Insect Repellent FAQ
Insect repellent FAQ's including why you should use them, what to take and do they expire. How to keep the mosquitoes off without dissolving your camera or phone. And if you're the one the insects bite, what you can do about it, and much more.. We dispel the myths and tell you the bits the sales propaganda doesn't.
Now includes information on the Zika virus.
Questions about repellents that we frequently get asked
How do I stop mosquitoes carrying Zika virus biting me?
A good repellent like those on our insect repellents page, properly applied, will provide protection from mosquitoes carrying Zika virus. The mosquitoes that spread the disease, bite during the day and are also responsible for spreading other nasty diseases - stop one & stop them all. Re-apply repellent as often as needed. Clothing, particularly insect repellent clothing, is also very effective at stopping bites.
(The good news is that our repellents stop bites from the mosquitoes that spread Zika virus. If you've read this far - carry on down! It's no good having a good repellent and not using it correctly)
(For parents with young children, there is more advice lower down on this page )
How do insect repellents work?
There are two ways insect repellents work. Firstly, by confusing the insect's sense of smell. This works because insects identify you as a food source from the 'smell' of chemicals in your breath and given off by your skin. Secondly by using a repellent layer of something that is repulsive to the touch or taste of insects.
(In practical terms this is why insect repellent should be always be applied after a sunscreen, not before. It's also why some repellents don't need to be applied over all exposed skin.)
Do insect repellents expire? My insect repellent has a date on it. Is it still OK to use?
Our advice is; if it looks and feels as you remember, it should be fine to use and should still repel insects. There may be a small reduction in effectiveness over time, but not much. It should be perfectly safe to use.
(In different countries repellents can come under different regulations - is it a 'biocide', a 'health care' product or a 'pharmaceutical' product. Under broad regulations, an 'expiry' date can be required, even for a product that doesn't expire.)
How much insect repellent should I take?
As a rule of thumb, we advise people to take one standard sized tube or bottle per person / per 2 week period.
(This is not an exact figure because there are too many circumstances (including temperature, exercise, humidity and number of insects) that may effect your usage. However if you follow this advice you should not be left unprotected.)
Which is the best insect repellent?
The one that stops insects biting you! We're not being funny. The best repellent can vary depending on the country, time of year, how much insects like you and even the time of day.
(All our repellents are selected for their performance at preventing bites in both lab tests and by field testing in high risk areas. That said, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence, of repellents that have worked reliably for a person for years in a particular place, becoming ineffective on their next visit. To overcome this, Safariquip strongly recommend you to take at least two repellents that use a different active ingredient.)
Mosquitoes love me. Should I take the strongest insect repellent?
Probably not. Testing has shown that a stronger repellent often doesn't give better protection.
(For DEET repellents, testing has shown that a 95% concentration doesn't stop insects biting any more than a concentration of 55% or even lower. The higher concentration repellent lasts longer before needing to be re-applied but doesn't repel any more effectively. You may want to balance the comfort and ease of application of the lower concentration against the need to re-apply the repellent slightly more often.)
I've young children. What repellents are safe to use?
Mosi-Guard (Citriodiol) suitable for children over 6 months.
Expedition Sensitive (Icaridin) suitable for children over 2 years.
Endurance Cream (micro encapsulated DEET) suitable for children over 2 years.
Most other low concentration DEET insect repellents are suitable for children over 3 years.
Children under 3 months are best protected by insect / mosquito proof clothing and mosquito nets.
(Follow the age guidance on the insect repellent's instructions for use.)
Is DEET safe to use?
DEET is toxic and is absorbed through the skin. However the risk to your health from insect bites is likely to be a far greater than the risk from applying DEET.
Our advice is first don't get bitten - choose and use an effective insect repellent. Second, don't use DEET in a higher concentration than you need. Thirdly, consider having DEET as your 'back up' repellent and using a repellent with a different active ingredient as your main repellent. Finally, protect yourself using insect repellent clothing and a mosquito net so that you don't need to use as much repellent directly on your skin.)
I've been advised (health advisor, travel company, friend) to take a high concentration DEET repellent?
It's well meaning advice and DEET is still one of the most effective and trusted repellents about. However, recent studies have shown mosquitoes can evolve a tolerance to DEET and high concentrations don't protect better than lower concentrations. Nowadays there are other repellents available that are more pleasant to use, less toxic, don't dissolve plastics and also extremely effective at preventing insects biting you.
(A more reliable option is follow our two repellent rule: See "Which is the best insect repellent" above. We strongly recommend you to take at least two repellents that each use a different active ingredient.)
Which insect repellent is it that dissolves, sunglasses, phones and cameras?
Insect repellents containing DEET dissolve some plastics.
(There is not a lot you can do about this except be aware that it happens and take care. Making sure you thoroughly wipe your hands after applying insect repellent will prevent it accidentally getting it on eyes, lips and other sensitive skin as well as saving your phone, MP3 player and shades from melting.)
(In practice insect repellents tend to be slightly more effective against some insects than others but the four active ingredients that are allowed to be used in "insect repellents" in the EU are all tested and effective against mosquitoes as well all the other biting insects travellers come up against.)
Why should you use an insect repellent?
Mosquito bites alone are responsible for spreading malaria, zika virus, yellow fever, dengue, japanese encephalitis, west nile virus, filariasis, chikungunya virus and others. If you add insects such as sandflies, tsetse flies, ticks, lice and fleas you can add, to name a few, lyme disease, leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness, chagas disease, typhus and plague! Added to the discomfort and the itching, the bites themselves also break the skin and allow other infections into the wound. As for the numbers, the WHO tell us that over half a million people die of Malaria annually and over 2.5 billion people are at risk of dengue fever.
(The risk is very real. Even if you're one of those lucky people that "don't get bitten", it's worth taking this seriously and using a repellent 'just in case'.)
Do repellents work against other insects as well as mosquitoes?
Yes. There are some differences in the effectiveness, between the different active ingredients and different insects, but all the approved insect repellents will repel other biting insects.
(Repellents can also make it less likely that stinging insects will land on you.)
What are approved mosquito and insect repellents?
In September 2013 the European Biocidal Products Regulation (EU) 528/2012 came into force. Insect repellents are covered in category PT 19. Currently approved insect repellent active ingredients are:
- PMD Rich Botanic Oil - Citriodiol
- KBR3023 - Picaridin, Saltidin, etc.
- N,N-diethyl- meta-toluamide (DEET)
(Some of the above also have other brand names under which they appear on insect repellent labels.)