If you live in a hot country (or Scotland – plagued by midges!) or are on a break, here are some natural humane ways to repel insects. Whether it’s deterring mosquitoes or simply knowing how to deter gnats and biting insects, you don’t have to use toxic DEET insect repellents. And you don’t have to buy products from big corporate companies that harm the planet and other creatures either.
This natural insect repellent gel is free from toxic DEET, and sold in a glass jar. It contains khakibos that has been used for centuries in Africa, as an effective deterrent. It also combines citronella, and lemon eucalyptus oils. This makes for an effective insect repellent, with an aloe vera base to leave skin soothed and cool, perfect in hot climates. Vegan-friendly with a metal screw top plastic-free lid. Keep away from pets as it contains toxic citronella and essential oils (don’t wear if animals are liable to lick your skin!)
- Blackflies, Tsetseflies and Sandflies
Mosquito bites can be sore and itchy but tend to be painless. Unfortunately, they can also spread a whole host of scary diseases such as Malaria, Yellow fever, Dengue fever, Japanese Encephalitis, Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Filariasis, Rift Valley Fever, Ross River Virus, Murray Valley Encephalitis, St Louis Encephalitis and West Nile Fever.
So, how do you avoid them?
- First of all: forget garlic, Vitamin B and ultrasound devices, which don’t work!
- Try to wear clothing that covers your body as much as possible: long-sleeved tops and trousers are best.
- Mosquitoes can sometimes bite through thin clothing, so to be extra safe spray some insecticide or insect repellent on your skin and clothes too.
- Ask at your local Superdrug pharmacy about pyrethroid coils and insecticide candles to ward them away from your room at night.
- If it’s hot enough to sleep outside or if your bedroom is unscreened, a mosquito net is an excellent idea. Some new models even contain pyrethroid or insecticide in the netting itself and these are best. Buy these from any good outdoor or travel equipment shop and have a go at using your net before you travel.
Blackflies, Tsetseflies and Sandflies
Blackflies, Tsetseflies and Sandflies are all insects to avoid.
Blackflies carry something called Onchocerciasis (also known as ‘river blindness’) and Mansonellosis. If bitten by a Blackfly, you’re likely to get a very red and itchy rash. The bite from a Tsetsefly is painful, and these flies carry African trypanosomiasis. Sandflies carry diseases called Leishmaniasis and Bartonellosis and will give you an itchy bite. Avoid these flies by:
- Doing your best to avoid any unnecessary exposure in areas of known infestation.
- Covering your body as much as possible with clothing, and by using a good insecticide or repellent.
- Blackflies are so small that they can often pass through most nets, but using a net that’s been treated with insecticide will help to kill them before they find their way through.
- Ask around for specific advice from locals if you’re staying in a rural infested area for any length of time.
Bugs are never much fun. Some of them carry what’s known as South American trypanosomiasis, or Chagas disease, so stay extra vigilant if you’re in a known infested area. These bugs will only come out at night and live within the walls of mud huts or houses. If you can, avoid sleeping in these houses altogether. If you can’t, then try to sleep well away from the walls. Nets are always a good way to stay protected against most bugs.
Ticks live in areas of long grass or bracken and attach themselves to your skin or clothing. The bites can cause a very red and itchy reaction on the affected skin, especially if the mouth of the tick is left in for a long period of time. They also carry African tick-bite fever, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted fever and Tick-borne encephalitis. Here are some things to bear in mind:
- It’s most important to remove the tick as quickly as you can! Do this with tweezers, hooking them around the mouth-part of the tick, underneath the body. If you don’t have these to hand use a fingernail to prize it from the skin. Never squeeze the body of the tick.
- If you have a known history of anaphylaxis then you should always carry an adrenaline pen in case of bites.
- If you’re travelling in urban areas or developed tourist resorts, it’s unlikely that you’ll come across any.
They like grassy areas best, so keep to paths as much as possible if you’re in an infested area.
- Again, covering the skin is best. However unfashionable it might look, tucking trousers into your socks is a great way to keep ticks away from your legs! Spray insect repellent onto your clothing and boots to be extra safe.
- Ticks find warm, moist parts of the body most tasty, so it’s possible that they’ll have migrated around your body once they’ve become attached to the skin. Check yourself
all over before going to sleep to make sure you don’t have an unwelcome bedfellow.
- If you are bitten, then remember that ticks normally won’t feed for between 12 and 24 hours after attaching themselves to your skin. The risk of infection at this point is very low, but it’s still a good idea to get the bite checked.
