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You can lower your chance of being bitten by an insect or spider-like animal (arachnid) by using insect repellents. Mosquitoes, biting flies, and ticks can cause annoying bites and sometimes a serious disease. Mosquito bites can spread infections such as West Nile virus (a virus that causes swelling of the brain called encephalitis), Zika virus, and malaria in some parts of the world. Tick bites can cause serious diseases such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Bites from biting flies are painful and may cause a skin infection.
You can buy many different kinds of insect repellents. Some work better than others. DEET provides the longest-lasting protection against mosquito bites.
The insect repellents that work the best are:
This is the most effective insect repellent. A solution of 23.8% DEET provides about 5 hours of protection from mosquitoes. In Canada, DEET is available in varying strengths up to 30%. Research shows that strengths greater than 50% do not provide substantially higher protection. Unless you are in areas with a large number of mosquitoes, repellents with 10% to 24% DEET should keep most mosquitoes away from your skin. Concerns have been raised about safety, because DEET is quickly absorbed after being applied to the skin. Studies over the past 40 years haven't shown that DEET causes cancer or other illnesses. The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and other experts suggest that it is safe to apply DEET in concentrations of 10% DEET to children 6 months to 12 years of age. It's important to read and follow all instructions on the label. DEET should also be used carefully on clothing.
Icaridin is an insecticide that has been available for use in Europe for many years. It is available in Canada in concentrations up to 20%. It may work as well as DEET in repelling insects, and it may protect against mosquitoes for up to 7 hours. Icaridin is odourless and does not feel sticky or greasy. It is less likely to cause skin irritation than DEET. And it does not damage synthetic fabrics or plastics. The (PHAC) recommends icaridin as the preferred insect repellent for children 6 months to 12 years of age. The PHAC does not recommend the use of icaridin on children younger than age 6 months.footnote 1
This product is commonly known as lemon eucalyptus oil. When oil of lemon eucalyptus was tested against mosquitoes found in the U.S., it provided protection similar to repellents with low concentrations of DEET. It provides up to 2 hours of protection against mosquito bites. Do not apply more than 2 times a day. And do not use this product on children younger than 3 years.
Insect repellents that contain 2% soybean oil provide 1 to 4 hours of protection from mosquitoes when applied to the skin. Soybean oil is safe to use on infants and children.
IR3535 is not available as an insect repellent in Canada, but it is used in other parts of the world to prevent insect bites. This repellent is a chemical similar to the amino acid alanine. Tests have shown that it can protect against mosquito bites for up to 1 hour.
Insect repellents that don't offer protection for long periods of time include:
This is a lemon-scented oil, derived from a plant, that repels mosquitoes. It is not as effective or as long-lasting as DEET. The product can be reapplied frequently to increase its effectiveness. Citronella can be found in lotions or in candles for outdoor use. Citronella applied to the skin provides 15 to 20 minutes of protection from mosquitoes. There is no scientific evidence that citronella candles are effective.
Other plant oils, such as lavender and geranium, provide less than 30 minutes of protection against mosquitoes. These products aren't recommended.
There are other products advertised as mosquito repellents that don't effectively prevent mosquito bites. These include:
Read and follow all instructions on the label. Health Canada and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommend the following precautions for using insect repellents.
Do not use under clothing.
Do not apply the repellent to your child's hands.
Heavy application and saturation generally isn't necessary for effectiveness. If biting insects don't respond to a thin film, apply a bit more.
This is particularly important when repellents are used repeatedly in a day or several days in a row. Also, wash treated clothing before you wear it again.
If you see your doctor, take the repellent with you.
CitationsCommittee to Advise on Tropical Medicine and Travel (2012). Statement on personal protective measures to prevent arthropod bites. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 38: 1–18. http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/publicat/ccdr-rmtc/12vol38/acs-dcc-3/index-eng.php. Accessed May 21, 2016.
Adaptation Date: 8/2/2022
Adapted By: Alberta Health Services
Adaptation Reviewed By: Alberta Health Services
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