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Experts say different soaps have different fragrances. Flashpop/Getty Images
  • New research analyzes the interplay between soap scent, the body’s unique odor profile, and mosquito attraction.
  • Researchers say coconut-scented soaps were among the most effective at repelling mosquitoes.
  • Researchers would like to further explore why mosquitoes are drawn to certain chemicals in soap.
  • Experts note that no soap is as effective as a proper mosquito repellent.

Summertime brings with it the promise of longer days, warmer temperatures, and time spent outdoors.

The season also brings mosquitoes.

If it feels like mosquitoes target you more than others, it might have to do with the soap you’re using — along with your unique body chemistry.

Researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University conducted a study of unique odor profiles in people, along with different soaps, to determine the scents that mosquitoes are drawn to, and, conversely, the scents they’re repelled by.

The findings were published today in the journal iScience.

While there’s no magic bullet for avoiding mosquito bites, experts say the data presents a compelling reason to switch up the soap you might be using.

Daniel Peach, an assistant professor in vector ecology and infectious diseases at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Lab & Department of Infectious Diseases, told Medical News Today that a number of variables can make a person more or less likely to be attractive to mosquitoes.

“Mosquitoes are attracted to people based on several intermodal cues, including carbon dioxide in our breath, odor cues such as volatiles produced by our metabolism or our skin microbiota, visual cues such as the clothing we wear, and more,” he explained. “Differences in attraction between different people come down to differences in these cues, frequently our odor profile.”

While many of these factors cannot be controlled, Clément Vinauger, PhD, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech, said that he and his colleagues wanted to study one that could be altered — the fragrance of a person’s soap of choice.

“While other studies have determined which chemicals among those we produce as part of our body odor attract mosquitoes, the effect of smells we routinely add to our odor remained to be determined,” Vinauger told Medical News Today.

Vinauger hypothesized that, because mosquitoes use plant-emitted volatiles to find nectar, adding fragrance — particularly when many fragrances are plant-based or flower-scented — would have a marked effect on a person’s attractiveness to mosquitoes.

The research indicated that scented soaps do indeed have an effect, but it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.

Added fragrance is mingled with a person’s unique odor profile, so different people will see different results, even if they’re using the same fragrances.

The research points to certain chemicals commonly found in soap that contribute to mosquito attraction and repulsion.

It seems that coconut-scented soaps are among the most repulsive to mosquitoes, although the most foolproof way to repel the pests is to use a proper repellent.

“Multiple publications show that coconut-derived chemicals tend to have a repellent effect on blood-feeding insects. So, if you are prone to getting mosquito bites, this could be the way to go,” said Vinauger. “That being said, if you live in or travel to areas where mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent, I would highly recommend conventional mosquito repellents as commercial soap formulations don’t replace an effective repellent, and the duration of the effects remains to be determined.”

Peach says there are a number of options to make yourself less attractive to mosquitoes.

“The best repellent out there, to my knowledge, is still DEET,” Peach said. “However, there are other options for those who seek to avoid DEET, such as picaridin. If you are particularly attractive to mosquitoes you can do things to try and minimize this attraction. For example, mosquitoes are more attracted to dark clothing than to light clothing, so consider wearing light-colored clothing.”

The data from Virginia Tech has added to the body of knowledge surrounding mosquito attraction.

It’s also sparked new questions and potential avenues for future research.

One wrinkle is that the soaps tested all had limonene — known to have a repellent effect on mosquitoes — as a dominant scent. Despite this, three of the four tested soaps actually increased mosquito attraction.

“Our results indicate that more than the absolute amount of a given chemical, what really matters to the mosquitoes is the relative amounts of chemicals in mixtures. How these interactions are processed in the brain of the mosquito is something that we are going to pursue,” Vinauger said.

“In this study, we provide proof of concept that soaps interact with our body odor, but we are currently seeking funding to add more volunteers and more soaps to our panel so that we can get a better understanding of the chemical processes at play,” he added.