Combating Mosquitoes

Beverly Nippard
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Summer is when most of us like to enjoy the outdoors, but it is also mosquito season. Everyone wants to avoid getting a nip from those pesky bugs, but in order to that we need to figure out what attracts them, what repels them and if we do get a bite, how can we treat it in a natural way that is safe for us and the environment.

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Mosquitoes have complex methods of detecting hosts and different types of mosquitoes react to different stimuli. Most mosquitoes are active at dawn and dusk, but there are also mosquitoes that seek hosts during the day. To avoid being bitten make sure you aren't attracting mosquitoes, that you’re using attractants to lure mosquitoes elsewhere, using a repellent, and avoiding actions that diminish the effectiveness of the repellent.

Many mosquitoes use vision to locate hosts from a distance. Dark clothing and foliage are initial attractants, so is carbon dioxide and lactic acid. You give off more carbon dioxide when you are hot or have been exercising. A burning candle or other fire is another source of carbon dioxide. You also release more lactic acid when we have been exercising or after eating certain foods like salty or high-potassium foods. Wearing floral or fruity fragrances, perfumes, hair products, scented sunscreens and even the subtle floral fragrances from fabric softeners and dryer sheets are also no-nos.

Mosquitoes are attracted by perspiration because of the chemicals it contains and also because it increases the humidity around your body. Even small amounts of water like moist plants or mud puddles will draw mosquitoes. Standing water also allows mosquitoes to reproduce. Depending on the type of mosquito, even your exact skin temperature is a factor.  Many mosquitoes are attracted to the slightly cooler temperatures of the extremities.

Natural mosquito repellents tend to be volatile plant oils like citronella, lemon, eucalyptus, cinnamon, castor oil, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, clove, geranium, and possibly oils from verbena, pennyroyal, lavender, pine, cajeput, basil, thyme, allspice, soybean, and garlic. Another plant-derived substance, pyrethrum, is an insecticide. Pyrethrum comes from the flowers of the daisy chrysanthemum cinerariifolium. It's very easy to make your own natural mosquito repellent. These natural products will effectively repel mosquitoes, but they require more frequent reapplication (at least every 2 hours) and higher concentrations than deet. Because of the differences between types of mosquitoes, products that contain multiple repellents tend to be more effective than those containing a single ingredient.

You need to keep in mind that many sunscreens, skin absorption, dilution from rain, perspiration or swimming and evaporation from wind or high temperatures lower repellent effectiveness.

Also remember that 'natural' does not automatically imply 'safe'. Many people are sensitive to plant oils. Some natural insect repellents are actually toxic. Therefore, although natural repellents provide an alternative to synthetic chemicals, please remember to follow the manufacturer's instructions when using these products.

No matter how much you distract or repel those mosquitoes, you are more likely than not to become afflicted by this common summer nuisance. Here are some of the best natural remedies to soothe your skin without itching.

Using common kitchen Items like lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, or a little bit of salt and water on a bite can quickly make the itching subside. Lemons have the added bonus of being a disinfectant that kills bacteria and helps you avoid infection. Mixing baking soda with water until it becomes a paste, and applying it directly to the bite will stop your itching in minutes.

An everyday toiletry like toothpaste is a common home remedy for mosquito bite itches, and the more minty the toothpaste, the better. Many of the skin receptors that send signals of sensation to the brain—such as itchiness, heat, or cold—can only process one signal at a time. This means that the cooling properties of mint toothpaste can neutralize itch by overriding its signal. In fact, any products that produce warming or cooling sensations are also effective.

Calamine lotion and hydrocortisone cream are the most recommended cures from your medicine cabinet for itchiness. Also, aloe, which you might have on hand for soothing sunburns, is a good alternative—either in the form of gel from the actual plant or from a product featuring aloe.

Whether distracting, repelling mosquitoes or treating their itchy reminders, please think natural. This year, without the fly dope and in the glow of my citronella candles, I’m enjoying my back deck even more. It’s better for me, and the environment. How good is that?

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