Fragrances in soap can make you a more attractive target for mosquitoes. Here's how to repel them
Lathering up with soap? Wait till the mosquitoes find out as soap can make humans more attractive to mosquitoes. Here's how to repel them
It is that time of year again when mosquitoes are most active and abundant and it is important to take precautions to protect yourself from mosquito bites as mosquitoes can transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus and West Nile virus. Often coinciding with warmer weather and increased humidity, mosquito activity can vary depending on the region and local climate but in many regions, mosquito season occurs during spring and summer when temperatures are favourable for mosquito breeding and development.
Hence, it is important to stay informed about the local mosquito activity and any specific disease risks in your area and to help reduce your risk of mosquito bites or the potential transmission of mosquito-borne diseases during mosquito season, a new study by the researchers from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University presented a compelling reason to ditch the soap you might be using.
A study was conducted on the unique odour profiles in people along with different soaps to determine the scents that mosquitoes are drawn to and conversely the scents they’re repelled by where the data and findings were published in the journal iScience. As per the scientists behind the research, mosquitoes may be attracted to soap because when they are not feeding on blood, they supplement their sugar intake with plant nectars hence, soapy fragrances could make you a more attractive target as it was found that the mosquitoes favoured the scent of volunteers who washed with three out of four popular soap brands tested.
Four volunteers recruited for the study, submitted fabric samples that they had worn as a sleeve while either unwashed or after washing with four different brands of soap – Dial, Dove, Native and Simple Truth. To exclude the effects of exhaled carbon dioxide, which is another important cue for mosquitoes, fabric was used rather than exposing the volunteers themselves and it was observed that the female mosquitoes that feed on blood were landing on the fabric samples to give an indication of their preference.
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, explained to Medical News Today, “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. Differences in attraction between different people come down to differences in these cues, frequently our odor profile.”
Clément Vinauger, who led the work at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, said, “The fact we are taking those flowery, fruity smells and putting them on our bodies means that now the same object smells like a flower and a person at the same time. It would be like waking up and smelling something that was like both coffee and muffins. Very appealing.”
Vinauger added, “It’s remarkable that the same individual that is extremely attractive to mosquitoes when they are unwashed can be turned even more attractive to mosquitoes with one soap, and then become repellent or repulsive to mosquitoes with another soap.” This is because the study also noted that it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach as the effects of soaps differed somewhat between people, possibly due to interactions between the soaps and each person’s unique odour profile where 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.
Highlighting that the soap choice could partially explain why some people are mosquito magnets while others get off bite-free, the scientists concluded that washing with Dove, Dial and Simple Truth increased the attractiveness of some (but not all) volunteers while washing with Native soap tended to repel mosquitoes. The scientists said that as there is some evidence that coconut oils are a natural deterrent for mosquitoes, the relatively repellent effect of Native could be linked to its coconut scent.
Suggesting a number of options to make yourself less attractive to mosquitoes, Peach said, “The best repellent out there, to my knowledge, is still DEET. 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 minimise this attraction. For example, mosquitoes are more attracted to dark clothing than to light clothing, so consider wearing light-coloured clothing.”
Vinauger added,“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. 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.”
The data from Virginia Tech has sparked new questions and potential avenues for future research where it was pointed out that the soaps tested had limonene as a dominant scent but limonene is known to have a repellent effect on mosquitoes. Despite this, three of the four tested soaps actually increased mosquito attraction so a better understanding of the chemical processes in the brain of the mosquito is going to be pursued.