Aug 04, 2023
Can Vanilla Extract Protect You from Mosquitoes?
We asked experts if the latest viral hack really works. Summer is all about dining al fresco, hitting the hiking trails, kayaking at the lake, and generally just enjoying those long days and warm
We asked experts if the latest viral hack really works.
Summer is all about dining al fresco, hitting the hiking trails, kayaking at the lake, and generally just enjoying those long days and warm temps. But heading into the great outdoors means you're venturing into mosquito territory, and people will consider any option to avoid becoming a mosquito snack.
On the one hand, you don't want them to bite you, leaving you with pesky red bumps that tempt you to unleash an all-out scratch fest. But on the other hand, you probably don't want to coat your skin—or your kids'—in chemicals. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that DEET, a common chemical ingredient in insect repellants, shouldn't be harmful if you’re following the directions on the label, it can lead to skin rashes in some users. Others prefer to avoid using chemicals at all if they can find an alternative option.
Lately, vanilla extract is one natural repellent that (pardon the pun) is getting some buzz. Instagram user @love_amandarose, who posts beauty and health hacks, posted a now-viral video showing herself using vanilla extract as a natural insect repellent for her kids. We immediately turned to the experts to find out if the delicious-smelling liquid could actually keep away bugs.
As it turns out, the same ingredient that your cookie recipes call for could, indeed, help deter mosquitoes. "Vanilla extract, like some other plant derivatives, will mask the odor mosquitoes are searching for when looking for a blood meal," explains Shannon Harlow-Ellis, associate certified entomologist and technical specialist for Mosquito Joe, a pest control company. "Sweat, body odor, CO2, and sometimes even your blood type can emit smells that attract these bloodsuckers," Harlow-Ellis. Mosquitoes may be teeny-tiny, but they're complex insects and they can pick up a target from 164 feet away, she says, using scents to lead them to you.
If you go the vanilla route to confuse them, it needs to be pure vanilla extract, Harlow-Ellis says. Imitation vanilla, on the other hand, has additives that can actually attract insects with its sugary aromas. The hitch: Pure vanilla typically costs $5 an ounce while the imitation stuff is usually less than a buck, so slathering it on can be a pricey solution.
Harlow-Ellis points out that vanilla extract, when used by itself, only provides protection for about 30 to 45 minutes. But, you can use it in conjunction with other DIY repellants to improve the efficacy, she says.
Other essential oils including lemongrass, tea tree, eucalyptus, and more, can mask odors that female mosquitoes are attuned to when searching for a blood meal, she says. When you're making a DIY repellent with essential oils, you’ll need a carrier oil. Here’s a quick DIY repellent that you can try, according to Harlow-Ellis:
Mix in a small jar and shake. Apply the solution by hand before venturing outdoors.
Dr. Revée Barbour, N.D., M.S., a naturopathic and functional medicine doctor based in Sacramento, says she likes using lemongrass essential oil as a natural mosquito and insect repellent. While there are commercial lemongrass mosquito repellent sprays that can buy, you can also make your own repellent spray by adding 15 to 20 drops of therapeutic-grade lemongrass essential oil to 3 ounces of water and 1 tablespoon of vodka (or denatured alcohol) as a preservative, she says. One research study demonstrated lemongrass topical repelled mosquitos for up to two to three hours, Barbour points out.
Another chemical-free mosquito-outsmarting trick: Wear light, neutral colors or pastels to help dodge mosquitoes, Harlow-Ellis recommends. While these insects don’t see colors, they can spot the contrast that colors give from up to 50 feet away, she explains, and black absorbs all light spectrums and shows the greatest contrast. A University of Washington study also found that the colors red, orange, and cyan blue attracted mosquitoes. So before you head outside, consider your wardrobe and what you look like, as opposed to just what you smell like, and reach for the neutrals. This is one time when boring beige can be your best friend.
Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter (The Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera) turned freelance writer. Before she struck out on her own, she covered just about every beat—from higher education to crime. Now she writes about food, cocktails, travel, and lifestyle topics for Men’s Journal, House Beautiful, Forbes, Simplemost, Shondaland, Livability, Hearst newspapers, TripSavvy and more. In her free time, she coaches basketball, crashes pools, and loves hanging out with her rude-but-adorable Boston Terrier that never got the memo the breed is nicknamed "America’s gentleman."
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