as essential oils.
The ingredients that Health Canada says have a repellent effect are:
- Soybean and citronella oils
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus and it’s main active ingredient P-Menthane-3,8-diol
- A mixture of essential oils like lemon, eucalyptus, pine needle, geranium and camphor
Health Canada recommends DEET and icardin as one of the best choices for preventing bites that can lead to disease. Some natural products, such as the ones named above, can be effective; however, the repellent effects of the products are very short-lived. For example, a product containing 2% soybean oil can protect against mosquitoes for about 90 minutes, while products containing DEET or icaridin can provide protection from 2.5 to 8 hours (depending on the concentration of the product).
Many consider DEET, which has been around for over 50 years, the most reliable insect repellent as it offers excellent bite protection that lasts for hours. But DEET isn’t perfect and many individuals have had bad reactions while using it.
In 2012, Health Canada has approved a new repellent called “icaridin”, which has proven to work as well as DEET. Unlike DEET, icaridin is odorless and much less likely to cause skin irritation and sudden reactions, such as nausea. It also isn’t greasy and does not ruin plastics or synthetic fabrics the way DEET can. Icaridin was somewhat irritating to the eyes during testing, which is why there is a “Warning Eye Irritant” label on the product. However, icaridin is not irritating to the skin and does not cause allergic skin reactions.
Is DEET safe for children?
Like any chemical, insect repellents should be used safely. DEET is considered safe for children, but they should only be exposed to small amount. See below for the recommendations:
- 6 months of age and younger: Do not use insect repellents with DEET
- 6 months up to 2 years: No more than 10% DEET up to once a day
- 2 to 12 years of age: No more than 10% DEET up to 3 times per day
- Over 12 years of age: Up to 30% DEET
Is Icaridin safe for children?
Although there is no evidence that DEET-free repellents are safer, many parents prefer them – especially since some of them have levels of efficacy similar to DEET in preventing mosquito and tick bites (i.e. icaridin).
Icaridin is considered to be the repellent of first choice by the Public Health Agency of Canada for children between six months to 12 years of age. Products containing up to 20% icaridin are considered to be safe and effective for children older than 6 months of age (compared to products containing only 10% DEET for the same age group). Hence, icaridin is the preferred repellent for this age category, with DEET as a second choice.
Insect repellents can be effective in preventing insect bites; however, other prevention methods can also be used. To protect yourself from bites, consider using the following strategies: covering up (avoid sandals, wear light-coloured, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors, and tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks), avoiding places where insects breed and live, and staying in well-screened areas.
For more information, please see the following websites:
Government of Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/about-pesticides/insect-repellents.html
Canadian Pediatric Society (Caring for Kids): https://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/handouts/insect_repellents