Is Your Insect Repellent Safe?

Mosquito on human skin

How do you balance the need to keep your children free from insect bites in the summer against the need to keep them free from the toxic chemicals that can pass as insect repellent? Understand what is in insect repellents and why, then choose a bug spray that is most effective at keeping mosquitos and ticks away while still being the least toxic for your children.

We don’t just repel insects in the summer because they are a nuisance. Mosquitos and ticks carry disease. We are trying to prevent the spread of West Nile virus, malaria, and Yellow Fever from mosquitos and Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever from ticks. Obviously, it’s worth using some form of insect repellent to keep our families safe from mosquitos and ticks.

We are faced, though, with the dilemma that insect repellents contain pesticides. Of course they would, when their goal is to kill insects.

Synthetic repellents like DEET and Permethrin promise low toxicity, but studies continue to show adverse effects, especially for children and pregnant women. Both of these common ingredients in insect repellents are neurotoxins. Effects of DEET haven’t resulted in outright bans, but there is a widespread awareness of the potential effects of DEET. Health Canada has limited DEET concentrations in insect repellents, increasing the limitations for younger children to a recommendation of no DEET for infants under 6 months. Many parents avoid DEET altogether.

If you are going to avoid these synthetic neurotoxins, how will you keep insects off your children?

Some essential oils repel insects for a couple of hours. Think of the particularly strong smelling essential oils like peppermint, lavender, lemon balm, cedar, basil, or even garlic.

You can also find natural substances that repel bugs for a longer period of time. Neem oil is a natural insect repellent. This oil is pressed from the fruits and seeds of the Indian Neem tree, and the strong smell is a bit like peanut and garlic and the taste is quite bitter. This is used widely in cosmetics. Don’t use neem oil internally. It’s a natural pesticide, but it’s still a pesticide with mild toxicity that you don’t want your child licking or yourself ingesting, especially if you are pregnant.

How can you keep the bugs away without causing harm?

First, start by creating spaces that deter insects. Keep basil and lemon balm plants at windows. Grow catnip, rosemary, and lavender throughout the garden. Put a dab of peppermint essential oil (not flavor oil) on your child’s collar in the morning. Clean with natural d-limonene cleaners made from citrus oil. These plants and oils won’t guarantee that bugs stay away, but you can create a less buggy environment for your children.

Second, carefully choose a personal insect repellant (one that you apply on each person) that uses the most natural ingredients.

We carry two insect repellents made in small batches in Canada: Graydon and Shoo! Natural Bug Spray.

Graydon Natural Insect Repellent


Graydon Natural Insect Repellent Spray is based on a traditional Metis recipe, made mindfully in small batches in Canada.

Ingredients: unrefined plant protein complex, soya bean oil, lemon juice, lime juice, grapefruit juice, food grade citrus oil extract, vegetable glycerin, lecithin, citric acid and sodium bicarbonate.

Anointment Natural Bug Repellent Spray


Shoo! Natural Bug Spray is handcrafted in New Brunswick.

Ingredients: Glycine soja (Soybean) Oil*, Lauris Nobilis Leaf Extract*, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Leaf Extract*, Azadirachta Indica (Neem) Seed Oil, Cedrus Atlantica (Cedarwood) Bark Oil, Cymbopogon Schoenanthus Oil, Eucalyptus Globulus Oil, Tocopherol. *USDA certified organic.

Image © Risto Hunt |

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