13 best mosquito repellents to keep bites at bay while home or away – The Independent

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From DEET rollers to all-natural sprays, fend off insects with our top picks
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We sought out the soggy areas mosquitos know and love to put each product to the test
First thing first, let’s bust some myths about ways to repel mosquitos. As humans whose blood seems to be especially appealing to biting insects, we’ve tried every old wives’ tale in the book, whether it’s eating huge quantities of asparagus (really?) or upping our intake of vitamin B. But when it comes to warding off those pesky mosquitos, nothing, barring commercially produced mosquito repellent, has worked.
The vitamin B theory is the one we hear the most, which is why we roped in an expert to disprove this myth once and for all: “You may have heard the claim that increasing your vitamin B intake can reduce the likelihood of mosquito bites,” says Carolina Goncalves, superintendent pharmacist at Pharmica. “However, research relating to this claim suggests that vitamin B does nothing to repel mosquitoes.”
So, once you’ve ditched the veg and vits, and decided on the repellent route, it’s time to think about ingredients. In our experience, only a handful of natural repellents work (and we’ve included the best ones here), and we’ve never been afraid of a liberal spritz of DEET. Admittedly, it might not have the most pleasant smell, but mozzies hate the stuff.
Don’t assume DEET will upset your skin either – these days, clever formulations mean DEET-based sprays are unlikely to lead to irritation. But if you’re concerned, simply opt for a repellent with a lower percentage of DEET, or try an alternative with an active ingredient such as icaridin (paradin), which is “deemed both safe and effective”, says Goncalves.
Finally, wondering how to help mosquito bites heal (after all, there’ll always be a handful of determined ones that get through)? “It’s important to avoid scratching the bitten area,” says Goncalves. “Scratching can open up the wound and lead to an infection. You can apply hydrocortisone cream or ointment to the bite, although it’s important not to apply it if the skin is broken, as this can make irritation worse.”
Our testing took place in hot, humid conditions, and we deliberately sought out soggy areas (such as canals, rivers and areas of still water, which mozzies love most). The fact that our bites were minimal is a tribute to the following sprays, although we also took other factors into account, including the ease of application (we’re now suckers for a roll-on repellent), scent and the overall bottle design.
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This spray contains 50 per cent DEET but lacks the harsh metallic scent we typically associate with products containing this amount of the bug-busting chemical.
We loved the bottle – the pump spray required enough pressure that it was almost impossible to depress accidentally (nobody likes DEET leaks, after all), but it was still easy to use, even with hot, sweaty hands.
The clear liquid had plenty of slip, which made covering large areas a breeze, and we loved the promise of protection for up to nine hours. Hard to prove, but the lack of bites after a full day in an area where mozzies were known to lurk meant we had full faith in this claim.
This spray is pretty specific when it comes to what it offers protection against – ticks and mosquitos, mainly.
We loved the cabin-baggage-friendly bottle, which is 100 per cent recycled, and the reliance on plant ingredients known for their repellent qualities. In this case, eucalyptus takes the starring role, and it did a sterling job of keeping the mozzies at bay. The spray also has strong (but not overpowering) notes of eucalyptus, which were surprisingly pleasant. Fortunately, the mossies clearly didn’t feel the same way.
One problem with aerosol and pump-spray repellents is the difficulty in controlling the spray – trust us, your fellow travellers certainly don’t want a faceful of repellent, especially ones containing DEET. This is precisely why we loved the roll-on version of Boots’ famously strong DEET-based repellent, which offered the best of both worlds. We could take a topical approach to application (for some reason, mosquitos always seem to go for our lower legs, and ignore the rest of our bodies), rather than a full-body dousing. Roll on the roll-ons, we say.
This one has been a popular choice and is currently out of stock online. The retailer promises it will be back soon, though. In the meantime, you can check for availability in-store at your local Boots by typing in your post code.
Another can that earned top marks in the style stakes, thanks to its leaf-adorned exterior and the cheery combo of yellow and green. This mossie spray also promises to ward off a wide range of other bugs, too, including midges, for up to four hours.
It contains 27.5 per cent DEET – just enough to provide a decent level of protection, but probably not enough to protect you on a hike through the Amazon rainforest.
The aerosol dispenser was surprisingly powerful and enabled us to cover large areas in a matter of seconds. After all, mosquito-spray application is hardly the kind of holiday activity we want to devote much time to.
Forclaz states this spray is especially good at repelling ticks, as well as mosquitos. However, we reckon it’s a pretty good all-round repellent. After several hours (the protection time is listed as being six to eight hours) in an area notorious for midges, as well as mosquitos, not a single insect had dared take a bite out of us.
