The best toiletries for Thailand
When you add Thailand's heat, humidity and UV strength, an insistence on natural toiletries complicates things. Good news? You can have it both ways.
The best toiletries for Thailand
In the twenty years that I’ve been visiting Thailand, my travel toiletries bag has totally transformed. Other than *sob* needing wrinkle-protection now, the biggest change to my travel toiletries since first coming to Thailand in 2003 is my buying habits: (1) Products have to be natural and non-toxic, and, (2) if they've been within fifty miles of a testing bunny or beagle? Forget it.
Cruelty-free and tested myself in crazy Thai heat
Yes – it's all cruelty-free. Just like the best makeup for Thailand, everything below boasts zero animal testing and is 'best in class' for being as green/eco/natural as possible. I’ve tested most of this stuff personally during insane heatwaves in Thailand, bought myself as a normal customer – no comps, perks, promos or freebies.
Green toiletries for tropical places?
When you add Thailand's heat, humidity and UV strength, an insistence on natural and cruelty-free toiletries does complicate things. BUT. Good news: you can have it both ways. While it’s easier to find regular drugstore brand products to outlast any tropical storm, I’ve finally cracked the ‘green beauty’ conundrum and can now truly recommend the best toiletries for Thailand (or any hot and humid destination). Here's what I think works best...
1. Mosquito-repelling superpowers
My favourite: Incognito Insect Repellent Spray
Meet the main tools in your ongoing No Mosquito Bite campaign (that you can totally win). I’ve written a raving review of Incognito products (totally natural and DEET-free) and utterly rely on their entire product line – starting with their spray repellent.
In the U.S. and Canada, Murphy's Naturals Insect Repellent is another effective and natural repellent option – typically easier to find than the UK-based Incognito products.
Tip: Apply your mosquito repellent 10-15 minutes after applying your sunscreen. (Taylor Swift Bathroom Dance Party in the interim). Then, set a repeating alarm on your phone to reapply both at the advised interval. Incognito repellent lasts for 5 hours.
2. The best sunscreen for Thailand
My favourites: Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen (face) and Sun Bum Original SPF 50 (body)
Here’s something else I’ve mastered in the past twenty years of Thailand travel: I never get sunburned. I’m borderline paranoid about Thai sunshine but rely much more on (A) clever cover-ups, (B) big sun-hats, and (C) staying in the shade than I do on sunscreen. Of course, this is a fringe approach and most of you are dreaming of endless sunshine by the pool.
Need your sunscreen to be natural? I’ve put dozens of brands of green sunscreen to the ‘Thailand Test’ and some went straight in the bin after the first use (the ‘unspreadable chalky white putty’ varieties thrown with particular force). After more trial-and-error than any other toiletry category, here's what I love:
- Supergoop!* for face and body sunscreen
- COOLA for body sunscreen (spray)
- Sun Bum for body sunscreen (lotion)
*(No relation to Gwyneth)
Tinted face sunscreen? I avoid anything tinted as it will likely sweat off in unseemly ways. My favourite, Unseen Sunscreen, goes on clear and stays invisible.
Avoiding prickly heat? Another vote for natural sunscreen in tropical climates? Using regular drugstore brand sunscreen, I used to get terrible prickly heat in Thailand. Without fail, my skin would scream its unhappiness every day of the entire trip. Since switching to green/natural sunscreens (and wearing a lot of linen) I’ve never experienced prickly heat since – no matter how hot and humid. Granted, these findings use a sample size of one (me), but if you’re prone to being pathetic, sensitive or incident-prone... it might be worth considering.
After-sun? As for after-sun products, while bright green aloe products are readily available in Thailand’s tourist towns, I pack my own products simply because I can read the (English) label and know exactly what’s in it.
3. Staying squeaky clean
My favourites: Incognito Hair & Body Wash and Less Mosquito Luxury Loofah Soap
When it’s extra hot in Thailand, as it was during my 'guinea pig' official test phase, three showers a day become a quick habit. Nothing fancy or fussy in this basic daily shower routine – you've got a vacation to enjoy. However, here again I turn to Incognito for some extra credit mosquito-avoidance. Both their Citronella Hair and Body Wash and loofah soap are clever inclusions (followed by a head-to-toe anti-mozzie spray application once your dry and your sunscreen has sunk in). If packing light, don't miss a travel-sized Dr. Bronner’s (try the eucalyptus and peppermint scents).
My favourite: Coconut Milk Deodorant Wipes
As for the deodorant wipes, anything in the "quick touch-up" "emergency restoration from sweaty-sweat-pig to human being" are always happy discoveries in your purse or pockets. Have I mentioned it's hot in Thailand?
5. Unscented deodorant
My favourite: CRYSTAL Deodorant Stick
This is awkward (but you'll thank me later). Let's just say it's really hot and really humid in Thailand and leave it at that. Come prepared. Note that – as with all toiletries – an unscented version is often preferable for avoiding mosquitoes. Obviously citronella/lemongrassy products are made for the job, but otherwise it's recommended to avoid adding scent.
