Insect Repellents For Africa

What are the best, most effective, safest insect repellents for Africa?

There is a myriad of insect repellent manufacturers, brands, ingredient concentrations in sprays, creams, sticks, wipes, odour-free, combinations with sunscreens etc etc.

The answer is to use what suits you best and works for you but you would be strongly urged not to use 'alternative' or 'natural' repellents as your first line of defence, if you are hunting in a malarial area. Malaria falciparum can be a deadly disease and it only takes 1 bite from 1 female Anopheles mosquito to be struck down. The other brands of malaria are none too pleasant though not quite so dangerous.

Preventing Insect Bites

You can expect a good African hunting outfitter to provide an insect proof tent (if you are going to a tented camp), insect window screening (if you are going to a permanent chalet camp) and a can of Doom. Short of this, it's up to you to protect yourself from insect bites which is especially important in malarial areas of Africa.

So unless you genuinely react badly to a DEET-based insect repellent the following measures offer the best personal protection against malaria...


Use all the herbal oils, sprays, soaps, garlic capsules, citronella and lemon eucalyptus and clove oil concoctions you want but in addition to sensible proven methods of insect repelling. If you are one of the increasing number of people averse putting 'chemicals' on your body, don't go to malarial areas of Africa - malaria is always a serious disease and may be a deadly illness.

"Travelers to sub-Saharan Africa have the greatest risk of both getting malaria and dying from their infection. However, all travelers to countries where malaria is present may be at risk for infection." CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Protection Against Mosquitoes

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  • If you are very worried about malaria, choose to hunt in a non-malarial area. There are plenty of hunts available in RSA, Namibia and Botswana in non-malarial areas.
  • If you are going to a malarial or border-line malarial area, check with the outfitter whether mosquito nets are provided. In some tented camps and chalet camps, nets are not provided as the whole tent/room is considered insect proof. If you want to bring your own mosquito net check whether the net design will work with the beds in the camp and that there is a way of hanging it.
  • A good quality permethrin impregnated net is better than a plain one. Tuck it in securely and any repair holes promptly. A good quick fix for holes is a band aid sticking plaster. Don't sleep with your skin touching the net, if possible - mosquitoes can stick their proboscis through the mesh.
  • Even if the area is not malarial you may want to use a mosquito net for protection against any other nocturnal insect bites.
  • Don't forget to set up and close/tuck in the drapes of your bed net before dark so no mosquitoes can get in there first.
  • Wear long sleeves and long trousers after dark as mosquitoes primarily feed between dusk and dawn.
  • Pay particular attention to ankle protection by wearing socks or ankle boots in the evening. If you can't bear to relax in boots and socks, smother your feet and ankles in repellent.
  • Use your personal insect repellent on all exposed skin areas.
  • Wear light coloured clothes particularly in the evenings as it has been suggested that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colours. Khaki, green and light khaki colours usually worn by hunters during the day are considered not to be attractive to moquitoes. (White is the least attractive colour to mosquitoes but obviously is not recommended to be worn for hunting).
  • Wear clean clothes in the evening, especially socks as mosquitoes are attracted to sweat.
  • If your chalet has air-conditioning or a ceiling fan, keep it on in the evening to lower the room temperature which deters mosquitoes. Keep the windows or insect screens shut.
  • Don't forget your precautions in a hotel in town before or after the hunt. You are equally likely to get bitten in a hotel in Dar es Salaam as in a hunting camp.

Insect Repellents For Mosquitoes

It's worth noting that each repellent compound has a different efficacy against different mosquito species. So your favourite backyard or deer hunting brand may not be as effective on African mosquito species. It may work at first, preventing mosquitoes landing and biting, but often the effect wears off and different mosquito species soon start biting.

