Pro-Pollinator: Body Odor and Natural Repellents

This is the fourth of a series of articles by Climate Action Coffee that seek to engage readers to understand the importance of native plants and pollinator insects.  Using non-toxic means to protect ourselves from disease-carrying insects can help protect the beneficial insects we want to attract to our yards. Today we look at why certain people are more attractive to mosquitoes, and dive into the effectiveness of personal protection products. 

Are you one of those people that mosquitoes love? It’s well documented that some individuals are more attractive to mosquitoes than others. But why?

Body odor, and odors produced by skin microflora are both factors that affect a mosquito’s decision over whether or not to land on you. That said, over 350 compounds have been isolated from skin odors, and research is ongoing to determine which–and how–these may, individually, or in combination–repel or attract mosquitoes.

Blood type may play a factor. Type O people are more attractive to mosquitoes than types A and B, according to a study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology.

And your metabolic rate, which affects how much carbon dioxide you emit (mosquitoes love carbon dioxide!) also plays a role. Being pregnant, overweight, and physically exerting yourself all increase your metabolic rate, making you more attractive to mosquitoes.

So what can we do to avoid bites? 

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that eating certain foods–including garlic, onions, bananas, grapefruit, chili peppers, and thiamine rich foods–may help repel mosquitoes. Unfortunately, scientific research does not support the proposition that eating these foods will make you less appealing to hungry mosquitoes. Drinking beer, on the other hand, has been shown to attract mosquitoes!

Personal Insect Repellents

Most mosquito repellents contain one of three active chemical ingredients: 

According to the Environmental Working Group , whose researchers have done a deep dive into the science behind these chemical repellents, they all safely and effectively “reduce risk from life-altering disease and have very low toxicity concerns.” 

Despite this, DEET is known to have safety downsides that Picardin–considered equally effective as a repellent—does not. All of the NY Times top four picks, based on testing 23 repellents and “talking to everyone from the EPA to the American Mosquito Control  Association”, use Picardin. 

But what if you don’t want to put something on your skin like DEET, which can melt plastic ? Should you consider a botanical botanical repellent? Well, according to the EWG, maybe!  

Their effectiveness varies widely, and they are not recommended as a first choice to protect against insect-borne diseases. In addition, some contain allergens that may irritate your skin.  

The  only botanically derived ingredient the CDC recommends is Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus/PMD, which has been registered with the EPA and undergone efficacy testing. Recent and promising evidence, however, indicates that catnip oil may be as effective as DEET.  

EWG research indicates that unregistered, botanically based bug repellents are often not the best choice. The most common ones contain castor oil, cedar oil, citronella oil, clove oil, geraniol oil, lemongrass oil, peppermint oil, rosemary oil and/or soybean oil. “While effectiveness varies, and there may be a few exceptions, most botanicals repel bugs for a short time, if at all.”  Here are  EWGs top brand picks based on all of the active ingredients described above

Don’t want to spray on insect repellent? Wear light-weight clothing to cover up, and try placing a fan near your outdoor seating areas. And remember to do your weekly checks for standing water, clogged gutters, and other obvious mosquito breeding areas.  

Read More About It:

What Can I Eat to Stop Mosquitoes Biting Me?

New York Times; The Four Best Bug Repellents