Travel clinic

From an­noy­ing midges to malaria-car­ry­ing mos­qui­tos, if you’re trav­el­ling where there are bit­ing in­sects, re­pel­lent is a must-pack item – but which is the right one for you?

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Dis­tin­guish­ing travel health facts from dan­ger­ous hearsay can be hard – Dr Jane takes aim at travel’s big­gest health myths


In­sect re­pel­lent falls into two dis­tinct cat­e­gories – those that use DEET (or di­ethyl­meta­tolu­amide) and those that don’t. For young chil­dren, preg­nant women or those who suf­fer skin re­ac­tions from us­ing DEET, it’s wise to look at the al­ter­na­tives on of­fer. The most com­mon ‘nat­u­ral’ re­pel­lents con­tain a mix of le­mon (‘cit­ronella’), eu­ca­lyp­tus or a syn­thetic prod­uct called pi­caridin (cre­ated to re­sem­ble piper­ine, which is found nat­u­rally in pep­per plants). Sci­en­tists and doc­tors usu­ally recommend DEET if go­ing to a coun­try with a high risk of par­tic­u­larly nasty in­sect-borne dis­eases such as malaria, dengue fever or Zika – check with your GP or travel clinic be­fore you leave.


Ev­ery few years you’ll see head­lines emerg­ing that ques­tion the use of Deet-con­tain­ing prod­ucts, cit­ing re­ports of al­ler­gic re­ac­tions, plas­tic melt­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties and car­cino­genic prop­er­ties (usu­ally through long-term use). How­ever, it’s all about how much of the chem­i­cal is used within the mix­ture. Gen­er­ally, a max­i­mum of 30% DEET is thought to be safe (es­pe­cially in short-term use). You can buy some with up to 100%, though re­ports sug­gest that 30% could be as ef­fec­tive as 50% DEET prod­ucts or higher.

Though it’s not a par­tic­u­larly nice prod­uct, do re­mem­ber that you need to con­sider the risk and ef­fects that con­tract­ing an in­sect-borne dis­ease brings; if se­ri­ous, then short-term DEET use (even at high strengths) may be well worth it. Check where you’re go­ing on fit­for­ to see what risks your des­ti­na­tion holds – if you’re fac­ing only an an­noy­ing itch at worse, then a nat­u­ral prod­uct could be prefer­able.


Let’s not beat around the bush (es­pe­cially if there are flies in it), all re­pel­lents smell, even the ones that claim they don’t. Deet-con­tain­ing prod­ucts smell strong­est – and are ini­tially very po­tent – while nat­u­ral ones that con­tain cit­rus flavours can be more pleas­ant. Choos­ing your re­pel­lent is a mix of per­sonal pref­er­ence com­bined with bal­anc­ing the risk of con­tract­ing a dis­ease.


All for­mu­lae will need to be topped up even­tu­ally, even those boast­ing all-day pro­tec­tion (usu­ally this means around eight hours). This is par­tic­u­larly true if go­ing some­where very hot (as you’ll often sweat it off ), do­ing some­thing par­tic­u­larly ac­tive or if swim­ming in wa­ter.


Much like smell, this is a case of per­sonal pref­er­ence. Some feel sticky, oth­ers dry; some you will barely no­tive that you are wear­ing. Be mind­ful that some re­pel­lents can pre­vent sun­screen work­ing, so check in­struc­tions first.


Science points to DEET be­ing the most ef­fec­tive re­pel­lent; how­ever, smaller stud­ies, anec­do­tal ev­i­dence and lab test­ing has shown that oth­ers can work, too. But then it can also de­pend on the in­di­vid­ual – some peo­ple nat­u­rally at­tract more in­sects than oth­ers, mean­ing that they need some­thing stronger than those who don’t. The test here is meant to of­fer guid­ance on what is avail­able and the writer’s ex­pe­ri­ence on the road, rather than any sci­en­tific re­search into how well each works in strict lab­o­ra­tory con­di­tions.

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