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Want Less Mosquito Bites This Summer? New Study Says It May Be Time To Switch Your Soap

A new study is causing some buzz around how to potentially limit those irritating – and sometimes deadly – mosquito bites.

Researchers at Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences recently looked at how soap scents can impact mosquito attraction to humans. And the results showed that some popular soaps may amplify how attractive a person is to mosquitoes – while others can even decrease it.

The research team first studied the natural scents of four volunteers, before and after using different scents of Dial, Dove, Native, and Simple Truth soaps. To test how these changes influenced mosquito attraction, the team released the bugs in a cage with scent extracts from volunteers’ forearms, both unwashed and after using different soaps. They found that soap scents accounted for over 60% of what mosquitoes smelled on human skin after washing. Different soaps impacted individuals’ natural scents in distinct ways. Some masked them, others amplified or even created distinct scents.

Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry. Photo by Luke Hayes for Virginia Tech.

Coconut: a natural repellent for mosquitoes?

While most of the soaps increased volunteers’ attractiveness to mosquitoes, there was one exception. Coconut-scented soap made one volunteer less attractive. 

Clément Vinauger, co-principal investigator of the study said: “Just by changing soap scents, someone who already attracts mosquitoes at a higher-than-average rate could further amplify or decrease that attraction. …there is other evidence in the literature that elevating certain fatty acids, such as those found in coconut oil derivatives, could serve as a repellent for mosquitoes and other insects.”

With such a small sample size, more research is needed. However, the study certainly suggests that the scents of popular bath and body products may influence mosquito bite behaviors. The team hopes to build on their findings by testing even more soaps, scents, and individuals. They also want to determine how long these scent effects may last after showering or doing laundry. 

By being attentive to the hidden effects of the scents in everyday products, researchers also hope that further studies can help people take back some control over mosquito attraction – and the diseases they spread.

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