What are mosquito bites?
Mosquitoes are infamous for spreading deadly viruses like malaria and cause thousands of deaths worldwide every year.
While most mosquitoes you encounter on vacation don’t carry such dangerous diseases, these insects should still be treated with caution. These tiny flies enjoy nothing more than snacking on human blood and every year hundreds of tourists fall prey to their bite. Female mosquitoes rely on blood in order to reproduce, so they won’t hesitate to land on your exposed skin and get to work with their long, tube-like mouthparts, or proboscis.
The problem is that during this not-so-delightful process, a small amount of their saliva is transferred into your body. This triggers a number of unpleasant immune reactions, causing your skin to become inflamed, itchy and marked with small lumps. These bite marks can be irritating and even painful, but fortunately, most of the time they’re just a superficial concern. Nevertheless, they should always be treated seriously and examined by a doctor to make sure no infections have been transmitted with the bite.
Top 10 tips for preventing mosquito bites
If you know that you’re venturing into mosquito territory, consider your options carefully. Mosquito bites are an unpleasant souvenir to bring back from your vacation and the last thing you want is to risk a potential infection or virus. Instead, you should take steps to protect yourself against being bitten in the first place.
Below are our top 10 tips for preventing mosquito bites. However, should the worst happen remember to seek medical advice as soon as possible!
#1 Citronella essential oil: Citronella is well known to repel bugs. To make a repellent yourself, combine 8 drops of citronella essential oil with 1 cup of aloe vera juice (or grape seed oil). Spritz the mixture liberally on the skin and clothes. Unless you’re allergic to citronella, there is no danger in using it on your skin. Because it’s quite astringent, it tends to dry out your skin and makes it more sensitive to the sun. For best results, apply to a small area of skin and check for a reaction after a few hours. Another terrific way to keep the bugs away is to combine citronella, lavender, eucalyptus and peppermint essential oils (5 drops of each) with 30 mL of grape seed oil and apply every 2 to 3 hours.
#2 Use a mosquito net: Insect repellents and other natural solutions are all well and good when you’re awake, but it’s when you’re asleep that you’re at your most vulnerable. Mosquitoes are generally more active during the day but some species, those that carry diseases like malaria in particular, become more awake and alert at dusk or overnight. When you’re sleeping you’re unable to protect yourself from becoming a tasty snack for female mosquitoes, so it’s important that you take extra steps to protect yourself. Mosquito nets are highly prized in hot or tropical countries as they can protect you against contracting terrible, life-threatening diseases like Zika and malaria. You can buy them online and they’re easily hung above your bed without being too intrusive or distracting while you sleep. If you’re venturing abroad into mosquito territory this summer, this is a must-have addition to your travel itinerary, which can make the difference between a nasty bite and a safe night’s rest.
#3 Avoid peak mosquito hours: The peak time for mosquito activity varies by species and country. In the USA, for example, mosquitoes, including the common house mosquito, tend to be more active at night. Other species like the Asian tiger mosquito are more likely to strike in the early morning or late afternoon, and the malaria transmitting anopheles mosquito is more of a night owl. Try to find as much information as you can about the country you’re visiting and the types of mosquitoes that are native to the area. This should give you a better idea about when mosquitoes are most likely to be active so you can plan out your day accordingly. It might also be worthwhile to consider peak mosquito seasons, as mosquitos are more likely to be active during certain months and not others.
#4 Avoid overheating: As unpleasant as it sounds, hot, sweaty bodies are just what mosquitoes are attracted to. In fact, the hotter and sweatier, the better! Since mosquitoes generally thrive in hot and humid climes, chances are your body will already be slightly warmer than usual. Try to avoid raising your body temperature more than necessary and find ways to stay cool during scorching afternoons. Try not to exercise too vigorously: if you’re sweaty and out of breath, you’ll exhale more carbon dioxide, a compound that mosquitos sense and use to locate their prey.
#5 Wear loose-fitting clothing: If you wear tight or constricting clothes, you’re more likely to increase your body temperature and sweat, which will attract more mosquitoes. So if you can, keep things loose. It’s also important that you wear clothes that conceal your skin from view. For example, wearing a pair of shorts and a crop top might seem like a good way to soak up some vitamin-D-making sunlight while you’re on vacation, but it can leave you exposed to mosquito bites. Instead, opt for long, loose-fitting clothing that allows you to breathe and keep cool in the sun.
#6 Try cinnamon leaf oil: While cinnamon leaf oil is usually used as a natural remedy for inflamed skin or as an immune system booster, research has demonstrated its potential as a powerful pesticide. The study, conducted by the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology in Haifa, Israel, discovered that cinnamon-oil-based products worked best for preventing mosquito bites. Further research has also found that some of the compounds contained in cinnamon leaf oil were very effective at killing the larvae produced by certain types of mosquitoes. Although more research is needed, rest assured that cinnamon leaf oil is not as aggressive on the skin as other insecticides and is unlikely to provoke negative side-effects like those caused by conventional insect repellent sprays.
#7 Wear light colours: This will come as bad news if black is your go-to wardrobe option, but dark clothes are not conducive to mosquito-free vacations. This is because darker fabrics tend to soak up more of the sun, again raising your body temperature and causing you to sweat, making you a tasty target for female mosquitoes. However, another reason to avoid going goth while on vacation is the way mosquitoes choose their victims. The insects generally prefer dark colours as they contrast with their surroundings and help them locate potential targets.
#8 Try lemon eucalyptus oil: Native to Australia, the lemon eucalyptus plant (Eucalyptus citriodora) has often been used in the treatment of toenail fungus and joint pain, but it has also been shown to work as a potent insect repellent. The oil has been compared to traditional DEET-based insect repellents and very little difference in efficiency between the two has been shown. Lemon eucalyptus is also less likely to cause any of the adverse reactions associated with conventional insect repellents, though the oil may not be suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding women, or children under the age of 6.
#9 Try garlic: Pungent and easy to detect, garlic has been used to ward off insects for centuries, but has recently gained attention as an effective preventive measure against mosquitoes. The exact reason for this isn’t clear, but some speculate that garlic simply overwhelms the mosquitoes or that the allicin contained in the herb is unfriendly to the bugs. However, further research is still needed so it might be worth using garlic in combination with other preventive methods.
#10 Try catnip oil: While catnip, or cat mint, is famous for its effects on felines, the herb also has other beneficial properties. Catnip is often used as a mild sedative or a remedy for nerve problems, and it also makes for an effective insect repellent. Research by the American Chemical Society in 2001 demonstrated that catnip oil has an incredible capacity for repelling mosquitoes, allegedly being 10 times more powerful than DEET-based products. Catnip oil also doesn’t produce the same side-effects as conventional insecticides, although like most essential oils, it’s not suitable for pregnant or breast-feeding women.