Health Canada to ban bug repellents with high concentrations of DEET

Health Canada is phasing out insect repellents with high concentrations of DEET by December of 2004. DEET is one of the most popular chemicals used against bugs.

The department says even though DEET is a safe product, it will only allow bug repellents with less than 30 per cent concentration of DEET. Combination sunscreen/bug lotions won't be allowed at all.

Since 1957, DEET has been used to keep bugs at bay. It forms a vapour barrier around your skin so bugs can't smell you.

Cheryl Chaffey reviews pesticides for Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency. She says DEET is safe, but Health Canada wants a larger margin of safety for people who use it.

"We found absolutely no risk, no problem in people who use this in single exposures. We did find that with long-term repeated application that that buffer wasn't as large as we'd like it to be."

It's a move that puzzles some people.

'You get good repellency for many hours'

"I'm dismayed. I'm a big fan of DEET products," says Greg Smiley who manages an outdoors store in Halifax.

"You get good repellency for many hours...You can put one application on the morning and maybe another in the evening if you're still out."

Smiley says he's used DEET products for 20 years and never noticed any side effects.

"I don't know why at this time, the government would want to remove it from the shelves."

Health Canada officials say DEET is just as effective in lower concentrations. It's just that lower concentrations don't last as long.

Health Canada has also released some guidelines for people using repellents containing DEET:

  • children under six months of age should not be using it
  • children between six months and 12 years of age should never have it on their face and hands
  • children between six months and two years should only use it when there's a high risk of complications from insect bites and only the least concentrated product should be used sparingly
  • for children aged two to 12 years of age, should use the least concentrated product and do not apply more than three times daily. Do not apply to the face or hands
  • for anyone 12 years of age and older: do not use any products with a DEET concentration of 30 per cent or stronger