DEET Based Insect Repellents

  • DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) repels the mosquito by interfering with their sense organs or antennae which locate their victims. It is available in many preparations - lotions, sticks, gels, creams, aerosol sprays and in various strengths.
  • DEET is usually applied directly on exposed skin.
  • Applying DEET to cotton clothing near vulnerable areas like necks, wrists and ankles, or using DEET or other repellent impregnated elastic wrist and ankle bands has been proven to be ineffective in repelling mosquitoes. DEET mosquito repellent only works on the surface to which it's applied directly - your skin. Mosquitoes will bite unprotected skin 4 cm away from the repellent wristband and have been known to land on and try to bite the 'repellent' wristbands. Studies show repellent-impregnated wristbands, containing either 9.5% DEET or 25% citronella, protected the wearer for only 12 to 18 seconds, on average.
    Note, in the USA, most elastic wrist and ankle bands are sold as DEET-free items, only impregnated with 'natural' repellents like citronella or peppermint oil. These do not work and are not recommended for first line of defence use in malarial areas.
  • DEET also protects against other insects but is not as good as permethrin for repelling ticks.
  • Apply carefully to avoid eyes and mouth - especially your eyes!
  • Watch for any adverse reactions and stop using if you get a serious reaction.
  • DEET is harmful to plastics, paint and synthetic fabrics - it will dissolve items like plastic sunglasses, watch straps, polythene storage bags, etc. It will also discolour cotton clothing.
  • Concentrations of no more than 10% - 30% DEET should be used on children between 6 months and 12 years of age.
  • For adults, the weaker the concentration of DEET, the shorter the time of protection. For example, 23.8% DEET will work for about 5 hours. However, there is a limit to the time of protection - 100% DEET concentration may only provide protection for about 10 hours.
  • When out hunting in the African open bushveldt country, you generally don't need mosquito protection during the day but may require protection from other insects such as ticks and tsetse flies. However, if you are hunting thick, shady riverine areas or boggy, wet rainforests, you'll be well advised to put on the highest DEET concentration for the longest protection duration.
  • A combination of 33.3% DEET PLUS permethrin impregnated clothing will provide about 8 hours protection under severe mosquito pressure.

Controlled-Release DEET Repellents

Controlled-release repellent packages or encapsulates the DEET in a special base that allows it to be released more slowly on to the skin surface. The advantages of this technology include longer-lasting protection, the use of lower concentrations of DEET and reduction of the number of times that re-application of the product may be necessary.

The controlled-release DEET products contain 20% to 30% DEET and provide protection for up to 12 hours. It is also more compatible with plastics, synthetic fabrics and similar materials.

For high risk malarial areas consider using...

  • Ultrathon Insect Repellent Cream which contains 34.34% DEET with control-released protection for up to 12 hours. It is also water and sweat resistant.
  • Ben's 100% DEET Mosquito, Tick and Insect Repellent formula gives up to 10 hours of protection against mosquitoes and ticks.
  • Sawyer Products Premium Maxi-DEET Insect Repellent contains 98% DEET and gives up to 10 hours of protection against mosquitoes.
  • Repel 100 Insect Repellent contains 98.11% DEET for up to 10 hours of protection against mosquitoes.

Note, the protection time may be reduced if you are hunting in very humid conditions and/or are sweating heavily.

Applying DEET Insect Repellents

Be aware of peak mosquito exposure times...

The female Anopheles mosquitoes which transmit malaria tend to bite between dusk until dawn.

Mosquitoes responsible for spreading other diseases such as yellow fever, dengue fever and zika virus, tend to bite during the day.

  • Get your mosquito repellent application timing right. Don't wait to get bitten or leave it too late before remembering to put on your repellent - apply repellent evenly over all exposed skin before dusk, when the malarial mosquitoes may start biting.
  • Apply and re-apply your repellent as per the instructions on the bottle and according to your activity - if you get hot and sweaty or wet you may need to re-apply repellent more frequently.
  • If you want to wear sun and insect protection at the same time, apply the sun cream first and the insect repellent on top. Note, DEET can reduce the efficacy of sunscreen when applied to the same area, so you may need to reapply the sunscreen more frequently to prevent sunburn.
  • It is easier to spray or apply the repellent on to your hands first and then thinly spread it over your exposed skin areas. Spraying your face directly is not recommended as the repellent can get into your eyes and mouth.
  • Don't put on too much DEET repellent or put it on your clothes or on skin under your clothes - it is not necessary and may damage your clothes, especially if they are synthetic.
  • Do not inhale the DEET fumes - so do not apply it under your nose.
  • Wash you hands after applying DEET - be careful not to get it on any plastic items such as sunglasses, phone, etc. If you spill some down the bottle, wipe it clean if you store it in a plastic bag.
  • It is recommended you wash DEET products off your skin (especially hands and face) before going to bed.
  • Don't apply repellent to cut or inflamed skin.
  • Do not allow young children to put on any insect repellent themselves. An adult should always apply the product on a child - especially DEET repellents. Children are more susceptible to the adverse effects of DEET than adults.
  • If you feel you are particularly attractive to mosquitoes, you could apply more than one type of repellent such as a light coating of DEET with another layer of Picaridin or Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE).