Fleas and humans don’t generally have the best history: rat fleas being the primary culprits and carriers of plague. These can still be found in tropical areas where standards of sanitation are low, and tend to live on rats and other small animals. If you’re entering a known plague-endemic area, then use lots of repellent and insecticide to keep them away. Spray liberally on your clothing and bedclothes too because they often hide there.
Top Tips For Avoiding Insect Bites
So there’s the low-down on all the main insect bites you could be exposed to. For most, if not all of these, using a good insect repellent is the most effective method way to avoid getting bitten. Insect repellents come in lots of different forms and strengths. Make sure you choose the right one by following these tips:
- Repellents containing di-ethyltoluamide (DEET) are proven to be the best for preventing mosquito bites, so use these in areas where the risk of malaria or dengue is high. If you’re allergic to DEET you can buy other ones that use Dimethyl Pthalate or Eucalyptus oil.
- Always follow the product instructions, and seek a doctor if you think you are having a reaction to one of the ingredients.
- Liquids, creams, lotions and sticks are all designed for skin application, and these tend to have a lower concentration (around 30 – 50%).
- Products for clothes will have a higher concentration (100%) and come in aerosol and pump-spray forms for easy use.
- When using repellent on the skin, it’s best to spray it first on your hands and then apply it around exposed areas of skin,
taking care to avoid the eyes and mouth. Never spray directly to the face and use sparingly around the ears.
- For children, try to use clothing as the main barrier and apply it to their skin yourself to prevent them from handling it.
- Never use repellents on irritated skin or over cuts, grazes or wounds, and always wash treated skin after use. This is crucial if you’re using repellents regularly or over a long period of time.
- Only use as much as needed. Using too much won’t help keep bugs away any better.
- The best protection against insect bites is from your clothes:
only use repellents on any areas of exposed skin that are left over, or double up with clothing sprayed with repellent for extra security.
Remember: don’t panic! If you encounter an angry wasp, hornet or bee, don’t try to swat them away with your hands. It probably goes without saying, but if you encounter an insect nest then leave it well alone, and always go to see a doctor if you think you’ve been bitten by one of the above.
Find your n
You’ve made that last trip to the campsite loo, zipped up the tent, snuggled in to your sleeping bag and turned off your headtorch. You close your eyes ready for a good night’s sleep – and that’s when the buzzing begins…
We’ve all been there; trapped in a tent with a bug bothering us. You open the tent doors and flap about to usher it out. You wait a moment and there’s silence. So you zip back in and lie back down but as soon as you close your eyes, the buzzing starts again. These tiny uninvited guests can have a disproportionately large impact on a camping trip leaving us to deal with hurried meals, sleepless nights and itchy bites. But there are plenty of ways to deter even the most determined insects. Follow our tips on how to avoid insects while camping to help stay a happy camper.
Have a campfire
Our favourite tip on how to avoid insects while camping is to have a campfire. Insects don’t like smoke so the very act of sitting around a basket of blazing logs should do a good job of keeping the bugs away from your camp area. The fact that having a campfire is one of the joys of camping is an added bonus! You might even deter insects before you realise they’re there and if your campsite doesn’t allow campfires, a barbecue will do the same job.
Stay away from standing water
From our favourite tip to our toughest; if you want to avoid bugs, pitch your tent away from standing water. We can’t deny the appeal of lakeside camping – but be aware if you pitch your tent near still water, be it a lake a puddle or a barrel of rainwater, you might find yourself near a bug breeding ground – especially in warmer weather. You can try some of the other deterrents to keep them away but remember they love those lakeside pitches almost as much as you do.
Keep tent doors closed
If you leave a torch or lantern in your tent and the doors open, your tent is a beacon to bugs. Light-coloured tents manage to attract insects in the same way throughout the day so, no matter how annoying it is to keep zipping and unzipping the tent, do it! The best tents have fly screens, or mesh windows and doors so you can keep your tent ventilated and bug-free. If you’re a first-time camper and buying a new tent – look out for these features.
The way most people look to keep insects away is by covering themselves in bug spray. The most effective are generally thought to be ones that include DEET but many people also have concerns about spraying this chemical on to their skin and it’s not recommended for kids. There are natural alternatives around and you might even consider making your own…
Use essential oils and aromatherapy
Why not use a bit of aromatherapy to deter bugs? If you make your own insect repellent using essential oils you’ll know exactly what goes into it and might, therefore, feel less concerned about spraying it on your skin. Mint and citrus are two of the smells that insects are deterred by while smelling pretty pleasant to most humans. Use 10–20 drops in a spray bottle with water and a base alcohol or vinegar – which is also a natural insect repellent, but not as pleasant smelling!
