If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to spoil an otherwise perfect summer holiday, it’s mosquito bites. Those bites can be unsightly and often maddeningly itchy, but in some countries there are bigger risks than itching. In tropical regions, mosquitoes can carry diseases such as dengue, West Nile virus, malaria and yellow fever. Wherever you are, though, we can all probably agree on one thing: mosquito bites are always best avoided.
There are all sorts of weird and not-terribly-wonderful deterrents out there – we’ve heard of everything from leaving out jars of soap to eating lots of spicy food (which this writer can attest should not be relied upon) – but if you really want to ward of these buzzing pests, you’re definitely best off investing in a decent mosquito repellent. With options including everything from sprays to bracelets and stick-on patches to plug-in defences, this guide will help you pick the right repellent for you.
How to choose the best mosquito repellent
When do I need mosquito repellent?
If you’re in, or travelling to, a country with a temperate climate or warmer then you are likely to encounter mosquitoes. And yes, this includes the UK, where there are 30 native species. They need water in order to thrive: some species prefer clean and fresh water; some stagnant and polluted water. You can find them by ponds, marshes, rivers, swamps, lakes and pretty much any source of water – they tend to come out of their nests at night when the air is cooler.
If you’re travelling to a tropical or subtropical country, you should consult the UK government’s advice and guidance webpage to see if you are at risk of encountering disease-carrying mosquitoes.
What types of mosquito repellents are there?
Mosquito repellents can come in sprays, aerosols, or salves and lotions that you can apply directly to your skin. But due to the unpleasant smell that some products give off, they’re not particularly pleasant to wear. (There’s also some contention surrounding the ingredient DEET, which we’ll unpack in the next section.) Some repellents come in wristband form; others patches that you can stick to both your skin and your clothes. There are also electronic devices that you can plug into the mains to ward off the insects at night. We include one of each type in our roundup below.
Are there any risks associated with mosquito repellents?
The most effective and long-standing chemical used in mosquito repellents is N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, better known as DEET. The US Army has been issuing it to its troops since the 1940s. In recent decades, there have been a few medical reports suggesting there are links between DEET and its health problems, but ultimately none of them have been substantiated.
Much of DEET’s bad rep, we would say, is due to a general disinclination towards using chemical products right now, which isn’t helped by its unpleasant smell. We’ve included all-natural alternatives below, but if you really want to keep mosquitoes away, DEET remains the best choice.
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The best mosquito repellents to buy
1. Pyramid Trek 50 Insect: Best DEET mosquito repellent
Price: £7 (60ml) | Buy now from Amazon
DEET’s reputation has suffered in recent decades, and many repellents now boast of their DEET-free credentials. But if you want to guarantee yourself as much protection as possible against the mozzies, then frankly nothing beats it. Each squirt from this product will last a solid six hours before you’ll need to re-apply. Like most DEET-based sprays, it gives off a very distinct odour. But even if it’s one that you dislike, here’s the good news: the mosquitoes dislike it even more.
2. Incognito Insect Repellent Spray: Best natural and child-friendly mosquito repellent
Price: £8 |Buy now from Amazon
DEET-based formulas might be effective, but they’re simply not suitable for smaller kids. If you’d prefer an all-natural mosquito repellent that’s also suitable for little ones, take a look at this spray from Incognito. The company has revealed very little about its formula – but it’s totally free of DEET and Picaridin (another chemical often used in repellents). It doesn’t seem to work for absolutely everyone, but it lasts for five hours and is approved by the Vegan Society.
3. Theye: Best mosquito repellent bracelet
Price: £5 | Buy now from Amazon
Keen to keep all those sprayable repellents away from your skin? Invest in a mosquito repellent bracelet from Theye. Granted, it’s not a one-off purchase: these silicone bands last for two weeks before you’ll need to use another. But that’s probably the perfect length of time for most holidaymakers, and those looking for a natural repellent will be pleased to hear it uses oil of lemon eucalyptus as its main ingredient. It comes in a range of colours, too – so you can make it something of a style statement.
4. Breeze and Oak Natural Mosquito Repellent Patches: Best mosquito repellent patch
Price: £20 | Buy now from Amazon
These little patches are an ingenious alternative to spray-on repellents – you can simply stick them on or about your person to produce an odour that deters mosquitos. Again, these are DEET-free, using natural citronella and eucalyptus citriodora oils, and they claim to ward off insects for a good 72 hours before they need to be replaced. They’re also hypoallergenic, meaning they’re completely safe to use on your skin – and can also be used on clothes, backpacks and even your tent. With a pack of 100 costing just £20, you could literally cover yourself from head to foot if you were so inclined.
5. Go Travel Electric Mosquito Killer: Best electronic mosquito repellent
Price: £9 | Buy now from Amazon
Simply plug Go Travel’s electric insect repellent into the mains and it promises to keep your room mosquito-free for up to 20 days. It diffuses mosquito repellent from replaceable tablets, and these cost around £6 for a pack of 30. Of course, this isn’t so useful if you’re camping or you’re out and about, or if you’re staying somewhere without access to mains electricity, but it’s a great way of keeping those little buzzing pests out of your apartment or hotel room. Our suggestion? Buy this along with another product on this list to provide protection when you’re away from a mains socket.