Permethrin Insect Repellents

  • Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid insecticide and kills mosquitoes on contact by destroying their nerve cells.
  • Permethrin must not be applied directly to the skin.
  • For Do-It-Yourself Permethrin Clothing Insect Repellent - only spray the exterior of your outer garments 2-4 hours before wearing.
  • Do not treat underwear, hats, caps, collars or any inner clothing with permethrin. Permethrin should not be used on clothes/parts of clothes which contact skin.
  • Permethrin products for clothes contain 0.5% permethrin.
  • Insect repellent clothes, such as those known as 'Insect Shield' or 'BugsAway', are available which are ready-impregnated with permethrin.
  • Ready-impregnated garments are said to provide protection for the duration of 70 washes.
  • Permethrin impregnated mosquito nets are available or you can treat a plain net with a Permethrin spray.
  • Permethrin-impregnated clothing also repels ticks.

Picaridin Mosquito Repellents

  • Picaridin is a synthetic compound made to resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in plants that are used to produce black pepper. Picaridin has been widely used as an insect repellent in Europe and Australia, but has only been available in the United States since 2005.
  • Picaridin repels insects and makes them less likely to bite. It seems to block mosquitoes by disrupting their sensory organs used to locate their victims. Picaridin doesn't actually kill insects.
  • Picaridin may be also known as KBR3023, Bayrepel, Icaridin or Saltidin.
  • Unlike DEET, Picaridin is odourless, does not feel greasy or sticky and is less likely to irritate the skin or damage plastics or fabrics.
  • Studies concluded that picaridin in concentration of 19.2% is as effective as the same concentration of DEET. Any product with less than 20% picaridin offers little or no protection.
  • Picaridin is not known to be toxic if properly used and not ingested.

Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) Mosquito Repellents

  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is also know as PMD (para-menthane-3,8-diol) or Citriodiol, is the synthesized lemon eucalyptus oil and has demonstrated some efficacy as an insect repellent. It is among the type of repellents listed by the CDC which "provide repellent activity sufficient to help people reduce the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes".
  • Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE) is not the same as pure lemon eucalyptus essential oil which is chemically quite different and is not recommended to be used as an insect repellent, having not undergone testing for safety and efficacy.
  • In a Comparative Efficacy of Insect Repellents against Mosquito Bites study, 30% Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus gave a complete mosquito bite protection time of 2 hours - even though the products tested claim 6 hours protection.
  • If you want to try OLE in combination with other repellents, these are the main brands...

IR3535 Insect Repellents

  • IR3535 is another synthetic insect repellent on the market. This repellent has been used in Europe for more than 20 years and was approved for use in the United States in 1999.
  • The CDC lists IR3535 as providing "repellent activity sufficient to help people reduce the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes", and contains active ingredients which typically provide "reasonably long-lasting protection".
  • In tests, the IR3535 repellent ingredient yielded a mean complete protection time of 22 minutes - 1/4 of the lowest concentration DEET (4.75%) product tested.
  • IR3535 is found in Avon's Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus which, in tests, only protected against mosquito bites for about 23 minutes. Product instructions recommend reapplying about every two hours. The stronger, Avon's Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus IR3535 Expedition recommends reapplying about every 8 hours.

Natural Mosquito Repellents

  • It is commonly assumed that plant-based repellents are safer than DEET because they are 'natural'. However, some natural repellents are safer than others, and it cannot be assumed that natural equates to safe.
  • There are dozens of natural, herbal or botanical products that are credited with mosquito repellent properties including essential oils of Geranium, Cedar, Rosemary, Cinnamon, Citronella, Clove, Lemon Eucalyptus, Castor, Lemongrass and Peppermint.
  • Because these natural herbal products are so toxic in high concentrations, repellent formulations tend to contain small amounts (0.05 to 1.0%) of active ingredient. Consequently they need to be re-applied very frequently - at least 2 hourly, some requiring 6 applications per hour!
  • Certain other factors can also lower their effectiveness - they evaporate quickly in high temperatures, get diluted with sweat and some sunscreens lower their potency.
  • Do not use these as a first line of defence against mosquito bites in malarial areas.

Other Mosquito Repellent Items

  • Mosquito repellent coils and vaporizing mats may be good measures to add to the repellent armoury for inside your room.
  • Electronic anti-mosquito buzzers and sonic devices which mimic sounds that scare female mosquitoes away have been proved to be useless.
  • The mosquito repelling benefits of ingesting mega-doses of B vitamins, brewer's yeast, garlic, beer, whisky, cigars and cigarettes have never been shown in controlled scientific studies to protect users from biting insects.

Whatever insect repellent you choose for hunting in Africa, make sure you actually use it. You won't believe the number of unopened bottles of insect repellent PHs get given by hunters over the years, when they offload items for their return journey.

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