“It itches!” he screeches.
You nod in empathetic agreement and dig out the calamine lotion from the back of old-but-probably-still-usable bin in the linen closet. The whole family has been outdoors for an alfresco barbecue dinner under the stars. Some of you return looking like war-weary soldiers while others are none the worse for wear.
Mean-looking, neon red welts pepper your toddler’s tiny legs. You give up counting at 10. You’re sporting your own collection on the back of your neck, and you’re pretty sure you heard one of those biting beasts in the dining room earlier.
Meanwhile, your tween in shortie-shorts and a halter is sporting entirely bite-free skin (we won’t even discuss how jealous this makes you feel). Your spouse shrugs you off when you insist that something must be done. They’re the lucky ones, somehow invisible to your #1 summer enemy.
In summer’s never-ending battle, the mosquitoes always seem to come out on top. Nobody wants to give up gorgeous summer evenings in the great outdoors. But when the great outdoors makes you miserable, giving it up begins to sound pretty darn good.
Don’t throw in the towel just yet, Mom and Dad. There is hope for mosquito magnets young and old. It’s a matter of sorting out old-wives’ tales from scientifically-proven solutions. So if you want to win the mosquito battle this year, read on.
What you can’t change
First, the bad news: it’s not your imagination. Only a paltry 15 percent of vulnerability to mosquito bites is explained by factors other than genetics.
The buzzing bastards find about one in five people extra tasty. Mosquitoes will happily fly the extra mile to sidle up to the all-you-can-eat blood buffets these poor suckers (or suck-ees, as the case may be) unwittingly serve up.
For some of that miserable 20 percent, their blood type is to blame. The unfortunates with type O – you can remember the vulnerable type by thinking “OMG that mosquito just bit me” – get about double the bites of those with type A blood. Those with type B blood fall between the type O and type A extremes.
As an added genetic punch-in-the-gut, mosquitoes are wired up to detect chemical secretions that, for some, broadcast our blood types like a huge, neon sign that reads, “bite me.” So if you and your bite-prone kids fall in to the unfortunate 85 percent with this involuntary chemical broadcasting system, you’re at even higher risk.
What you can change
Now for the good news. There are some steps you can take to sidestep your genetic vulnerabilities. None are perfect solutions on their own, but taken together, they can make a difference.
Chill – literally and figuratively
Summer is supposed to be a time for relaxing. And as luck would have it, science says that to fly beneath mosquitoes’ radar, relaxing can be an effective part of your bite avoidance plan.
Mosquitoes can sniff us out via sweat and carbon dioxide exhalation (e.g., breathing hard from exercise). So to make yourself and your children less detectable, put away those running shoes, kick back with a tall glass of water, and enjoy the good life. Staying as cool, sweat-free, and lazy as possible is a recipe for a bite-free body that anyone can embrace!
Choose clothing colors carefully
Mosquitoes see dark colors better than lighter ones. Not only that, but those dark colors also retain more carbon dioxide, which serves as an additional attractant. Choose whites and light (not bright) colored clothes to make you and your kids stand out a bit less to the buzzing menace.
In addition to color, consider wearing fabrics infused with permethrin. Here’s a DIY guide to treating your clothing and gear with it.
Chow down on chili
When you’re working up a menu for that backyard barbecue, remember that what you eat can make you more or less mouth-watering to mosquitoes. Garlic and onions, chili peppers, beans, and tomatoes are on mosquitoes’ "no-bueno" list. Sadly, beer and salty foods appear to be as appealing to this menace of the insect world as they to us as they are. So load up on chili, but skip the beer and Fritos as sides.
Interestingly, the oft-reported banana connection seems to be an artifact driven by self-fulfilling prophecy. Some say they attract the beasts, and others say they repel them. Though the jury is still out, mounting scientific evidence suggests that bananas are mosquito-neutral. If you like them, go for it. Mosquitoes don’t seem to care one way or the other.
Repellents that work
According to the scientists at Entomology Today and the Journal of Insect Science, the verdict is in. Spoiler alert: Parents favoring the all-natural approaches may not be very happy about it. There are natural options that can be effective, too, but none are better than DEET.
Though concerns surfaced many years ago that DEET might not be safe for people, science says it is. Like any substance from peanuts to plastic, a small number of people may have unusual reactions to it, and that is a matter of no small concern. For the most part, however, DEET is the way to go if you want a cheap, effective means of keeping the biters away from your kids. The CDC concurs and recommends EPA-registered repellents contain at least 20 percent DEET by volume for maximum effectiveness. They name Deep Woods Off as a go-to brand.
When you’re comparing the risk of Zika or dengue contracted from a disease-carrying mosquito versus the minuscule risk for weird reaction to DEET, for many parents the decision is pretty straight-forward. And as an extra bonus, DEET repels ticks, too.
Non-DEET and organics
Other DEET-free repellents endorsed by the CDC include Picaridin, IRIR35, and 2-undecanone (methyl nonyl ketone). Picaridin is also known as Icaridin. Brand names for Picaridin include Bayrepel and Saltidin. 2-undercanoe is derived from palm kernel and soy bean oils, and is found in a number of insect repellents that are also suitable for pets.
If you shy away from DEET or chemical-containing repellants, go with PMD. PMD is para-Menthane-3,8-diol. Don’t let its chemical-sounding moniker and acronym put you off: It’s actually quite natural. PMD is a botanical derived from Australian lemon-scented gum trees. It is also known as "OLE" or "oil of lemon eucalyptus." Some research suggests that PMD is nearly as effective as DEET for repelling the vicious vermin.
In addition, the Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association has reported promising results for two essential oils. Their testing suggests that essential oils L. origanoides and E. citriodora have both insecticidal and repellent properties against mosquitoes. Specifically, they’re effective against the type of mosquitoes which are vectors for dengue and Chikungunya.
Repellents that don’t work
Don’t be fooled by commercials for the wearable insect repelling bracelets and belt dangles. As promising as they appear, they just don’t work. Science says most of them are an abysmal failure, and just can’t compete against sprays and lotions. Wearables that release Metofluthrin were a singular exception. For the most part, however, wearables are a bust. They are particularly poor at repelling the nastiest of the nasty: the sort of mosquitoes that carry deadly illnesses like Zika and yellow fever.
Other busts in the repellent department include citronella candles and vitamin B1 patches. Though scores of people swear by it, Avon’s Skin So Soft bath oil also falls into this doesn’t-really-work-but-at-least-you’ll-smell-good category. Avon’s Skin So Soft product infused with Picaridin, on the other hand, shows more promise.
From DEET to PMD, and from clothing to food choices, there are a number of options parents can employ to beat the mosquitoes this year. Choose those that seem the best for your family and go out and enjoy your summer, hopefully with much fewer pesky mosquito bites to spoil your fun.