June 29, 2009

Happy Annivesary, #@%& Mosquitoes!

Image from: wackystuff

Has it really been only a year since I wrote my last whiny post about mosquitoes?

It seems like just a few short months ago that I posted about how dumb I am about letting myself get bit all the time because I hate bug spray, and how I was trying to find alternatives to DEET because of possible risks like skin irritation and "diffuse brain cell death." Fortunately, there were some that were supposed to be particularly effective, but did I get around to trying them? Err...

Anyway, it seems it's time again for another mosquito post! For one, even if you read it last year, you might have thought "hmm, must look into these DEET alternatives," then totally forgot to do it. Or in my case, you could have gone to the local drugstore, discovered they didn't carry them, made a note to order some online... then totally forgot about it. Anyway, I can remind you what those alternatives are if you're interested.

But another reason for a new mosquito post is I just read some research confirming what many have suspected: some people are indeed mosquito magnets!

Yep, if it seems to you like you're getting bit a lot more than your friends? It may not be your imagination. Due to body chemistry, certain people are just much more appealing to the bloodsucking little pests.

Are You A Mosquito Magnet?

So the mosquito magnet article is over at WebMd. Here are some highlights:

  • Genetics are about 85% responsible for our attractiveness to mosquitoes.

  • High concentrations of steroids or cholesterol on the skin attracts mosquitoes. But it doesn't necessarily correlate with people's cholesterol levels; some folks may be better at processing cholesterol and so the byproducts end up on the skin's surface.

  • Mosquitoes like people who produce excess amounts of certain acids, such as uric acid.

  • Mosquitoes love carbon dioxide, and can smell it from up to 50 meters away. And pregnant women and people who are larger than average give off more carbon dioxide.

  • Also, people who are active and moving around give off more carbon dioxide. (The article then suggests you choose a lounge chair rather than a volleyball game if you're worried about mosquitoes at an outdoor gathering.)

However, on that last point, I say hell no. For one, if you're gonna be out for hours and hours in a location where there are mosquitoes? Just face facts, you're screwed! Bring some repellent. (More on that below). Also, from personal experience, I've discovered that when I'm running, mosquitoes are much less likely to land on me than when I'm walking or sitting, even if theoretically I'm giving off more carbon dioxide and smelling much tastier. Perhaps I'm just living amongst unusually lazy mosquitoes who are too slothful to chase me? Anyway, I wouldn't suggest the "sit on your ass" strategy for mosquito prevention, unless perhaps you're really just in the mood to sit on your ass anyway and would like a good excuse.

Why a DEET Alternative?

DEET is pretty darn effective, but as I said, there was some pesky DEET research that suggested the potential for brain cell death--that is, if you use a LOT of it and if you are a RAT. Most mainstream medical sources don't seem too concerned about the safety aspects with occasional use, and talk more about minor side effects like numbness or irritation, or about the fact that DEET in high concentrations will melt plastic. (Which is indeed a pain if you're camping and get it all over your gear).

If you are looking for non-DEET alternatives, there are two that seem to be most recommended: one is Picaridin, which doesn't have the stinky smell that DEET does and won't melt your gear. You can find it in Cutter Advanced. And a compilation of the picaridin effectiveness research and reviews seems to suggest it's pretty effective.

The other is a natural product, and is supposed to be very effective as well: it's oil of lemon eucalyptus, and is found in the brand "Repel."

Backyard Battles:

Speaking of "mosquito magnets," we were so freaked out by having mosquitoes in our back yard that we broke down and bought one of these thingies.

They're pricey, ugly, and a pain in the ass because you keep having to replenish the propane and do other maintenancy things. But they put out carbon dioxide and attract the mosquitoes and really do seem to have helped reduce the mosquito population in our yard. But not, alas, to zero, the only truly acceptable number for resident mosquitoes as far as I'm concerned.

(The most hilarious thing about these mosquito traps? The model names! Would you like the "Liberty?" Or the "Independence?" Or perhaps the "Executive?" The Executive excels at catching the cleverest, most devious, top-level CEO type mosquitoes. Or something.)

Anyway, does anyone else hate mosquitoes? Any tips on keeping them away?


  1. UGH! I absolutely HATE mosquitoes!! lil f'ing bastards... and then there are the giant horseflies at my parents' house.. those hurt like nothing else! I have't tried it on those yet, but OFF! smooth & dry spray works pretty well for this particular mosquito magnet. it does have 15% deet, but it doesn't stink, and it's not a sticky oily slick on your skin... a lil expensive, but so far it's worth it for me. how it works in the woods while camping, i can't vouch for..

    and woohoo for being first again :)

  2. I seem to be one of those people that attract mosquitoes. I was once out for a walk with 5 other people; I came back covered in mosquito bites and everyone else was bite-free.