6. Keep your face happy
My favourite: A konjac sponge
Your face vs. Thailand's heat and humidity? Inescapable truth: It’s really hot in Thailand and you’re going to do a lot more than ‘glow’. A recent trip to Koh Samui was the hottest weather I’ve known (and when locals are complaining it’s too hot – it’s reeeally hot). It was during such sticky weather that I tried out my new konjac sponge – a magic, totally natural sponge made from a Japanese vegetable – that very gently exfoliates your face and neck.
I could almost feel my skin thanking me after each use – it felt much cooler and happier. From now on, my konjac sponge is the first thing in my toiletries kit for Thailand. If you can start using yours a few weeks before you travel, even better. Given how much sunscreen you'll be putting on your face (and how much you'll sweat), I like to 'win' and get a head-start on happy skin.
7. Daily face routine (tropical edition)
My favourites: Mad Hippie Triple C Night Cream and Vitamin C Serum
Face wash – Being on vacation indeed means lazy days – but "girl, wash your face". After lightly exfoliating with my konjac sponge (morning and night unless jet-lagged and dead to the worth), a quick face wash is nothing different than normal. I always go for something quite gentle – you're asking a lot of your skin in Thailand's heat, humidity and strong UV.
Travel tip – I always prefer bar soap when travelling as it's one less thing to spill. This travel soap box comes with a silicone band to seal it tightly shut (a major upgrade to the Ziplocks usually grabbed in a pre-departure panic).
Light moisturiser – Your needs here will depend on your skin type but I find that Thailand's humidity (and the amount of water you drink in the heat) means I need to use less than usual. If you like to tan or have a multi-prong wrinkle-avoidance plan, some Vitamin C drops are good inclusions. On both counts, it's Mad Hippie for me.
Keep it simple – Other than the daily basics, described above, I try to put as little on my skin as possible – it’s busy enough keeping me cool. No primers, no this or that – just moisturiser then straight to sunscreen. A quality face sunscreen (SPF 30+) is a daily necessity in Thailand – it's so close to the equator. If we've learned anything from JVN on Queer Eye – don't forget your neck.
Makeup – As it's so hot, I favour minimal makeup in the tropics – ideally paired with a UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) sunhat. Sound good? See the best makeup for Thailand.
8. Haircare in Thailand
My favourites: Sun Bum Anti-Frizz Oil and a giant claw clip
As for your hair, Thailand’s heat, plus your vacation routine of pool/beach/repeat, mean you’ll wash your hair much more often than at home. Though it will be squeaky clean, you’re about to face a frizz-battle, especially as hotel hair dryers have less operable power than a Tickle-Me-Elmo.
Easy solution: Give up before you start – who wants hair against your neck when it’s this hot? After more than twelve hours in Thailand, it’s braids, buns and ponytails for the duration of the trip – shoved with increasing urgency under hats.
Dedicated solution: Bring anti-frizz preparation and use the following tip when you’re going to use a hairdryer.
Step 1: First, check the controls for your hotel room’s air-conditioning: does it have a dehumidifying option? (Often designated as a raindrop on the remote control). If so, turn it on when you go for a shower (or otherwise just turn on the A/C).
Step 2: By the time you get to your hair, you’ll have a nice, cool environment with – potentially – hair that's happy to cooperate. If you can spare a further half-hour in your room after you’re finished to read a book or look at Instagram, you’ll increase your odds of shiny success.
Of course, I wouldn’t suggest spending your vacation inside for the sake of good hair but if you’re waiting for your other person or have a particularly special occasion – a cool room is your best bet. Otherwise, a hat, a hair clip and sunglasses, what’s the problem?
Professional solution: If it all goes sideways (or you have a special occasion), it’s very easy to find hairdressers in Thailand happy to take walk-in clients for a quick wash-and-dry, or styling.
Better safe than...? As for this random inclusion, a reader tipped me off to the strangest spot you'd never think to store cash or valuables while travelling: inside a hairbrush. If you'll be staying in places unlikely to have an in-room safe, I could see its appeal. A happy Amazon reviewer (of whom there are many) suggests using it a few times for added authenticity.
9. 'On-the-go' toiletries for Thailand
My favourites: The Honest Company Sanitizing Wipes
My dedication to hand sanitiser is subject to constant ridicule but, as the only member of my family with firsthand knowledge of amoebic dysentery (thanks Cuba), I’ll do my thing and they can do theirs. Once I found the lavender sanitiser I switched to this natural product for its smell alone.
As for disinfecting wipes, I use them on the plane like a total crazy person. (Don't forget the headrest).
10. Organize it all…
My favourite: Drawstring toiletry bag
While many travel toiletry bags offer pockets and more pockets, we lazy people can rejoice where “shoving everything in one bag and pulling a drawstring shut” = master organisation.
Recap: The 10 best toiletries for Thailand
Today, packing my toiletries for Thailand is a streamlined operation with plenty of humid hindsight (noting that, yes, sometimes it’s better just to let the tropics win without a struggle). To recap my favourites: