A mosquito bite can be dangerous, and it is best to avoid them if possible. Natural mosquito repellents are available for anyone concerned with chemicals on their skin, but which actually work?
This article will give a quick overview of mosquitoes, why they bite, and what that means. The article will also look at standard chemical mosquito repellents as well as promising natural solutions to a mosquito problem.
What are mosquitoes?
Mosquitoes are an insect in the Culicidae family. Research points out that mosquitoes as we know them have existed since the Jurassic Period. While there are some species that only feed off of flower nectar, many species feed off of the blood of creatures like humans.
It is only the female mosquitoes that feed on blood, so they can get nutrients to lay eggs.
Over the years, mosquitoes have become very good hunters. This is partly why repelling them is so hard when compared with other bugs. Mosquitoes target their prey using a lot of different tools.
It is possible for mosquitoes to pass diseases on from one human to another.
Mosquitoes don't have the best vision, but they can see movement, heat, and contrasting colors. If something warm is brightly colored and moving against a dull background, it is likely to be full of blood. As a result, a mosquito will take a closer look.
Mosquitoes are also attracted to:
- Carbon dioxide exhaled through the breath
- Bacteria on the skin
- The smell of some chemicals in sweat
All these sensors help to find them the best target to bite.
This "bite" comes from the mosquito inserting a long, needle-like tube extending from its head into the skin. Multiple insertions are often made as the mosquito looks for a good area to suck blood from. The mosquito's saliva keeps the host's blood from clotting. When the mosquito has had its fill, it moves on.
Why are mosquitoes dangerous?
Many types of mosquito can pass certain diseases from one human to another through their saliva.
For instance, a mosquito from the Anopheles genus bites a person who has malaria. If the disease stays in the mosquito long enough, it is possible for that mosquito to transfer the disease to anyone else it bites.
Avoiding mosquito bites
It is important to take steps to lower the chances of being bitten. As mosquitoes breed in standing water, all types of standing water should be taken away from the home and garden. Bird baths, watering cans, and bits of water stuck in rain gutters can become ideal places for mosquitoes to live.
It may also help to avoid areas where there are many mosquitoes. Anyone who has to travel to mosquito-infested areas should wear long, baggy pants, long-sleeved shirts, and a mosquito hat. People also lower their chances of being bitten by a mosquito by using mosquito repellants.
Natural mosquito repellents
Long before chemical repellents existed, natural repellents were used to keep mosquitoes at bay. There are many home remedies for preventing mosquito bites, but the ones that have been studied most are below.
One way to repel mosquitoes is to attract them to a trap. Store-bought or homemade mosquito traps are designed to gather mosquitoes into a container by combining sugar and yeast. This mixture creates carbon dioxide that attracts them.
Any mosquito that enters the container will become trapped. This is a great way to reduce the number of mosquitoes in a living area.
Essential oils could repel mosquitoes but may need to be applied several times a day.
Many natural repellents have been studied over the years. The use of essential oils from plants seems to be the most promising natural mosquito repellent.
The repellent components in essential oils usually evaporate quickly at room temperature. Because of this, using essential oils to repel mosquitoes can require many applications throughout the day.
Lemon eucalyptus oil
Lemon eucalyptus oil is one of the most promising natural insect repellents on the market.
The active ingredient in the oil is the only natural repellent that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend to prevent mosquito bites. The difference between lemon eucalyptus oil and chemicals like DEET is how long the protection lasts.
One study found that lemon eucalyptus essential oil gives better protection than DEET when used properly. This study was carried out in an area where malaria was present.
A 30 percent application of lemon eucalyptus oil would need to be applied to the skin at least three times a day to stay effective.
Citronella has also become a common name in natural bug repellents. Citronella is found in almost every natural insect repellent around.
Citronella prevents mosquito bites by acting on the receptors in a mosquito's antennae. These same receptors are affected by products that have DEET in them. Citronella is most effective at higher concentrations.
One study found that concentrations of 50-100 percent citronella oil were needed to avoid mosquito bites completely. Many concentrations above 10 percent are effective as well, just not for as long.
The oil from the Syzygium aromaticum plant also makes a great natural mosquito repellent. One study found that clove oil gave protection for longer than some of the most effective essential oils.
Clove oil can repel mosquitoes for twice as long as many other essential oils.
Natural mosquito repellent recipe
Here is an example of a simple natural mosquito repellent recipe. The use of apple cider vinegar helps to kill bacteria on the skin that the mosquitoes are attracted to. The high concentrations of essential oils repel them.
In an 8-ounce spray bottle, combine the following:
- 4 ounces apple cider vinegar
- 3 ounces water
- 100 drops citronella essential oil
- 50 drops lemon eucalyptus essential oil
- 50 drops clove oil
Users should shake well before applying. The mixture should be applied to a small area of skin first to test for sensitivity. Users should then apply to clothes and skin often when traveling in areas where mosquitoes live.
Standard mosquito repellents
The most common chemical repellents are considered safe, and may provide lasting relief from mosquitoes. The popular standard chemical mosquito repellents are as follows.
Many people consider DEET to be the best mosquito repellent available.
The actual name of the compound is N, N-Diethyl-3-methylbenzamide. DEET confuses mosquitoes, making it hard for them to find a host.
Depending on the concentration, a DEET solution may provide hours of protection from mosquito bites. DEET is largely seen as the best mosquito repellent on the market.
However, DEET has also been linked to some problems. DEET absorbs into the skin, and can be found in the blood or urine of people who use it.
DEET has been linked to skin irritation and some serious side effects. DEET also shows some toxic effects for cold water fish and fresh water plankton.
Ethyl butylacetylaminopropionate, usually known as IR3535, is a DEET-free repellent that acts on an insect's sense of smell to either repel or confuse them. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that IR3535 showed mild side effects. Skin irritation can occur, especially if it gets into the eyes.
Hydroxyethyl isobutyl piperidine carboxylate is the chemical known as picardin. Picardin is a safer alternative to skin-irritating DEET and is one of the repellents recommended by the CDC.
The main problems with picardin are skin irritation and that it's poisonous to fish and algae. An application of picardin will last about half as long as DEET.