Wear an impregnated wristband
If you don’t fancy slathering yourself in insect repellent of any kind, there are wristbands and even clothes you can buy which are impregnated with insect repellent. Their effectiveness is likely to have a limited lifespan. For a camping trip they will probably see you through but in terms of sustainability, you might want to check how long they’re likely to be effective for.
Throw a bunch of sage on the campfire
Sage is another herb that sends bugs packing. The dried leaves release a strong smell when burned so to add extra insect repelling-power to your campfire, chuck in a bundle of sage. If you have a sage plant at home, or you know someone who does, gather a few stems and dry them out a couple of weeks before your trip. Strip the leaves and tie together with a natural string. Make one bundle for each night of your camping trip.
Burn citronella candles
Sticking with the burning things theme – lighting a few citronella candles should also offer a deterrent. If you’re staying at a campsite that doesn’t allow campfires, citronella candles offer a double deterrent in that they produce a small amount of smoke and put the insect-repelling scent of citronella in the air too. But never put them inside your tent.
Dawn and dusk on balmy evenings are feeding time for lots of insects. If you keep covered up at these times, you’re less likely to get bitten. Wear a long-sleeved top and trousers to keep the insects away from arms and legs.
Keep camp clean
Food and food scraps can attract, not only insects, but other pests too. As a result, keeping camp clean can help keep wasps, bugs and other unwanted visitors at bay. Sure, you’re on holiday but you’ve still got to do those chores. Soon after you’ve eaten, tidy up, wash up and clean up so those tasty morsels don’t become a bug’s dinner – with you as dessert!
It’s particularly important to follow this advice if you’ve had a bad reaction to an insect bite or sting in the past or you’re travelling to an area where there’s a risk of picking up a serious illness.
Basic precautions to prevent insect bites and stings
The following measures can help you avoid insect bites and stings:
- remain calm and move away slowly if you encounter wasps, hornets or bees – do not wave your arms around or swat at them
- cover exposed skin – if you’re outside at a time of day when insects are particularly active, such as sunrise or sunset, cover your skin by wearing long sleeves and trousers
- wear shoes when outdoors
- apply insect repellent to exposed skin – repellents that contain 50% DEET (diethyltoluamide) are most effective
- avoid using products with strong perfumes, such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants – these can attract insects
- be careful around flowering plants, rubbish, compost, stagnant water, and in outdoor areas where food is served
- never disturb insect nests – if a nest is in your house or garden, arrange to have it removed (GOV.UK has details about pest control services and how your local council can help)
- avoid camping near water, such as ponds and swamps – mosquitoes and horseflies are commonly found near water
- keep food and drink covered when eating or drinking outside, particularly sweet things – wasps or bees can also get into open drink bottles or cans you’re drinking from
- keep doors and windows closed or put thin netting or door beads over them to prevent insects getting inside the house – also keep the windows of your car closed to stop insects getting inside
Avoiding tick bites
Ticks are small spider-like creatures that are mainly found in woodland and heath areas. They attach to your skin, suck your blood and can cause Lyme disease in some cases.
You can reduce your risk of being bitten by a tick if you:
- keep to footpaths and avoiding long grass when out walking
- wear appropriate clothing in tick-infested areas (a long-sleeved shirt and trousers tucked into your socks)
- wear light-coloured fabrics that may help you spot a tick on your clothes
- use insect repellent on exposed skin
- inspect your skin for ticks, particularly at the end of the day, including your head, neck and skin folds (armpits, groin, and waistband)
- check your children’s head and neck areas, including their scalp and make sure ticks are not brought home on your clothes
- check your pets to help ensure they do not bring ticks into your home in their fur
It’s important to remove any ticks you find as soon as possible.
Extra precautions when travelling abroad
The risk of becoming seriously ill from an insect bite or sting in the UK is small, but in some parts of the world insects can carry serious diseases such as malaria and you need to be extra careful.
It can help to:
- find out what the risks are where you intend to travel and check if you need any vaccinations before travelling – vaccines can prevent some illnesses spread by insects, such as yellow fever. You can use the Travel Health Pro website to do this
- speak to your GP about any extra precautions and medication you might need to take – for example, if you’re visiting an area where there’s a risk of malaria, you may be advised to bring a mosquito net and take antimalarial tablets to avoid malaria
Read more about travel illnesses and vaccinations.
If you’ve been bitten by fleas, mites or bedbugs, you may have an infestation in your home. Try to find the source of the infestation before taking steps to eliminate it.
