When it comes to choosing your summer insect repellent, it’s all about the active ingredient, and the risk and dangers of getting bitten. Those with allergies – not only to isothiazolinones – have that extra consideration to bear in mind as well.
Active ingredients are the ingredients which either mask the chemicals which make you attractive to insects and mosquitos, or else deter and repel those bugs from approaching you in the first place. It’s not always clear how they work, in fact, and some may work in both ways.
Remember: always patch test products prior to travel. Read labels carefully – and instructions for any age restrictions on use. Always take care around eyes and hands.
This is diethyl-m-toluamide / diethyltoluamide – one of the most common insect repellents and widely considered one of the most effective – the option of choice when travelling to higher-risk areas (where there is malaria, eg).
Some don’t like to use it, and there have been a number of health concerns raised about it for many years, but if you don’t mind the smell, it is generally thought to be safe and potent, with the likelihood of adverse reactions to it to be low. It may stain or damage synthetic clothes or plastics (should be fine with wool or cotton), especially at higher strengths, so allow it to dry before dressing, and try to avoid getting it onto the hands, where you risk transferring it to other goods.
Strengths vary. The more concentrated the formulation, the longer lasting, and the more effective or appropriate it is for more tropical regions, where the risk is greater.
Follow instructions with regards to using on children – some caution or restrictions will apply when using on very young children.
What to try
Pyramid Trek DEET Repellent. Comes in various strengths, in orange labelling, all assured to us to be free of MI by their Head of Consumer Products. The Pyramid Trek 100, for instance, gives up to 12 hours protection.
OFF! Wide variety of strengths and varieties, for use for various periods outside. US Website frustratingly only gives active ingredient content percentage, and describes other ingredients as … ‘other ingredients’ – without further explanation. After pressing them on the ingredients, OFF!’s Facebook page administrator stated that “OFF! Family care and OFF! Active products are not formulated to contain preservatives from the Methylisothiazolinone or isothiazolinone class.” Browse OFF! Family Care on Amazon (US) here. The Australian website can be viewed here. Reader Becmania has said she has been using this brand safely.
Buggspray Insect Repellent No Fragrance. This is a reader recommendation from Jill Sandager. I have not been able to check or verify ingredients.
Picaridin / Icaridin / Saltidin
This is hydroxyethyl isobutyl piperidine carboxylate, like DEET, another conventional chemical repellent. This is odourless, which some prefer, and is considered as effective as DEET, without the potential damage to synthetics, and many prefer the less oily feel on the skin. May be more effective on mosquitoes than on midges / ticks, however.
What to try
Pyramid Trek Sensitive, in blue labelling, for use on adults and children 2 and above, and safe for pregnant women. Pyramid Trek Midge & Tick, in celery green labelling, also OK for pregnant women and children 2 and over (but not recommended for malaria).
NB One of the OFF! Family Products (see above) – the Clean Feel – uses Picaridin instead of DEET as active ingredient.
An extract of lemon eucalyptus is considered less effective than picaridin or DEET, but is all-natural and so may appeal to those with young children or who are looking for bug protection in non-risky areas. It goes by the brand name Citriodol. The Latin name for the plant from which is derived is eucalyptus citriodora / corymbia citriodora.
What to try
Incognito Insect Repellent. Also contains bergamot and camphor. Other items in the range – including body moisturiser and soap bar.
Pyramid Trek Natural, in jade green labelling. Can be used on children aged 6+ months, say the manufacturers.
Citronella is a lemongrass-type plant – cymbopogon winterianus. It is registered for use as an insecticide in the US, but not in Canada, and not in the EU. Effectiveness is believed to be fairly modest, and should be restricted to low-risk areas.
What to try
Neal’s Yard Remedies Citronella Formula. Billed more as a spray than as an insect repellant, but contains citronella, which apparently bugs dislike.
Simply Bee Insect Repellent. Sunflower oil, coconut oil, beeswax, citronella and lemongrass.
Other Essential Oils / Blends
These are again very natural, but are likely to offer the lowest level of effectiveness for most people. Some boost effectiveness with citronella. Standard lemongrass (cymbopogon citratus) may be used too, not least because some prefer its fragrance to that of citronella.
What to try
Oliella Mosquito-Go – soap and lotion (which looks to be more of a balm, really).
Quit bugging me JASON spray. With active ingredients soybean oil and geranium oil. Other ingredients are glycerin, lecithin, citric acid, sodium bicarbonate, benzoic acid and sodium benzoate.
Babyganics Natural Insect Repellent (US only). This contains soybean oil and various essential oils, including citronella, lemongrass, geranium and peppermint – and is made for infants.
Fit Organic Mosquito Repellent (US only). The entire brand is mi-free. Uses 10% lemongrass oil and other inert / harmless ingredients.
Vitamin B1 Patches
As dry patches, applied to the skin, these should be MI-Free, but having enquired of the following two brands of patches, I have not had a reply or confirmation that they are safe, though almost certainly they are. Whether they work is also up for debate, but is another ‘alternative’ option for very low risk travel.
What to try
Choosing an Insect Repellent For Your Child – via HealthyChildren.org
Mosquito Bite Avoidance – Fit for Travel
Protection against Mosquitoes, Ticks and other Arthropods – Center for Disease Control