My attempt at compiling the most comprehensive list of proven mosquito defenses. Last updated: August 30, 2016.
Mosquitos and I have always had a love-hate relationship. They love me, but I hate them. I once went to a surf camp in Bali and a whole floor of people stopped getting bitten in their sleep after I showed up! This despite wearing long sleeves and pants to bed, dousing myself with at least 15-30% DEET, and sleeping with the AC on blast all night.
After my worst mosquito attack ever in Costa Rica, I just laid in bed like a burn victim swathed in antihistamine lotion and soft cotton for a full day. Mosquitos are my ultimate nemesis (nemeses?). This is my attempt at an ultimate guide to mosquito defense!
Know of any tricks that I missed? Let me know by comment, social media, or e-mail. I’ll add it to the list and credit you for the find!
A Thoroughly-Tested Guide to Mosquito Defense
DEET, short for “N,N-Diethyl-meta-Toluamide,” is well-known as the most powerful bug repellent available and the gold standard in mosquito defense. Unfortunately, there is some controversy to its safety. Some studies have found that “frequent and prolonged DEET exposure” is harmful to rats, but most conclude that the good outweigh the (very rare cases of) bad.
Why I’m still happy to use DEET:
- I’m more afraid of Zika, Dengue Fever, and god knows what else mosquitos carry
- I’ll take the chemical side effects of DEET any day over more carpet-bomb mosquito attacks!
Most drugstore bug sprays go up to 15% but that doesn’t do much for me. I bought 2 bottles of 40% concentration I found on Amazon for less than $5 a bottle! They don’t keep all mosquitos off me, but I definitely notice more bites when I forget to use it. The only real drawback to this spray is that it washes off when I go surfing.
Coconut Peppermint Oil
While I lived in Costa Rica, I slicked coconut oil on my skin day and night in order to keep mosquitos at bay. It’s what the locals did to cope with bugs, and I’ve read before that it makes your skin too slippery for the mosquitos to land. It worked great until, oddly enough, I got back to New York City.
My mom then turned me onto peppermint oil, which mosquitos apparently don’t like the smell of. I sprinkled a few drops on my legs and feet (where I get bitten the most) and rubbed in into my skin. My sheets smelled like peppermint for days afterward but I didn’t get a single bite.
Stop Using Deodorant
Giving up antiperspirants was hard because I sweat a lot, but I was worried that scented beauty products were sabotaging my quest to avoid mosquitos. While letting my natural stink take over didn’t stop all bites, I definitely noticed a decrease in the number I get compared to when I do wear it.
The best mosquito defense is a good offense! Through the AMCA’s website, I also discovered the chemical permethrin which is a powerful insecticide. It’s too strong for direct skin contact, and should only be applied to clothes and equipment. I was happy to discover there’s an entire collection at REI of clothing and camping gear coated with permethrin! I’ll update this post when I’ve tried them, but let us know if you have!
Stay Inside During Peak Hours
There is some disagreement about what are “peak” hours for mosquitos because it depends on the species in that region. The American CDC warns that “peak biting activity for vectors of some diseases (such as dengue and chikungunya) is during daylight hours” while mosquitoes carrying malaria are more common during twilight. What I hear them saying is that we’re screwed any time of day. However, I’ve never been bitten as badly as when we showed up at the beach at 5:30/6AM in Tamarindo to surf. Timing, it seems, does matter a little.
Some say that tight-fitting clothing is best for keeping mosquitos out. I’ve also heard it’s better to wear loose clothing that’s tucked in so the mosquitos can’t bite through your clothes. I’ve tried both, and even simultaneously (that was a very sweaty night!) but neither is foolproof against extremely determined mosquitos.
After You’re Bitten:
It’s not easy. Trust me, I know. The pus oozing from the 20-ish mosquitos bites on my body are proof that I have zero self-control. Unfortunately, according to this article in HuffPo, “scratching actually creates more inflammation, leading to more itching and worse pain!”
After the worst mosquito attack I’d ever gotten, I did everything I could to resist scratching. I ran ice cubes over my skin, which felt good only while I was doing it. I even rubbed alcohol on the bites, which had the same effect. As a last resort, I MacGyver-ed an extra-large “band-aid” with a paper towel covered in alcohol and some rubber bands. It kept me from touching the raw skin, but what made the itching finally go away was…
Spooning (but not the way you think)
While frantically googling a solution to my itchiness, I found a post on Lifehacker that said holding a hot metal spoon against your skin kills the proteins that make you itch. Tried it this morning and it worked like a charm. Unfortunately, this process is tedious if you have dozens of bites. You can only treat one bite at a time, and it takes a while to reheat the spoon to a hot enough temperature. The bites on my left thigh alone took 20 minutes of standing at the sink running a spoon under hot water!
Use Alcohol on Cuts
If you do scratch (I always do) and break skin (I always do that, too), treat the area with rubbing alcohol ASAP. The last thing you want is an infection or another complication.
Take an AntiHistamine
These are a godsend, and luckily available in most developed countries. It won’t make itching stop completely, but does make them more manageable. Although they aren’t hard to find while traveling, it’s cheapest to buy online and easy to bring with you. A 365-pill bottle of Kirkland brand “AllerClear” takes up almost no space in my purse, and you can get a year’s worth of pills for less than $18 on Amazon!
I’ve become addicted to this stuff living in Costa Rica. Like the oral kind of antihistamine, it won’t completely make things better, but it does help a lot. I spread it on my skin several times a day and it makes it just a little easier not to scratch.
Scalding Hot Showers
I love hot showers and had no problem getting on board with this one. Although hot water was soothing on the bites, it stung in the places I had scratched too hard and broken skin. The effects also didn’t last very long. Although it made the itching less severe, the shower didn’t make the itching stop like I’d hoped.
Do you have any tricks for mosquito defense I haven’t listed? PLEASE share in the comment section below!