It’s difficult to find a good word to say about mosquitos. Mosquitos are a nuisance, buzzing and biting and leaving itchy red lumps on your skin but they are also dangerous. In tropical climates, these tiny flies can carry and spread diseases that cause the deaths of millions of people every year.
In some countries, particularly in Africa, mosquito-spread malaria continues to have a devastating effect on the nation’s health. Mosquitoes can also spread west nile fever, dengue fever, zika virus, yellow fever and chikungunya.
Luckily, there are a number of different mosquito repellents available that will stop these winged beasts in their tracks. Most people who need mosquito repellent will buy the first product they see with a bug on the label and then spray this mystery substance in an aura around them like perfume. This is a mistake.
When choosing a mosquito repellent you should at the very least read the label, taking into account the ingredients, concentration and method of application of the product. What follows will hopefully demystify that label so you can pick the best moquito repellent for you. Here are some of the most common types of mosquito repellents.
- Easy to apply
- Often long-lasting
- Contains tried and tested formulas that are very effective
- Can cause irritation to skin and eyes
- Can be harmful to the environment
A mosquito spray is any insect repellent that comes in the form of a liquid that can be sprayed directly onto the skin. Mosquito sprays have been around for decades but in recent years, brand new chemical-based and natural repellents have popped up all over the place. How are you supposed to know which is the best? Well, the first thing you’re going to look at is the spray’s ‘active ingredient’ and ‘concentration’.
DEET (diethyl-meta-toluamide) was developed in 1946 and remains the most popular chemical insect repellent in the world. The best thing about DEET repellent is that it is available in a variety of concentrations (bear in mind that the concentration of the repellent doesn’t determine the amount of mosquitos it deters, it determines how long you are protected).
Those trekking through the jungle for 10 hours need a maximum 97% DEET formula but for those spending an hour in the garden, around dusk a 20% DEET formula would be more appropriate.
Some people find that higher concentration DEET formulas cause irritation to eyes, lips and sensitive skin. In this case, a Picaridine-based spray is recommended. Picaridine entered the market in 1998 and is considered comparable or even superior to DEET by the World Health Organisation. Picaridine sprays are less likely to cause skin irritation and are suitable for use on young children. However, Picaridin spray can be difficult to find and as a result can be expensive.
A number of mosquito sprays now contain only natural ingredients. Certain natural plant oils appear time and time again in natural mosquito sprays such as lemongrass, clove, citronella, cinnamon, rosemary and peppermint. However, according to an independent test carried out by consumerreports.org, the only effective mosquito-repelling natural oil is lemon eucalyptus.
Only products containing at least 30% oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) are actually effective in repellng mosquitos for at least seven hours.
Mosquito Bands and Bracelets
- Does not provide all-over protection
- Limited efficiency
Mosquito bands and bracelets offer an alternative to mosquito spray for people who are concerned about the side effects of using a chemical formula. Known as ‘spatial repellents’, bands and bracelets are applied to the ankle or wrist and gradually release natural oil particles into the environment that are said to repel mosquitos. But do they work?
The general consensus in the scientific community is that mosquito bands and bracelets may reduce the number of bites received in the area directly surrounding the product, but they are ineffective when compared to a topical repellent like a DEET or Picaridine spray.
The bands may deter insects from biting the ankles and wrists so may be useful in circumstances where the rest of your body is covered, while fishing for example, but are not recommended as a real solution to mosquito bites, especially in areas where mosquitos carry disease.
- No contact with skin
- Spatial Repellent
- Cheap and easy to use
- Questionable efficency
- Potentially harmful when used indoors
Mosquito coils are made from a dried paste that contains a plant-based ingredient known as pyrethrum as well as chemicals such as the insecticide allethrin.
Invented in Japan in the late 19th century, mosquito coils are particularly popular in South Asian countries where they are often used indoors. Most mosquito coils take around 7 hours to burn and produce smoke that confuses mosquitos and encourages them to disperse.
Concerns have been raised over the effect of all that smoke on human lungs. Recent studies have shown that one mosquito coil could release as much formaldehyde as 51 cigarettes into a room.
Mosquito coils can also be fire hazards, and while there is much anecdotal evidence from mosquito coil users who swear by their efficiency, there is no real proof that these coils actually repel mosquitos.
Plug In Mosquito Repellents
- No contact with skin
- Spatial repellent
- Won’t work without electricity
- Questionable efficency
Plug-in mosquito repellents contain a liquid mix that is heated and vapourised, ordinarily made up of an insecticide, an anti-oxidant and a pleasing scent. The chemicals used in plug-in mosquito repellents (such as transluthurin) do not kill mosquitos but cause disorientation and paralysis, instead
Plug-in mosquito repellants are not subject to the same testing and certification process as repellents that are applied to the skin and so there is little hard evidence to show whether or not they actually work effectively and consistently.
Plug ins will never be able to provide the same level of protection from bites as spraying repellant directly onto your skin but many people swear by them. The best advice is to try plug-in repellants in addition to a more practical measure such as using a mosquito net or applying good mosquito spray.
- Cheap, lightweight and easy to use
- 100% effective when used properly
- Can only be used while sleeping or relaxing
- Will not kill mosquitos
Mosquito nets are an old-school, tried and tested method for keeping yourself safe from mosquito bites. During the day, you can fight the good fight by wearing loose, long-sleeved clothing, wearing mosquito spray swatting like mad but at night you’re horribly vulnerable.
Mosquito nets offer an addition barrier against biting insects and most can be set up to cover beds of all sizes. Today, many mosquito nets are treated with insecticide and offer respite from covering yourself with insect repellent.
In countries where air-borne disease is prevalent, mosquito nets give you peace of mind by creating a physical barrier between you and the little biters. Sometimes, it’s the simplest solutions that are the most effective.