    I've used Burt's Bees Citronella oil in the past and it seems to help.

  3. Bubble and Bee has an organic Bug Be Gone repellant, comes up super low for harmful chemicals according to www.cosmeticsdatabase.com as does Badger Anti-Bug Balm. Both of these are zeros and Badger Anti-Bug Balm has really good reviews.

  4. Not a natural thing at all, but we have a bug zapper/tennis racket hybrid thing that you can use to hit and electrocute the things.

    After being bitten, it's oddly satisfying.

  5. I am the magnet. My husband jokes that if he's getting bit outside, he just moves over next to me, and magically he's not ever bit again!

    We use Avon's Skin So Soft for mosquito repellent. It smells pretty good and I don't mind putting it on my 7 children. Per ounce it's reasonable in cost too.

  6. Great tips!

    And Tricia, I GOTTA find out more about this "bug zapper/tennis racket hybrid thing that you can use to hit and electrocute the things." I'm not normally into killing insects, but mosquitoes are an exception and that indeed sounds quite satisfying.

  7. I miss Avon skin so soft. We usually don't have to worry about it where we live right now, but where I grew up is aweful. And, wer're moving next year so we'll have to keep all this in mind. There will be an update in another year, yes? :)

  8. Considering I have about 10 mosquito bites that I'm forcing myself not to itch right this second, I'd say I'm a magnet. Sigh. One of my requirements when we were buying a house was "no pools, ponds, rivers, lakes or any other source of standing water." Yeah, it's a drowning risk but I really didn't want the bugs either!

  9. Oh my goodness, I knew I was a mosquito magnet, but this just confirms it! I get bitten like crazy while all my friends and my husband stays bite-free!

  10. Plus there's always West Nile virus to worry about... and Malaria...

  11. SWEET! I just found the perfect excuse to abstain from outdoors exercise! "Sorry guys, but if I work out I am more susceptible to dying!" (ok that was hyperbolic, but I think I could make my case if prompted to) ;)

  12. First, I think I am going to just hang around with JavaChick since she is such a good all natural mosiquito magnet. But barring being able to do that, I have begun using the OFF mosquito coils in my yard, which smell like incense, not citronella, and seem to do a pretty good job of fending off most flying pests. And they are attractive and not very expensive.

  13. Mmmmmm.... screened porch? That's what works best for me. Seriously, though, I'd forgotten about Avon SkinSoSoft and it really does work a treat.

    And yes, I'm also a magnet. I'd sort of forgotten because we were in England for a few years (no mosquitos), Jo'burg (too dry for mosquitos but all the other bad things will get ya) and Poland (fairly mosquito-free, tho I can't imagine why -- it's just like Chicago).

    Now that I'm back in Chicago, I need to rethink my bug strategy. It's AWFUL here. People literally run for their homes at dusk, chased by swarms of the little buggers.

  14. Expateek--that image of Chicago commuters fleeing towards home, chased by bugs, just cracks me up!

  15. I am another mosquito magnet. And have a terrible reaction to them - get huge swollen itchy bumps. Some folks (like the Rancher) do not react to the mosquitoes bite, so don't even realize they've been bitten!

    (Well, either that, or they really actually NEVER bite him....)

    And I have one of those bug zapper tennis rackets, too! So satisfying!!

    Has anyone tried Listerine to repel mosquitoes? I didn't think it was all that effective, but it did keep my deck from having "morning breath"!

  16. Hrm . . . the local grocery store carries my favorite mosquito repellent: garlic.

    And actually I'm dead serious about that. The beasties hates the garlics, they do. Now, you may have heard that "you are what you eat," but closer to the truth is that "you seep out your pores what you eat." (Which is why drinking plenty of water is better for your skin than acne medicine).

    Now I'm about as Polish as you can get without having a turnip stuck behind my ear (and I'm a mosquito magnet to boot - little barstids used to eat me up when I was a kielbasa eating kid), but these days I eat like a bloody Italian.

    And it really works.

    Now, if you don't like garlic (and if you don't, please don't tell me, because I love your blog and I just know something would wither up and die inside of me if I found out I loved the blog of a garlic loather), but if you don't like garlic you can also take flavorless garlic tablets.

