The best toiletries for Thailand
In the 14 years I’ve been visiting Thailand, my travel toiletries bag has totally transformed. Other than *sob* needing wrinkle-protection now, the biggest change since 2003 is my buying habits: (1) Products have to be natural and non-toxic, and, (2) if they’ve been within 50 miles of a testing bunny or beagle? Forget it.
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. Everything is cruelty-free
Zero animal testing and ‘best in class’ for being as green/eco/natural as possible.
#2. Tested myself in crazy Thai heat
I’ve tested this stuff personally during insane heat waves in Thailand, bought myself as a normal customer – no comps, perks, promos or freebies.
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#1. Your face vs. Thailand’s heat, humidity and UV
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, konjac is the first thing in my toiletries kit for Thailand. If you’re lazy and always prefer the mechanical option, I presume a travel-sized Clarisonic would offer similar results in less time.
Other than that, I try to put as little on my skin as possible – it’s busy enough keeping me cool. Other than minimal makeup (see the best makeup for Thailand), I just use gentle soap and either (A) a face sunscreen if I’ll be out and about, or otherwise (B) a light moisturiser. If you like to tan or have a multi-prong wrinkle-avoidance plan, some after-sun lotion and argan oil are good inclusions.
#2. Basic toiletries for your body + insect repellent
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, just an 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 loofah soap followed by a head-to-toe anti-mozzie spray application.
TIP! More questions? See Mosquitoes in Thailand: 12 tips and tricks for total warfare.
Do you tend to need a moisturiser? If you’re picky about ingredients, bring your own from home. As for after-sun products, while bright green aloe products are readily available in Thailand’s tourist towns, I pack my own moisturiser simply because I can read the (English) label and know exactly what’s in it.
#3. The best sunscreen for Thailand
Here’s something else I’ve mastered in the past 14 years: 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’ in recent years 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:
- #1. Anything and everything by COOLA
- #2. Sun Bum sunscreen + sunscreen spray
- #3. Sun Bum SPF 30 lip balm
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 the pathetic/sensitive/incident-prone one … it might be worth considering.
#4. Hair products for Thailand
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.
Give up before you start – who wants hair against your neck when it’s this hot? After ≥ 12 hours in Thailand, it’s braids, buns and ponytails for the duration of the trip – shoved with increasing urgency under hats.
Bring anti-frizz preparation and use this tip when you’re going to use a hair dryer. 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. If you’ll be staying in places unlikely to have an in-room safe, I could see its appeal. An Amazon reviewer (of whom there are many) suggests using it a few times for added authenticity.
#5. ‘On-the-go’ toiletries for Thailand
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. The truly dedicated green shoppers will know there’s some controversy over name-brand hand sanitiser – a question of whether it’s safe for us and our ecosystem.
Truthfully, I missed the debate entirely – once I found the coconut + lemon stuff I switched to this natural product for its smell alone. As for the face wipes, I use them on the plane like a total crazy person.
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:
- #1. Incognito Natural Anti-Mozzie spray
- #2. Incognito Anti-Mosquito Loofah
- #3. Sun Bum SPF 30 Lip Balm
- #4. Coola SPF 30 Sunscreen Spray
- #5. Konjac sponge
- #6. Coconut + lemon hand sanitiser
- #7. After-sun cream/moisturiser
- #8. Anti-frizz hair serum (SLS/paraben-free)
- #9. Citronella deodorant
- #10. Face wipes (for extra-hot days)
Part 2: The best makeup for Thailand