A new study analyzes the interplay between the smell of soap, the body’s unique olfactory profile and the attraction of mosquitoes. According to researchers, coconut-scented soaps are among the most effective at repelling mosquitoes. Researchers would like to further investigate why mosquitoes are attracted to certain chemicals in soap.
Experts point out that no soap is as effective as a good mosquito repellent.
Summer promises longer days, warmer temperatures and time spent outdoors. The season is also synonymous with mosquitoes. If you feel like mosquitoes are targeting you more than others, it could be due to the soap you use, as well as your body chemistry. Researchers from the Polytechnic Institute and Virginia State University conducted a study of people’s unique olfactory profiles, as well as different soaps, to determine which odors attract mosquitoes and, conversely, , those who repel them.
The results of this study have been published in the journal iScience.
While there’s no magic bullet to avoiding mosquito bites, experts say this data is a good reason to change the soap you might be using.
What attracts mosquitoes?
According to the researchers, a number of variables can make a person more or less attractive to mosquitoes. Mosquitoes are attracted to people based on several cross-modal cues including carbon dioxide in our breath, olfactory cues such as volatiles produced by our metabolism or skin microbiota, visual cues such as the clothing we wear, and many more. Differences in attraction between different people are explained by differences in these cues, often our olfactory profile.
While many of these factors are out of control, one factor in particular can be changed: the scent of the soap a person chooses. While other studies have determined which of the chemicals we produce in our body odor attract mosquitoes, the effect of the odors we commonly add to our smell has yet to be determined.
The researchers hypothesized that because mosquitoes use the volatiles emitted by plants to find nectar, adding a scent, especially when many scents are herbal or floral, would have a marked effect on a person’s attraction to mosquitoes. Research has shown that scented soaps do have an effect, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Added scents are blended into a person’s unique scent profile, so different people will get different results, even when using the same scents.
What soap to use to discourage mosquitoes?
Research indicates that certain chemicals commonly found in soap help attract or repel mosquitoes. Coconut-scented soaps seem to be some of the most repellant to mosquitoes, although the most surefire way to repel pests is to use an appropriate repellent.
Numerous publications show that chemicals derived from coconuts tend to have a repelling effect on blood-feeding insects. Therefore, if you tend to get bitten by mosquitoes, this might be the right solution. That said, if you live in or travel to areas where mosquito-borne diseases are prevalent, you should definitely use conventional mosquito repellents, as commercial soap formulas are no substitute for effective repellent, and the duration of the effects remains to be determined.
Besides, there are a number of options to make yourself less attractive to mosquitoes. Like picaridin. If you are particularly tormented by mosquitoes, you can take steps to minimize this attraction. For example, mosquitoes are more attracted to dark clothing than light clothing.
The data from the study has added to the body of knowledge on mosquito attraction. They have also raised new questions and opened up new avenues of research.
One of the difficulties lies in the fact that the soaps tested all contained limonene, known for its repellent effect on mosquitoes, as the dominant scent. Despite this, three of the four soaps tested actually increased mosquito attraction. The results indicate that more than the absolute amount of a given chemical, what really matters to mosquitoes are the relative amounts of chemicals in the mixtures.
In this study, the researchers provide evidence that soaps interact with our body odor, but they are currently seeking funding to add more volunteers and more soaps to our panel to better understand the chemical processes at play.