    Or, in a quick pinch, you can swallow 3-4 match heads and you'll be skeeter free for most of the day (takes about an hour to kick in either way as the garlic or sulfur goes through your system before you stink enough offend the blood sucking fiends' sensibilities and they leave you alone).

    Oh, and for those of you who don't remember matches, they're an anachronism from the olden days of pay phones and vinyl records, but they are usually still available free of charge at most good bars and convenience stores.

  17. Brahnamin--

    Matchheads? Really!!???

    And actually, I totally LOVE garlic but probably don't eat quite enough for proper mosquito repellant efficacy.

    A good reason to eat even more garlic!

  18. I hate mosquitoes! As if the blasted heat and humidity in the summer isn't enough to make me cranky and miserable, I gotta deal with mosquitoes too?

    Mosquitoes starts to look like a non-word after you see it enough. Ever notice that?

    Those things have a feast on me every year. Especially since having to go on blood thinners. And the area around my ankles that tends to pool blood is the most attractive spot for them. I have scars on my ankles from the bites. Avon's skin-so-soft does help but it's never enough.

  19. I have a great postcard depicting the mosquito as our state's "State Bird." EWWWW!! I sure do hate the little buggers also!

    One mosquito remedy (no nasty chemicals involved) is the wonderous lemon balm plant which according to the following webpage won the International Herb Association's 2007 Herb of the Year Award. Oh yeah, living the dream! I'm not sure it is the cure all it claims to be, but I've found it to help against those nasty blood suckers.


    For just a lil more info...


  20. Het them too.
    I've found this works - Take a multiB vitamin - sometimes they'll leave you alone...and best of all - at a local health food shop I found a chemical free bug repellant that works. It has catnip extract in it and smells nice too . It works - we were out in the woods fishing a few weeks ago and not one bite!
    Off skintastic works in a pinch - doesn't smell bad. Watkins makes a mosquito lotion too (how can you tell I go camping too much :) )

  21. Seems to me essential lavender oil works as does essential cedar oil. Not sure about any others now. Mosquitoes only come after me if they are desperate though I've noticed their desperation has increased over the past few years.

  22. hmm...maybe the reason the hubby is bug-repellant is alllll that garlic he eats! apparently raw garlic is antibacterial too, FYI. Hubby doesn't get bit OR sick. I need to eat more garlic...

  23. I believe in citronella, but have to admit that I'm not a mosquito magnet!

  24. Will only be in the outdoors if forced at gunpoing after all this rain. My strategy to stay mosquito resistant is to take Scooby the Wonder Dog with me as he emits all kinds of noxious odors which I hope is a pleasant diversion from my plain old carbon dioxide and plus-size physique. But I still think I've got the DEET stuff in the cupboard if I'm out longer than 5 minutes.

    Ultimately, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Mosquito & tick ranching opportunities abound. Call me at 1-800-SCRATCH-ME to learn more.

  25. My husband swears by rubbing orange peels on his skin. Seems to work, too. And he smells nice.

    If you don't happen to have any citrus fruits handy in the heat of summer (or if you are concerned about the carbon footprint of summer citrus), I would recommend the following essential oil blend. These all are available at Whole Foods or you can order them online.

    Start with about a quarter-cup of fractionated coconut or other neutral oil. Or you can start with about a quarter cup of neutral lotion base (also at Whole Foods, at leat the one out this way). To this add:

    50 drops of catnip essential oil
    20 drops lemongrass essential oil
    20 drops of lavender essential oil
    10 drops Vitamin E oil (keeps the oils from fouling)

    You'll have a lovely woodsy-lemony scent. You can either rub on your skin, or (if you're using the oil blend) mix it with about a quarter cup of witch hazel and put it in a spritzer bottle. Shake well before using.

    I also add the same ratio to bee's wax or paraffin wax that I get at the craft store (instead of the coconut oil), add a wick and you have your very own bug-resistant candle.

    Caution: Your cat will not be able to leave you alone with this blend. Seriously. Wait until you go outside to put it on. Or start by spraying it on her favorite toy and wait until she's too stoned to care before you put it on your skin.

    If the cat's attentions are a problem, you can substitute tea tree oil for the catnip. It smells a bit more antiseptic, but it'll cut down on the cat fur stuck to your arms.

    Good luck!!

  26. Oh, and one more thing regarding the above blend: NEVER put essential oils directly on your skin without diluting them in a carrier! Many of them can irritate in their pure form. If "some" is good, "more" is not necessarily better.

