Another weekend, another cluster of itchy mosquito bites on your knee. And one on your arm. And one on your shoulder that you really want to scratch but you can’t quite reach. And one on your… foot?
If you think mosquitoes actually like you, you’re probably right, because mosquitoes are, indeed, more attracted to certain people. We talked to Joseph Conlon, technical advisor at the American Mosquito Control Association and Dr. Marie Jhin, a board certified dermatologist in private practice in San Francisco, to find out what makes someone a mosquito magnet, and the best preventive measures to keep your weekends as bug-free as possible.
1. Your genetics.
Unfortunately, much of what makes you the perfect mosquito meal is out of your control. “Your attractiveness to mosquitos is at least partially genetically-based,” says Conlon. Some of the bacteria your skin produces when you sweat can be particularly enticing to mosquitoes, as well as your blood type. A 2004 study from The Institute of Pest Control Technology found that mosquitoes were more attracted to Type O blood than Types A or B.
2. Your breathing.
Mosquitoes also are attracted to those with a higher metabolic rate because they produce more carbon dioxide. This, Conlon says, is likely why pregnant women seem to be more likely to be bitten by mosquitoes, since they are breathing more heavily and more often. This also makes men more attractive than women—because men are often larger, and so emit more carbon dioxide. Why that chemical? Because mosquitoes have evolved to sense humans via that compound.
3. Excessive sweating.
Mosquitoes are attracted to bacteria or chemicals that live in your sweat, including lactic acid. Mosquitoes also sense body heat, says Jhin, which can be generated by dark clothing or lots of movement.
4. Floral-scented perfume.
While this hasn’t been scientifically proven, Conlon speculates that a floral scent is likely to attract mosquitoes because their main energy source is flowers, not blood. The only mosquitoes that need blood are female mosquitoes, who use it as a protein source to develop their eggs. Male mosquitoes don’t actually bite at all, says Conlon.
5. Forgetting to apply repellant to mosquito-friendly body parts.
Mosquitoes are attracted to highly vascularized areas. Additionally, “many species prefer the lower extremities,” says Conlon, like the feet. While spritzing insect repellant on your arms and legs is important, don’t neglect the tops of your feet.
You might think mosquitoes are drawn to your joints—like your knees or your knuckles—but that’s not necessarily true, says Jhin. “Joints have many nerve endings,” she explains, which can make a bite on the knee far more irritating and sensitive than a bite on your arm.
If you already have a bite you want to scratch:
First: Don’t scratch, no matter how good it feels. Instead, try one of Jhin’s favorite, all-natural soothers for a bite: a chilled tea bag. After making a pitcher of iced tea, save and refrigerate the bags, and place them over the bite once cold. “The tea has tannin, which is an astringent that draws out fluid from the bite,” says Jhin.
For those who are particularly sensitive to bites, Jhin recommends an oral antihistamine, which will counteract the histamine released by your body following the bite. And yes, a bite might seem worse to you than your friend—since it’s a mild allergic reaction, you could just be more allergic to mosquito bites than others. The good news is that, over time, you may find that you’re less reactive to bites, says Jhin, due to a build up of antibodies created to fight the reaction. She also loves Avon’s Skin So Soft Bug Guard and repellents with Picaridin.
See our favorite insect repellents for more ways to keep your body and your yard bug-free, and don’t forget to drain standing water from your yard, as mosquitoes live and breed in the water. As a last resort for repellent, you can always use garlic oil, says Conlon, but the smell might not be worth it.