You are with a group of friends hiking in the tropics, or fishing in a swamp, or doing pretty much anything in the state of Floria, and at the end of your day you discover that some members of your group are covered with mosquito bites while others have none.
Sound familiar? That bite disparity is not a product of your imagination and it’s not the result of luck. Mosquitoes genuinely prefer some people over others. Here’s a look at the types of people most at risk — and ways anyone can help prevent themselves from being bitten:
Who Mosquitoes Like:
Those with type-O blood. If some people in a group have lots of mosquito bites and some have none, those in the former group probably have type-O blood. Mosquitoes love the stuff, especially from people who tend to secrete saccharides (sugarlike chemicals) through their skin. Worldwide about 38% of people are type-O, though the probability varies greatly between races.
The pregnant. As if the heartburn, nausea and tiredness weren’t enough, pregnant women also have to deal with being mosquito magnets. That’s because they exhale 21% more carbon dioxide than the non-pregnant — carbon dioxide being to mosquitoes what Love Scent pheromones are to humans. The pregnant also have higher body temperatures, especially around the belly where the ambionic fluid is keeping baby toasty.
The overweight. As with pregnant women, overweight people emit more carbon dioxide than the thin. In addition, they are more likely to excrete mosquito-attracting cholesterol through their skin. Hey, those sentences rhymed!
The sweaty. Sweat contains the aforementioned cholesterol and saccharides. Plus, perspiring people excrete another mosquito favorite, lactic acid, through their seat glands.
Drinkers. Metabolizing alcohol changes skin markers in such a way that mosquitoes find irresistible. And it doesn’t take a lot — a single beer is enough to significantly increase your mosquito appeal. (Note: increasing your appeal in other ways might require other people to do the drinking.)
Mosquito Repelling Products (That Work):
Mosquito repellents in general
If you are a drunk, sweaty, overweight person with type-O blood all is not lost. There are products that truly work to help repel mosquitoes — and an awful lot that don’t†.
Unfortunately, most mosquito repellents these days are still made with N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide, or DEET. Though the US Environmental Protection agency has determined that DEET can be used safely, it is toxic and research shows that mosquitoes are becoming immune to it.
Happily there are DEET alternatives, the best (and safest) of which include:
• Metofluthrin — It’s applied to an object that’s hung or worn, not placed directly on skin. Metofluthrin is very effective but requires a breeze to spread its anti-mosquito properties. The mosquito coils that are popular in India and Southeast Asia usually work by burning metofluthrin.
• Permethrin — A synthetic version of a natural chemical. In addition to being a pretty good insecticide, it also happens to bind well to clothing (see below). In Canada and Scandinavia, Permethrin is sold over-the-counter under trade name Nix.
• Citronella and eucalyptus oils — There are several oils that emit odors mosquitoes find repulsive. Other oils, including peppermint, lemongrass and cedar, can work too. They all have the advantage of being completely natural and they can be effective provided the oil scent is being continually released (by burning it in candle form, for example). When rubbed on the skin, the oil’s repellent effect is generally short-lived.
The best mosquito repellent products
There’s a huge variety of anti-mosquito items for use in your home and backyard — we’ll leave a review of those for another post. In terms of traveling and being out in the world, there are three products Spot Cool Stuff especially likes. In addition to repelling mosquitoes, each is also effective keeping away gnats, flies, tics and other biting insects:
Insect Shield Apparel. Clothing with permethrin woven into the fabric might be the most convenient ways to protect against mosquito bites. Based on our review of ExOfficio’s line of insect-repellent clothing we conducted in four countries, we found permethrin-infused clothing to be one of the more effective means of protection too. Note that you can also buy your own permethrin spray. We didn’t find that clothing we sprayed ourselves worked quite as well, but the spray is very helpful for treating tents, backpacks and other cloth items.
Incognito Anti-Mosquito is our absolute favorite repellent spray. It is made from all natural ingredients. It doesn’t smell, well, repellent (to humans). And it’s extremely effective — more effective than DEET and incompatibly better than any non-DEET spray. London-based Incognito doesn’t have much of a distribution network in North America (order it from the USA Amazon store and they have to ship it from England) but it is available in Europe.
Mosquitno makes a silicone rubber band you wear around your wrist. A scientist would say that the convenient band repels mosquitoes because it is infused with citronella oil but we think it works because it’s engraved with the words Hey! Don’t bite me, please. The band, which is available in both kids and adult sizes, is nontoxic, waterproof and — as a cool bonus — comes in an air-tight resealable bag.
Use of those anti-mosquito products aren’t mutually exclusive, of course. So the best strategy when next you travel to a mosquito-infested locale might be: Use all three at once!
† Spot Cool Stuff previously planned to write a post on the best mosquito repelling smartphone apps (of which there are surprisingly many). After trying out eight of them without detecting the slightest bit of benefit we’ve concluded that they’re all shite. Also on our list of ineffective products: Avon Skin So Soft and thiamine-based patches.