Should have mosquito repellent deet

Mosquito repellent when traveling: the best insect sprays and possible alternatives

Mosquitoes and other insects can not only spoil travel fun, but in the worst case also transmit diseases. So it is not a bad idea to give some thought to protecting yourself against stings. Here you will find everything you should know about mosquito repellent when traveling.

The health warnings of some countries read like the recipe for a medical horror film: In Tanzania, for example, around 60,000 locals die every year from the effects of malaria. There is also a further risk of yellow fever and dengue fever.

Almost everywhere the greatest danger comes from diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes and against which there is still no effective vaccination. Conversely, that means: In order to keep the risk of infection as low as possible, effective insect protection is essential.

A study from France published in 2006 shows how much this brings: according to this, fewer than ten percent of patients suffering from malaria have used measures to ward off insects.

This article is about what substances are available to repel mosquitoes and what advantages and disadvantages they have. At the end there are tips on which product is best for which places.

Bug sprays: which active ingredients are best?

As is so often the case in life, the same applies to insect sprays: There is no such thing as THE best. Rather, it is about finding the active ingredient that best suits your needs - i.e. your type of travel and your personal weighing of the advantages and disadvantages.


1. Active ingredient DEET: Aggressive mosquito repellent

DEET prevents mosquitoes and other insects from perceiving human scents. Clinical tests show that this works very well. No other active ingredient keeps mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, mites, horse flies and flies away so reliably. This is also confirmed by studies by the Stiftung Warentest and the Schweizer Kassensturz.

However, the high level of protection does not come without side effects: irritations of the mucous membranes and skin reactions appear to be a problem in particular. In addition, DEET is absorbed through the skin and, according to some sources, is said to act like a neurotoxin. That is why there are special restrictions for children and for mothers during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Another disadvantage: DEET attacks certain synthetic fibers and leather. So make sure that you only apply the spray to the body. The effects on the environment are also unclear. However, there appears to be a slight toxicity to freshwater fish and plankton. The following products are recommended:

  • NOBITE skin spray *: Thanks to the exceptionally high DEET content of 50 percent, this insect spray is particularly suitable for hazardous areas. The manufacturer promises protection for up to 8 hours.
  • Anti Hum Forte *: With a slightly lower DEET content of 30 percent, fewer side effects are to be expected with this spray. According to the manufacturer, it only offers six-hour protection.
  • Kik Active: If you are looking for a slightly weaker product, the Swiss Kik Active with a DEET content of 20 percent is probably the best choice. The duration of protection is an average of 5 hours.

2. Icaridin active ingredient: The gentle alternative

Icaridin, which is also chemically produced, is considered the most important alternative to DEET. It doesn't repel mosquitoes quite as well as DEET and has to be applied more frequently because of its less long-lasting effectiveness.

The advantage, however, is that icaridin is a gentler ingredient. This is also shown by the fact that, according to the current state of knowledge, pregnant women and small children can safely use insect sprays on its basis. Icaridin also seems to have little or no effect on plastic.

A study by Oregon State University was unable to identify any serious environmental influences, but significantly less research was carried out on Icaradin than on the much older active ingredient DEET. Note that Icardin is sometimes also used as a Saltidin or Picaridin referred to as. But it's exactly the same substance. The following products are recommended:

  • NOBITE Skin Sensitive *: Nobite also offers the product with the strongest concentration based on Icaridin: 30 percent of Icaridin provides particularly reliable and lasting protection.
  • Autan Tropical *: This product protects with a 20 percent concentration and is therefore suitable for children from 2 years of age. Thanks to the 100 ml bottle, it can also be carried in hand luggage.
  • Autan Mosquito Repellent Junior Gel *: This insect spray, specially made for children, contains only 10 percent icaridin and is therefore less irritating to the mucous membranes - however, it is also less effective.

3. Active ingredient PMD / Citriodiol: The “green” alternative

The active ingredient is made from the essential oil of a Chinese lemon eucalyptus variety. Although the substance is now mostly produced synthetically, mosquito sprays with PMD (or the identical citriodiol) belong to the "green line" of many manufacturers.

Citriodiol is considered to be the most effective plant-based active ingredient. It repels the most important mosquito species such as malaria mosquitoes, yellow fever mosquitoes and tiger mosquitoes. However, various tests by consumer protection organizations show that the duration of the protection of these products is even less long.