It’s also a great family-friendly option (it can be used on babies aged two months and older), thanks largely to the use of icaridin as an alternative to DEET.
Full disclosure – this has been our go-to product for years. We’ve relied on it during sweaty hikes through forests in Thailand and treks through the Peruvian rainforest.
It packs a punch, with 50 per cent DEET and a scent that doesn’t let you forget its key ingredient. So, when it comes to bug-busting, this is one of the best, and the only reason we’re not giving a higher ranking is because its strength means it’s a spray best saved for tropical areas.
This sunshine-yellow can screams holiday, although it’s designed for use at home, too. It offers medium-high protection for up to five hours, making it suitable for use in notoriously mozzie-prone areas (although a disclaimer says it’s not suitable for tropical regions), as well as in the UK.
It’s a DEET-free product, which explains the surprisingly pleasant smell – a hit of lemon blended with a chemical tang that is nigh on impossible to avoid when it comes to mosquito repellents.
We loved the consistency of this one – a clear, light liquid without a hint of greasiness. The best bit? It kept us bite-free for long beyond the promised five hours.
Nothing is worse than a greasy, sticky mosquito repellent. In the past, we’ve encountered sprays that are so sticky, mozzies have actually stuck to our arm, which we presume made their blood-sucking work significantly easier. Luckily, Jungle Formula’s dry protect formula lives up to its name – there’s not a hint of tackiness or stickiness, and the spray dried in a nano-second.
It’s a DEET-free repellent that offers seven hours of protection, and another spray that has a surprisingly pleasant smell.
This is an aerosol version of the pump bottle product we mentioned earlier, and although we loved the benefits of a pump (including the reduced risk of leaks), the wider distribution area meant this spray enabled us to cover much larger areas (and multiple people) in less time.
The finer, lighter spray – even though it’s the same product – meant we felt more confident using this on our notoriously sensitive skin. What’s more, it offered the same staying power (or at least, that’s what the lack of bites suggests) as the pump version.
There’s something rather fearsome about this sleek, black bottle – if we were a mosquito, we’d be daunted by the mere sight of it.
It’s DEET-free and relies on all-natural ingredients, including Citrepel (derived from oil of lemon eucalyptus), to repel mosquitos – plus, according to the blurb, sandflies, horseflies, ticks and midges. We can confirm none of the aforementioned bugs took a bite out of us.
Its consistency is marginally thicker than the other sprays, and although we were surprised by the white hue of the liquid, it was quickly absorbed without a trace of the greasiness we feared.
If you’re sceptical about the natural approach when it comes to mosquito repellent, A. Vogel’s offering might just convince you. It’s DEET-free and contains neem, a natural repellent, which shouldn’t irritate even the most sensitive skin.
The spray – which has an inoffensive, almost peppery scent – dried immediately, and our bite-free status boosted our faith in chemical-free options. Another advantage is that, despite the tiny bottle – it contains just 50ml – a little goes a long way, making it ideal for short-haul holidays when you’re travelling with hand luggage only.
Another great repellent for anyone keen to take a chemical-free approach, this plant-based spray (citriodiol, which is derived from lemon eucalyptus essential oil, is the main ingredient) is a brilliant option for all the family. Plus, its delicate scent means kids won’t do a runner the second they clap eyes on the bottle.
And it gets better – in the event of a rogue bite (or pre-existing ones), this spray can also be used to soothe and calm skin, thanks to a powerful blend of five essential oils: tea tree, citronella java, lavandin grosso, niaouli and peppermint.
Welcome to the future of the art of mosquito-repelling. To be clear, none of the mosquito repellents we’ve included irritated our skin (and trust us, that’s a major achievement, given how sensitive it is), but this scarf is a great option for people who don’t want to rely on topical repellents.
Plus, it has another advantage. All too often, packed holiday schedules mean we forget to apply the repellent, but slip on this scarf and you’ll be constantly protected, due to the repellent-infused material. You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck, too – it will retain its mozzie-repelling qualities for up to 70 washes.
We’re big fans of Jungle Formula, admittedly, but we didn’t let that sway us – we approached our testing with total impartiality. But the Jungle Formula maximum pump spray still got the gold star, simply because it ticked all the boxes: it was easy to apply, kept mosquitos at bay and didn’t irritate our (extremely sensitive) skin. Forclaz gets a shout-out for its ability to repel mosquitos with a pocket-sized option, which had a fragrance that was actually pleasant. Boots’ repel maximum 50% DEET & PMD roll-on bags the third spot for its user-friendly roll-on applicator and the fact its bug-busting properties lasted all day.
For more holiday essentials, check out our pick of the best sunscreens for your body
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