The scene: You go camping (or, heck, just hang out in the backyard) and you return from the great outdoors covered in itchy, red mosquito bites. Your companions — the ones who wore the same bug spray as you (or none at all) — have just a couple bites or were ignored completely by the skeeters.
So, what gives? We asked experts to explain why mosquitoes tend to bite some people more than others and what exactly you can do to fend off the pesky bugs and soothe the itching if they do happen to take a special liking to you.
Consider this your summer survival guide for dealing with mosquitoes.
Who do mosquitoes favor and why?
You’re not imagining it: Mosquitoes do prefer some people more than others. As it turns out, several factors come into play when a female mosquito (they’re the ones who bite!) are searching for their targets. Research on why mosquitoes favor certain people is important because not only are mosquito bites annoying, but, in rare cases, they can also carry West Nile, dengue fever, malaria, and other diseases.
First things first, if you’ve got Type O blood, you’re most likely to attract the blood-suckers. One small study that was published in the Journal of Medical Entomology found that mosquitoes landed on people with O blood twice as often as they did on those with Type A blood. Groups AB and B were in the middle.
Beyond blood type, though, mosquitoes pinpoint their targets by detecting and tracking carbon dioxide using an organ called the maxillary palp, explains Dr. Lindsey Elmore, a pharmacist and health and wellness expert. Because of this, larger people — who simply tend to exhale more carbon dioxide than smaller people — attract more mosquitoes. Also, pregnant women are a target. This again goes back to carbon dioxide, as pregnant women breathe more heavily since they’re breathing for two, says Kari Warberg Block, pest control expert and CEO and founder of a plant-based pest control brand EarthKind.
Mosquitoes could also be taking a liking to you if you’re sweaty. (Darn humidity!)
Mosquitoes follow the scent of lactic acid, uric acid, ammonia, and other aromas found in sweat, experts say. When you’re done hiking, biking, or running around after your kids, your sweaty body is like “a dinner bell for mosquitoes,” Block says.
But the most likely reason you’re a mosquito magnet comes down to genetics. A 2015 study found that about 20 percent of people are simply more attractive to mosquitoes thanks to their DNA.
How can you prevent mosquito bites?
While your first line of defense is bug spray, there are a few other strategic ways to shoo away mosquitoes.
It’s fairly well known that citronella can fend off mosquitoes. But plants like rosemary, geranium, marigolds, basil, lavender, peppermint, and garlic may also work at keeping mosquitoes away from your yard because they don’t like those scents, Block says.
You may want to add an oscillating fan to your outdoor living space, too, Block suggests, because mosquitoes and other flying insects don’t like the steady breeze. Also, be cognizant of standing water as it’s a popular breeding ground for mosquitoes. Mosquito larvae can mature within a week, causing some nasty swarms in your yard. Repair leaky faucets, make sure debris isn’t blocking your rain gutters, empty out water that tends to collect on kids’ toys, and change out the water in bird baths on a weekly basis, Block advises. Also be sure to check out our tips for keeping mosquitoes away from your yard all summer long.
What you wear can also help repel mosquitoes, says Carolyn Ellspermann, head of marketing and business development for Proven Repellents.
“Before you break out the bug spray, you can reduce your exposure to mosquitoes by covering up exposed skin with long, tightly-woven and light-colored clothing,” she says. “Mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors.”
Mosquitoes can bite through thin cotton T-shirts and denim, so the thicker the weave, the better, Ellspermann says. Since your ankles and head are prone to bites, she suggests wearing thick socks, hiking boots, and a hat. If you’re really concerned about mosquito bites, you can tuck some netting under your hat to help shield your neck.
Keep in mind that mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, Ellspermann says, and be on the lookout for them in wooded and wet areas.
Now, for a wild card trick for keeping mosquitoes away: Try blasting some dubstep music. According to a 2019 study published in the journal Acta Tropica, the EDM music confuses and repels mosquitoes.
How can you treat itchy bites?
When a mosquito bites, it releases saliva into your skin, which triggers your immune system to produce a histamine reaction, Ellspermann explains. The bites typically cause a little red, swollen, and itchy or sore bump, but some people can have more severe allergic reactions to the bites, she says.
Using an antihistamine ointment helps reduce the swelling and itching from a bite.
There are also many other home remedies that can help reduce inflammation and itchiness, Ellspermann says, including ice, honey, chamomile tea, and vinegar.
“One less scientific remedy that always works for me is to make an X with your fingernail in the bite,” she says.
Carlee Linden — a content manager and pest control expert for BestCompany.com who has reviewed more than 100 pest control companies — also has a few lesser-known tips for treating itchy mosquito bites.
Soaking a tea bag in cold water and placing it on a troublesome bite can calm the itching, she suggests. Both green and black teas have anti-inflammatory properties. Also, aloe vera gel has been known to reduce swelling and the cool feeling soothes itchiness, she says.
While being a mosquito magnet may be out of your control, these tips should help shield you some from the bites and help alleviate the itching when they do strike.
Protect Our Planet
Before you enjoy the great outdoors this summer, discover easy ways you can go green (and save some money).
Brittany Anas is a freelance writer who specializes in health, fitness, and travel writing. She also contributes to Men’s Journal, Women’s Health, Trip Savvy, Simplemost, Orbitz, and Eat This, Not That! She spent a decade working at daily newspapers, including The Denver Post and the Daily Camera in Boulder, Colorado, and she is a former federal background investigator. In her free time, Brittany enjoys hiking with her gremlin-pot belly pig mix that the rescue described as a “Boston Terrier” and coaching youth basketball. She also works with domestic abuse survivors, helping them regain financial stability through career coaching. Follower her on Twitter and Instagram.