The Best Mosquito Repellents

by admin on January 31, 2010


OFF! and Autan

Despite what the folks back home think, travelling in the tropics isn’t all palm trees, white sandy beaches, fantastic food, incredible sights and cheap alcohol.  You also have to factor in the heat, humidity, strange money, “stomach problems”, ex-pats who can only be described as scum, exotic diseases and of course, mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes in this instance also refers to the zillions of bitey insects who are just waiting for YOU to come to their country and provide them with some exotic food.  In the interests of balance I have to point out that here in Scotland, especially on the West Coast mainland and Islands,  we have a particularly vicious summer insect called the midgie.  It doesn’t spread anything as terrible as malaria or dengue fever but its bites are incredibly itchy.  So far the only proven, scientific, way to avoid these little buggers is not to go to the West of Scotland in the summer months.  Seriously.

Back to the tropics though – it doesn’t matter what you rub on your skin or how much you cover up, you are still going to be bitten.  The best you can do is minimise risk by covering up vulnerable sites like ankles at night and using a really good mosquito repellent.  Slight diversion number 1 – the worst bites I’ve ever had were on my ankles and toes as a result of wearing flip flops in Khao San Road, Bangkok at night.  Slight diversion number 2 – mosquitoes bites DO spread disease (especially malaria in the rainy season) so make sure all your inoculations are up to date before you go.

In my years of travelling I’ve tried just about every type of mosquito repellent and I’ve learned 2 very important things:

–  ‘natural’ products are rubbish.  All they do is make you smell of lemon  –  a sure fire insect attractant in my experience

–  only something chock full of man made chemicals is going to protect you

The absolute best two products I’ve ever used (albeit not on a midgie) are OFF! and Autan, both made by S C Johnson (a family company apparently).

OFF! isn’t available in the UK but is big in the USA and can be bought in Thailand and Cambodia.  It contains DEET, not that nice a chemical but it is very effective.  It’s a white, odourless cream which you rub on to exposed skin.  If you want to read up about OFF! and see if it’s suitable for you, here’s the link to the web page.  I used it for the first time in Cambodia a couple of years ago and was very impressed with just how effective it is.  I couldn’t find it back in the UK though but I found Autan instead.

Autan doesn’t contain DEET,  but it does contain a new chemical called ICARIDIN which is the brand name  of the patented chemical KBR 3023 – apparently.  There’s a lot more info on the Autan web site

Autan No

here.  According to the site, ICARIDIN has only been in use for a few years but is seen as an efficient, less toxic (to humans but not mosquitoes) alternative to DEET.  I hope there are no long term side effects because I used Autan very liberally on my recent trip to Cambodia.  I took supplies with me just in case I couldn’t buy OFF! again  –  needn’t have worried, plenty of OFF! in Phnom Penh, especially in the upmarket chemist on the opposite corner to the Foreign Correspondents Club.

Autan proclaims that it has NO Fragrance, Colourings or Preservatives – which has to be good because perfume is a known mosquito attractant.

Personally, I hate being bitten and now go out of my way to avoid being a target.  Bites on fingers and toes can be very irritating so at night I tend to go out wearing long trousers and socks – but not with sandals obviously!  If there are lots of mossies I’ll wear a long sleeve shirt too.  But I do draw the line at wearing a hoodie.  And if I’m going to be eating/drinking outside, I take Autan/OFF with me and keep exposed skin topped up throughout the night.  All very sensible  –  and on the nights I do non of these things I get bitten to buggery.

Of course to avoid being bitten in your room you need to sleep in a silk sleeping bag liner (the mossies can’t get at you and they are naturally repelled by the silk) and you need a gecko too.  This handsome devil would regularly come in to my room in Khampot and help himself to a few bugs.  If your room doesn’t have one, just call room service and they’ll send one up straight away 🙂


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