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Bringing home knick-knacks and keepsakes during your trip overseas is part of the fun, but there are some “souvenirs” you definitely don’t want.

Skin conditions are one of the most frequent medical problems for travellers.

While travelling to exotic places you could be exposed to all manner of bugs that can cause unsightly rashes, bites or boils. Reassuringly, most skin problems can be avoided and are easily treated. Here’s how…


Stay dry to ward off fungi

When travelling to hot, humid climates, Tinea (a fungal infection) is a common problem.

Because tinea likes warm moist climates, it often crops up in-between the toes, around the groin and other areas that can get hot and sweaty. Staying as dry and cool as possible can help prevent it. Avoid sharing towels or walking around communal areas (like the pool or bathroom areas) bare foot too, as tinea is also very contagious.

There are different types that commonly affect the scalp, face or body (as ‘ringworm’), feet (‘athlete’s foot’), or groin (‘jock itch’). It can also cause blotchy skin discoloration on the upper chest, neck, and back (called ‘tinea versicolour’).

Don’t let the bugs bite

Unclean bedding can expose you to body lice, scabies and bedbugs – insects that love human skin.

Bites from bedbugs are often confused with mosquito bites. There 05/be one or a cluster of bites – sometimes in a ‘breakfast, lunch and dinner’ pattern.

Scabies burrow into skin to form itchy clusters of bumps, especially in skin folds (check between fingers and behind elbows and knees). Without treatment, itching can continue for several weeks.

Bites from body lice start as small red dots. They can develop into lumps, which become inflamed and itchy.

Contaminated luggage, clothing, bedding or furniture is the usual way you pick up bedbugs. Body lice and scabies can also be passed from one person to another — this is
the most common way scabies spreads and requires only about 20 minutes of contact, especially in warm environments like beds.

Watch where you tread or dip

Another skin condition, particularly common in Bali and Thailand (called cutaneous larva migrans or CLM), is caused by the larvae of hookworms found in animal faeces.

Sandy beaches and wet soil, where dogs and cats are allowed to wander are particular hot spots – so avoid walking barefoot and watch where you sit.

CLM is extremely itchy and looks like small line-shaped bumps under the skin (especially on the feet or buttocks) that move 2–4 mm a day.

Taking a dip in pools or spas 05/also be hazardous, especially if they are not adequately chlorinated.  Water contaminated with the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa can cause ‘Hot tub folliculitis’ (tender, itchy skin lumps that occur within 8–48 hours).

Treating skin conditions caught on your travels

Just thinking about skin conditions is enough to make your skin crawl – but it’s worth preparing your medicine kit with suitable treatments before you go.  If you’re unsure what to take or how to use it, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.

Many tinea infections can be treated with an over-the-counter antifungal cream such as clotrimazole (e.g. the brand Canesten), miconazole (e.g. Daktarin) or terbinafine (e.g. Lamisil).

Scabies and body lice can be treated with an insecticide such as permethrin (e.g. Lyclear cream). Using a mild corticosteroid cream like hydrocortisone (e.g. Sigmacort), calamine lotion, or an antihistamine medicine such as loratadine (e.g. Claratyne) or cetirizine (e.g. Zyrtec), can help stop the itch of bedbug bites.

For cutaneous larva migrans (CLM) and ‘hot tub folliculitis’ it’s best to seek medical advice, if symptoms persist. Severe cases of CLM 05/need to be treated with worm treatments, such as albendazole (e.g. Eskazole) or ivermectin (Stromectol).


  • Clean and dry skin thoroughly.
  • Avoid sharing towels, clothes and other items in contact with skin.
  • Wear thongs in showers, bathroom areas, locker rooms, and by the pool.
  • Allow your skin to breathe. Wear open toed shoes and loose, non-synthetic (like cotton) clothing and underwear.
  • Inspect your bedding and hotel room before unpacking. Check along the mattress seam, bed sheets and linens.
  • Use a barrier travel sheet, even if you don’t find any bugs initially. Choose one with a fine weave, can be washed in hot water and dried in hot air.
  • Avoid close contact with people or their belongings that are potentially infested.

This article is supplied by NPS MedicineWise, providing independent information on medicines and medical tests, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing.

If you have questions about your medicines, talk to your doctor, pharmacist or call the NPS MedicinesLine 1300 MEDICINE (1300 633 424). Learn more about medicine and medical tests at their website

For more top tips about travel and medicines visit NPS MedicineWise.

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