Signs of an infestation
The following are signs of an infestation:
- fleas or flea poo in your animal’s fur or bedding
- crusting on your dog’s fur is a sign of fleas
- excessive scratching and grooming are a sign of fleas in cats
- dandruff (flakes of skin) on your cat or dog is a sign of mites
- spots of blood on your bed sheets are a sign of bedbugs
- an unpleasant almond smell is a sign of bedbugs
Speak to your vet if you’re unsure whether your pet has fleas or mites.
Eliminating an infestation
Once you’ve identified the cause of the infestation, you’ll need to eliminate it.
For flea infestations, treat the animal, its bedding, household carpets and soft furnishings with an insecticide. Thoroughly vacuum your carpets and soft furnishings.
For mite infestations, you should seek advice from your vet as aggressive treatment is required.
For bedbug infestations, your home will need to be thoroughly treated with an insecticide by a reputable pest control company. GOV.UK has information about how your local council can help.
Page last reviewed: 08 July 2019
First aid for insect bites and stings
To treat an insect bite or sting:
- Remove the sting, tick or hairs if still in the skin.
- Wash the affected area with soap and water.
- Apply a cold compress (such as a flannel or cloth cooled with cold water) or an ice pack to any swelling for at least 10 minutes.
- Raise or elevate the affected area if possible, as this can help reduce swelling.
- Avoid scratching the area or bursting any blisters, to reduce the risk of infection – if your child has been bitten or stung, it may help to keep their fingernails short and clean.
- Avoid traditional home remedies, such as vinegar and bicarbonate of soda, as they’re unlikely to help.
The pain, swelling and itchiness can sometimes last a few days.
Removing a sting
If you’ve been stung and the sting has been left in your skin, you should remove it as soon as possible to prevent any more venom being released.
Scrape it out sideways with something with a hard edge, such as a bank card, or your fingernails if you don’t have anything else to hand.
Don’t pinch the sting with your fingers or tweezers because you may spread the venom.
Removing a tick
If you’ve been bitten by a tick and it’s still attached to your skin, remove it as soon as possible to reduce your risk of picking up illnesses such as Lyme disease.
To remove a tick:
- Use a pair of tweezers that will not squash the tick (such as fine-tipped tweezers) or a tick removal tool (available from pet shops or vets).
- Grip the tick as close to the skin as possible to ensure the tick’s mouth isn’t left in the skin.
- Pull steadily away from the skin without crushing the tick.
- Wash your skin with water and soap afterwards, then apply an antiseptic cream to the skin around the bite.
If you use a tick removal tool follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
Do not use a lit cigarette end, a match head or substances such as alcohol or petroleum jelly to force the tick out.
Dealing with caterpillar hairs
If a caterpillar of the oak processionary moth gets on your skin:
- Use tweezers or a pen to remove it.
- Try not to disturb it (for example, by brushing it with your hands) as it will then release more hairs.
- Rinse your skin with running water, allow it to air dry and then use sticky tape to strip off any leftover hairs.
- Use calamine, ice packs or a pharmacy remedy containing 3.5% ammonia to relieve the itch.
- Remove all contaminated clothes and wash at as a high a temperature as the fabric allows.
Do not towel yourself dry after rinsing or use creams containing antihistamine.
Relieving the symptoms of an insect bite or sting
If you have troublesome symptoms after an insect bite or sting, the following treatments may help:
- For pain or discomfort – take over-the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen (children under 16 years of age shouldn’t be given aspirin).
- For itching – ask your pharmacist about suitable treatments, including crotamiton cream or lotion, hydrocortisone cream or ointment and antihistamine tablets.
- For swelling – try regularly applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area, or ask your pharmacist about treatments such as antihistamine tablets.
See your GP if these treatments don’t help. They may prescribe stronger medicines such as steroid tablets.
When to get medical advice
Contact your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if:
- you’re worried about a bite or sting
- your symptoms don’t start to improve within a few days or are getting worse
- you’ve been stung or bitten in your mouth or throat, or near your eyes
- a large area (around 10cm or more patch of skin) around the bite becomes red and swollen – your GP may refer you to an allergy clinic for further tests or treatment (read about treating allergies)
- you have symptoms of a wound infection, such as pus or increasing pain, swelling or redness – you may need antibiotics
- you have symptoms of a more widespread infection, such as a fever, swollen glands and other flu-like symptoms
When to get emergency help
Dial 999 for an ambulance immediately if you or someone else has symptoms of a severe reaction, such as:
- wheezing or difficulty breathing
- a swollen face, mouth or throat
- feeling sick or being sick
- a fast heart rate
- dizziness or feeling faint
- difficulty swallowing
- loss of consciousness
Emergency treatment in hospital is needed in these cases.