  27. I took brewer's yeast tablets when I was a kid - the pets, too. I don't know anything about it other than what my mom told me (helps prevent mosquitoes and ticks) and what I just found via google (looks like she might not have been too crazy). I haven't taken it in years, so I have no personal info re: efficacy.

  28. Wow, more mosquito suggestions than I ever would have imagined!

    Will have to think about the mosquito ranching as i could use some extra income.

    And didn't know about the citrus trick. But the carbon footprint of summer citrus? Whoops! It's an issue I've never even thought of, and I'm probably way over my limit.

    Still, I think I'd rather have mojitos than scare mosquitos.

  29. My Little Girl is very attractive to mosquitoes and highly allergic to them also. When she was two, she went out to play in the yard with the older kids and while they came in with no bites, she had about 50 of them.

    She proceeded to scratch until she had impetigo, then got hives when she turned out to be allergic to the antibiotic the pediatrician put her on.

    The poor baby just huddled in a corner and whimpered when we weren't in doctor's offices trying to figure out what to do for her.

    She is bitten if she uses anything but DEET, so I use it in as small a concentration as possible and only right before she goes outside.

    If mosquitoes go extinct, this is one family that will not mind at all.

  30. I am a mosquito magnet! I don't know which is worse...the itch of a mosquito bite or the stench of bug spray??

  31. I hate them. Hate hate hate.

    In my city we have these tourist souvenirs which are "mosquito traps". They're hilarious, they look kinda like mouse traps. That's how many mosquitos we have though; we're famous for them.

    Playing soccer is BRUTAL on the field with all the mosquitos. shudder shudder shudder.

  32. I believe it, some people seem immune.

    The bugs are pretty brutal in Florida, but I know these rascals don't pay much attention to state or country borders.

    I can establish a peace treaty with most animals, but since they are hunting me, can't seem to make the break through :-)

  33. I have two ideas and yes, I hate mosquitos. Did anyone say they liked them?

    One idea is to spray the mosquitos with the repellent which is sort of interesting. I mean, if you have nothing else to do and you're all sitting around and you can see them flying around your head. Don't spray yourself, spray the bugs.

    Also, I used to put the repellent only on my ears at night.

  34. I AM a mosquito magnet! And you don't need DEET or a substitute for DEET, you just need a friend like me to sit next to you for apparently, I am so delicious that I act as a natural bug spray for all those around me! :)

    And I don't know what's in Avon's Skin So Soft, but that TOTALLY works for me!

  35. Hate mosquitos. As a vegetarian who puts stinkbugs and cockroaches outside instead of killing them, I still wouldn't mind the annihilation of all mosquitos.

    The thing is, I totally wouldn't mind if they just wanted to suck my blood. It's the spitting of their vile venom into me and making me itch that makes me so furious.

    I've been using a blend of essential oils from Whole Foods, but I don't really like it because the smell is so strong. I'm hoping that citronella candle scent becomes in vogue soon. I'm also trying to eat at least 1 clove of garlic a day. It seems to be working so far...but having said that I'm going to wake up tomorrow with another 5 bites.

  36. Ha! I was considering whether to write something similar on our blog about black flies - a mosquitoe/fly hybrid with a punch. (The Vermont state bird). This weekend I thought I'd take a nice little nature walk in lieu of the gym -- it is summer for cripes sake -- but I had to turn around because the bloody things were swarming around my head so much I couldn't stand it. I will say that waving them off creates an interesting upper arm exercise, if you don't mind looking a bit batty. Thanks for the tips.

  37. I hate them things but we don't get too many here in southern CA where I live. I used to get a lot of bites when I lived back east as a kid. I guess I have whatever it is although maybe as an adult, it goes away. Is that wishful thinking!!!

  38. I haven't checked if this is a hoax, but I was just sent an email that Listerine repels mosquitoes. It's sprayed on chairs, tables, playground equipment, etc., not on you directly. Avoid spraying on wood doors, but the frame is okay. (This is what the email...from Mom...said). I haven't tried it.

    I agree with expateek. Chicagoland freaks on the things. We and our neighbors started heading home at dusk. Trucks tracked our neighborhoods during the evening spraying bug spray...all doors and windows closed. Utah seems to have less mosquitoes, but they are 10 times bigger.

    Maybe we should increase the bat population...

  39. I usually just cover up because I'd rather sweat than coat my body in chemicals.

    Of course, I end up breathing chemicals anyway because the city sprays, but I can't do much about that.

