What You Can Do to Repel Mosquitoes (And Why They Bite Some of Us More Than Others)
Ah, summer. The days of puffy red bumps dotting your arms and legs. The cardiovascular campfire exercises also known as swatting mosquitoes. The pink calamine lotion designs splotched onto itchy kids everywhere.
The more outdoorsy you are, the more likely you are to suffer this summer malady. However, some folks get bitten more often than others, no matter what they do to repel mosquitoes. Everyone has a favorite remedy for this. Personally, I’ve been a fan of Avon Skin So Soft bath oil for years for our family’s outdoorsy pursuits, but with the uptick in mosquito-borne illnesses, we should all be a bit more vigilant.
Here’s the research on who is the most vulnerable to getting bitten and what you can do to protect yourself.
Have you ever wondered why certain people are just mosquito magnets?
There are several reasons.
The first ones are genetic, and you can’t do anything about them.
- Bacteria: We all have a different cocktail of bacteria on our skin and some of these mixes are more appealing to mosquitoes than others. The smellier the bacteria, the happier the mosquito. This may explain why mosquitoes are so drawn to places like your feet and ankles. Mosquitoes find bacteria like Staphylococcus and Variovorax quite delicious. Pseudomonas, Delftia, and Actinobacteria make a person less enticing.
- Blood Type: Just like humans and ice cream, mosquitoes have favorite flavors, too. Experiments have shown that they greatly prefer Type O blood but don’t really care for Type A blood. What’s more, 85% of people secrete a chemical that signals to the little flying vampires what blood type they are. The other 15% who do not secrete that chemical are less likely to be bitten.
- Carbon Dioxide: The more you exhale, the more mosquitoes are drawn to you. This means that if you’ve been exerting yourself, if you are overweight, or if you are pregnant, you may be getting more than your fair share of bites.
- Sweat: Sweat is the byproduct of exertion, so if you are outdoors exercising or working, mosquitoes may want to come and help you along. The delightful aromas of lactic acid, uric acid, and ammonia, all present in perspiration, draw them like humans to fresh baked cookies.
- Warmth: Some people run a little hotter than others. Mosquitoes tend to be drawn to the warmth. This makes pregnant women, people with a high metabolism, and heavier people tend to be more attractive.
There are a couple of mosquito-luring qualities you can do something about.
- Beer: Mosquitoes love beer. Drinking just one 12-ounce bottle of brew makes humans more enticing to mosquitoes. (source) This is not true of other types of alcohol consumption – just beer drinkers.
- Clothes: The color of your clothing can make you more of a target. Mosquitoes tend to find their victims visually and if you’re wearing dark colors like navy, dark brown, or black, as well as very bright colors like red, you’ll be seen by them more easily.
What can you do to repel mosquitoes?
There are all sorts of natural methods that are, unfortunately, old wives tales that don’t stand up to scientific investigation. You can douse yourself in these things until the cows come home while feeling good about your natural remedies, but chances are, you’ll still be polka-dotted with bites the next day.
Here are the things that are proven by science to repel the skeeters.
You must weigh the risks before using some of these. For some, fear of the diseases carried by mosquitoes may outweigh the risk of putting pesticides on their skin.
- DEET: Now, unless I was in a malaria-Zika-Chikungunya infested jungle, I probably wouldn’t spray this on myself or my children but it has to be included. Sprays containing N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide do keep mosquitoes at bay, but there have been some serious health side effects from using it.
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus: This is refined into a product called Citriodiol or p-menthane-3,8-diol. It has lower levels of toxicity but it is recommended NOT to be used on children younger than 3. The effects don’t last as long as those of more toxic sprays and it must be reapplied every 2 hours to maintain it’s effectiveness. It is the primary ingredient in OFF Familycare Botanicals and Repel Natural. (I just ordered some Repel – it has pretty good reviews.)
- Picaridin: This is a repellent ingredient that is fairly new to the market. Although it’s a pesticide, the EPA says it’s safe to use on your skin. Sawyer makes a product that is 20% picaridin. Take this for what it’s worth and do your own research before using it. Here’s a fact sheet on picaridin.
- Citronella torches, candles, and coils: The smoke from these can be confusing to mosquitoes and may offer a modicum of protection if there is no breeze. However, reports of breathing issues and toxicity to the lungs make these not really worth the risk for the nominal protection provided. One study found that the burning a single mosquito coil would release the same large particulates as 100 cigarettes and as much formaldehyde as 51 cigarettes.
- Essential oils: Sorry, but they don’t work for more than a few minutes according to the New England Journal of Medicine. (source)
- Wristband repellents: Nope, the same source says that these offer zero protection.
- Skin So Soft bath oil: A lot of people swear by Skin So Soft bath oil, by Avon. Heck, I use it myself before going out in the evening, and although I don’t really care for commercial bath products, it seems safer to me than spraying pesticide on myself and my children. Some studies cited by Consumer Reports say it offers a minimal 2-hour protection and that it is far from the best choice, also noting that Avon says it was not designed to be an insect repellent. But a study in the BC Journal of Medicine said that Skin So Soft, while it needed to be applied more frequently, was an effective alternative to DEET.
Do you have a favorite method to repel mosquitoes?
Share it in the comments section below. However, my friends, keep in mind that the comments section is not vetted – please do your own research before opting to use a remedy that some guy on the internet said worked for him. Also, feel free to double check my conclusions, too. If you disagree, cite your sources so that we can all learn more about it.