Insect repellents for children

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Insect repellents for children

Highlights
  • Children should only be exposed to small amounts of DEET.
  • Do not use insect repellents  with DEET on infants under 6 months of age.
  • Read the entire label before using any insect repellent.

At best, insect bites are annoying. At worst, they can be dangerous. Mosquitoes and biting flies can carry disease. However in Canada, reports of such cases are relatively rare.

There are several ways to avoid insect bites:

  • Wear light-coloured, long pants and long-sleeved shirts when outdoors.
  • Avoid places where mosquitoes breed and live, like standing water.
  • Stay inside when mosquitoes are most active: dawn, dusk, evening.
  • Use insect repellents.
  • Clean up any standing water in the area.

The most effective insect repellents; contain a chemical called DEET (Diethyl-meta-toluamide), which keeps biting flies and mosquitoes away. Not all products have the same concentration, or amount, of DEET. This amount is identified as a percentage, such as 10% DEET. In Canada, products with a higher concentration of DEET (above 30%) are not available.

Like any chemical, insect repellents; should be used safely. Children should only be exposed to small amounts of DEET.

Although there are products available that don’t contain DEET, they don’t work as well and not as much is known about their safety. Natural products may cause skin sensitivities.

How can I protect my children when using insect repellent?

  • Read the entire label before using any insect repellent.
  • Always apply the insect repellent for your children.
  • Apply the product lightly and don’t use more than you need.
  • Do not apply on irritated or sunburned skin or on open cuts or scrapes.
  • Apply it only on top of clothing or to skin that is showing. Don’t use it under clothes.
  • Be careful not to get it in your child’s eyes. If you do get the insect repellent in the eyes, rinse with water right away.
  • Don’t spray your child’s hands if you think they will put them in their eyes or mouth.
  • Reapply repellent after swimming, as it will wash off.
  • When you don’t need the protection anymore, wash the skin with soap and water.
  • If you think your child is having a reaction to the product, wash the skin and get medical help right away. Take the container with you so the doctor knows what you used.

Children under 6 months old:

  • Do not use insect repellents with DEET on infants under 6 months of age.
  • Although there is no known hazard to breastfed infants, nursing mothers may wish to consider DEET alternatives, such as using protective clothing and avoiding exposure to insects. Use a net to cover your baby’s stroller or playpen when outside.

Children aged 6 months to 2 years:

  • You can use products with DEET once a day.
  • Use products with no more than 10% DEET.

Children between 2 and 12 years old:

  • You can use products with DEET up to 3 times a day.
  • Use products with no more than 10% DEET.

Children over 12 years old:

  • You can use a product with 30% DEET or less.
  • If needed, re-apply when it’s no longer working. The amount of time the product protects against insect bites depends on how much DEET it has:
    • 30% DEET provides about 6 hours of protection.
    • 15% DEET provides about 5 hours of protection.
    • 10% DEET provides about 3 hours of protection.
    • 5% DEET provides about 2 hours of protection

Can I use DEET and a sunscreen at the same time?

Yes, the sunscreen should be applied first followed 30 minutes later by the insect repellent.

Can I use DEET if I’m pregnant?

Although there is no known hazard to your unborn child, you may wish to consider DEET alternatives, such as wearing protective clothing and limiting your exposure to insects.



Reviewed by the following CPS committees:
Drug Therapy and Hazardous Substances Committee
Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee
Public Education Advisory Committee

Last updated: March 2012