Probably the most important advantage is that, because of the rare side effects, these products can already be used in small children from 1 year of age and that they have the most pleasant odor of all mosquito sprays. The following products are recommended:

  • Anti Brumm Naturel *: This product protects up to 6 hours and has a pleasant lemon scent. If used sparingly, it is suitable for children from 1 year. Unfortunately, the manufacturer does not specify the concentration.
  • Sanct Bernhard Anti-Mosquito *: This spray also uses natural mosquito repellent and offers up to 6 hours of protection against mosquitoes. It has a PMD concentration of 30 percent.

4. Essential oils as mosquito repellants: Weak alternative

If you don't like the three "classic" active ingredients listed above, you can also try different natural alternatives. While researching this article, I came across several blog articles praising coconut oil and essential oils (such as citronella oil and lavender oil).

Before you choose this option, you should know that these oils have consistently proven to be ineffective in clinical studies. You should be a little skeptical about personal experience reports without a control group, as it is not possible to distinguish whether these substances really deter mosquitoes or whether the mosquitoes are simply not hungry.

However, you should definitely avoid anti-mosquito bracelets. The colorful plastic bracelets give off essential oils and are supposed to drive away the mosquitoes in this way. According to a study by Stiftung Warentest in 2014, no effectiveness whatsoever could be confirmed in the products examined.

There is absolutely no point in eating garlic (although it works well with vampires and dates), running ultrasound machines, or putting flowers by the window. You don't believe what crazy things are said on the internet!


Tip: use clothing as a mosquito repellent

Since studies show that around 40 percent of the stitches go through clothing, you should also think about what you are wearing. Mosquitoes prefer dark clothes, so you should choose light colors if possible. It is also important that the clothes are not tight, otherwise the insects can easily pierce.

You can also protect yourself with textile sprays. Since the waterproofing lasts up to four weeks, this is especially a good idea for pants and sweaters that you probably don't wash every day. Nobite clothing spray * worked very well for me on my Tanzania trip. However, the active ingredient permethrin severely damages aquatic organisms and should therefore only be used with caution.

During my research, I also came across real mosquito protection suits *. They provide a mechanical barrier that makes it impossible for insects to sting you. I imagine this will work out fine, but they look so incredibly ugly that you can forget about any usable Instagram pics from your trip right away.

Pros and cons: your own mosquito net when traveling?

A mosquito net is one of the most important measures of mosquito protection when traveling. Whether you should take your own from home, however, depends on various factors such as your travel budget, your type of travel and of course the travel destination.

Even if many travelers swear by the fine-meshed nets, I personally advise against bringing your own mosquito net. In all of my travels there has only been one case where I have needed one. And only because we were so stupid not to close the window in the evening.

My experience from almost 70 countries is: Wherever there is a need for a mosquito net, there is usually one. If, in exceptional cases, this does not apply, I simply go to the next accommodation or choose a hotel with air conditioning.

In addition, it is often difficult to hang up mosquito nets that you have brought with you. Sometimes the ceiling is too high or the fan is in the way. And even if everything goes well, you won't give the hotel owner any pleasure if you screw hooks into the ceiling or leave remnants of adhesive tape.

In the next few weeks, I'll be writing an article giving tips on what to look for when choosing a mosquito net.

Conclusion on mosquito repellent when traveling

As mentioned at the beginning, there is no one healing solution when it comes to mosquito repellent when traveling. In general, the higher the effectiveness, the greater the possible health risks and possible damage to the environment.

Therefore, you should make the choice primarily dependent on the threat situation, which, however, varies geographically depending on the tropical disease: Malaria is a problem above all in the equatorial Africa, in India and Brazil as well as in individual island states. Zika, on the other hand, is mainly widespread in South America and you can also pick up dengue fever in Southeast Asia.

While it would be reckless in regions with a high risk, despite possible side effects, to forego the best possible protection from DEET, in regions with a low health risk, the somewhat gentler Icaridin or BMD are sufficient. In Europe and other areas where there is no risk to health, I usually only use mosquito sprays when I can actually detect a significant mosquito plague. In the worst case, I'll risk a couple of stitches.

Also note that mosquito sprays alone are not sufficient protection. Especially in travel destinations that are at risk of illness, you should also waterproof your clothes and protect yourself with mosquito nets at night.

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