    After Tropical Storm Allison flooded the city several years back, the mosquitoes were terrible. It was the only time I've ever encountered mosquitoes so aggressive they would bite me when I was running if I slowed my pace at all. Needless to say, I had one of the most effective training runs of my life thanks to Tropical Storm Allison, but I wouldn't want to repeat the experience.

  40. ughs.. they and the flies are insidious this time of year, 'specially with horses tho we've made our own fly spray containers with maple sugar, water and vinegar

    let the mosquito war begin

  41. the only problem with natural repellents(and my favorite is from gardensalive.com) is they don't last as long as the chemical versions. we were camping last week and we used 3 out of 4 bottles. i NEVER use the chemical versions. i also love herbal shooo for people from natural pet. they have a pet version too that works great. no ticks after 4 days in the woods!!!!

  42. I am a complete mosquito MAGNET *and* I'm allergic, so every summer I get tons of bites that swell up to the diameter of a small piece of fruit. (I wish I were kidding.)

    So in conclusion I don't like being outside at night ;p and my least favorite activity ever is anything that involves sleeping in a tent. aka camping.

  43. I guess they haven't come out in full force here this year, because I have only had one bite so far, but then this is the first time in a long time that we haven't had a cat. And since we don't have a cat, we have a lot more birds. And some birds eat mosquitoes...so cats cause mosquitoes. No, that's not right. Nevermind.

  44. They seem to have stepped up their interest in my skin this summer and last. I used to be outside all the time and get maybe 3 to 5 bites per summer. Now, I get at least that many per outing, but I find them less bothersome itch-wise than they ever used to be.

    Patty's comment made me laugh.. and eye my cats suspiciously.

  45. I've found one of the best results of moving to Colorado to be the lack of BUGS! Taking a trip to the "lowlands" during the summer gives me an unpleasant reminder of the population of bugs elsewhere. ;-)
    Path to Health

  46. I read all of these comments with interest because I work for the DEET Education Program, Washington, DC (We have information on all repellents, not just the DEET ones). Our advice is ALWAYS choose a repellent that has an EPA registration--there are four of them--DEET, Picaridin, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus and IR3535. Nothing else will ward off mosquitoes effectively--not garlic, not b vitamins, not dryer sheets, etc. Please note that the OLE that the EPA registers is not a "natural" product. Like the others, it is a synthetic molecule produced in a chemical plant. It cannot be used on children until they are 3 years old. DEET can be used on children over the age of two months--which is the American Acadmey of Pediatrics recommendation. The AAP reviewed all of the data on DEET in 2003 (both published and unpublished) and made this recommendation.You cannot concoct your own "OLE Brew" and consider yourself protected. Essential oils repel for very short periods of time, often cause skin irritations, and may give you a false sense of security. You might as well use cooking oil--it creates the same barrier. After 20 minutes or so, the biters will be back. Please contact me at 888-NO-Bites if you have questions, concerns, or need more information. We are happy to help. There are a million urban legends out there! Judi

  47. Just another hint, if you have a yard that has birdbaths etc. just make sure you put a pump in it so that the water is moving or else it will become infested with skeeters.

  48. Really on the match heads.

    Or, if you need more fiber in your diet, eat 4 whole matches.

    As for needing an excuse to eat more garlic . . . erm . . . who needs an excuse? It's garlic.

  49. The Mosquito Magnets are awesome! I had one when I lived in Alaska, where mosquitoes should be the state bird, and it did a great job keeping the number of them down (had to empty the trap daily during certain seasons, but it was worth it). I haven't had to use repellent since I moved to Washington, even when camping this weekend they just weren't thick enough to lay on the deet. Deet always worked best, but if the mosquitoes aren't super thick, I find that the natural solutions (eucalyptus) work just as well.

  50. I am unlucky enough to be a mosquito magnet who is allergic to the little buggers. If I miss any spots with the bug spray the mosquitoes find them and munch away. Good article, glad I am not alone!

  51. funny you mention the active thing because i got my first mosquito bites of the season last night when i went for a run. stupid bugs.

  52. I hate them too - I don't have a problem with them since I moved to Denver, but I'm originally from the DC area, which is built on swampland and completely filled with them. It's awful. At parties, friends stand next to me because they know the mosquitoes will come to me rather than them....

  53. http://gymratfoodie.wordpress.com/2009/07/03/out-of-commission/

    ^ when I wrote this post about my TERRIBLE reaction to mosquitos I thought about you ;)

  54. Interesting to read that some people are less susceptible. For some reason I usually seem to fall into that category (knock on wood). During a summer trip to India I was bit only two times while people I was around were inundated.


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