Avon's spray finds calling as midge repellent for Royal Marines

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THEY are famed for their ability to operate at sea, in the jungle or in the Arctic wastes and freezing cold of Norway. Battles throughout the centuries have won the Royal Marine Commandos a reputation as one of the world's elite fighting forces.

And as the last line of security in guarding Britain's nuclear weapons, they are pivotal to the Defence of the Realm.

But it appears that on the home front our toughest soldiers are prepared to pander to their softer side to combat Scotland's most persistent foe: the midge.

For years the Marines at Faslane who guard nuclear missiles and the submarines capable of firing them have looked for an answer. They've finally found it in a brand of women's skin cream.

Instead of using mosquito repellent issued by their unit, soldiers and workers at the base are buying Avon body lotion to repel midges on the West Coast. The company traditionally associated with images of well-dressed women selling cosmetics door-to-door is experiencing an unexpected boom thanks to the pesky insect. Neil Smith, a Royal Navy spokesman at HMS Clyde, near Helensburgh, said: "It's not official kit but nothing works better and the Marines are buying it themselves because the midges are so bad up there."

The wonder cure is a 5 bottle of dry oil body spray from Avon's Skin So Soft range. The midge problem at the base where Trident missiles and Vanguard submarines are stationed is so bad it recently installed a MidgeEater machine at the front gate. Workers at the camp can often be seen wearing midge nets on their heads.

Royal Marines are also taking the skin cream on field training exercises outside the base. But although it is the answer to their prayers, they have not been able to buy it at the local chemist.

Smith said: "There has been a lot of group buying because you can only get the stuff from Avon. Some buy it online and others are ordering it through local Avon ladies."

A stores sergeant at 45 Commando, based at Arbroath, said: "There is nothing effeminate about it. The reason the Nods [Marines] are using it is because it is good kit. It works. It's as simple as that."

It is thought that the oily base of the body spray is the ingredient that repels midges. Made with shea butter and vitamins, Avon's packaging boasts that it will "ensure your skin feels velvety soft, hour after hour".

Sales of the spray have gone through the roof this summer with several Avon ladies selling hundreds of bottles.

Anna Brown, Avon's area manager for the West Coast of Scotland, where the company has 353 sales representatives, said word of the body spray's ability to repel midges has spread since the wives of servicemen discovered its hidden qualities.

She said: "We sell it as a body moisturiser but many people tell us they are only buying it to get rid of midges. We don't market it as an insect repellent because its primary use is to soften your skin. But it is undoubtedly one of our best sellers, with our best agents having to order up to 200 bottles every three weeks."

But like the best boots, clothing and equipment which soldiers buy out of their own pocket, there are no plans to make Avon's cream standard issue to troops.

And it is not only the military who are taking advantage of Avon's beauty products. Word of the spray's ability to fight midges has spread throughout the entire West Coast, with sales being picked up in Dumbarton, Campbeltown, Oban and Dunoon. It has also been claimed that both the US army and the SAS use it as mosquito repellent in the jungle.

Brown said: "We don't ask people why they are buying it but some people tell us it is because they have heard it is good at combating midges."

Scottish Water engineers in the Highlands and forestry workers are also placing orders. In recent years a more terminal approach to tackling midges has been the MidgeEater range of traps, which generate carbon dioxide to mimic the exhaled breath of humans which are the midge's favoured haunt. Once fooled into coming within range, the hapless insects are then sucked into the trap at high speed.

But despite its dry oil body spray's midge-fighting ability, Avon seems reluctant to sell the lotion to the British public as an insect repellent.

A company spokeswoman said: "We cannot do that because UK pharmaceutical laws ban us from doing so, although there has been talk of it being marketed as an mosquito repellent in America where the rules are different."

There are more than 30 species of midge in Scotland but it is the female Culicoides impunctatus variety that causes torment. It is the only type of midge that bites. The crew responsible for the final episodes of Monarch of the Glen set at Ardverikie estate, near Loch Laggan, wore anti-midge body suits and veiled headgear while filming.