By now you've probably heard the bad news: We're in for a buggier summer than usual. Pests that usually would have died in the cold instead spent the unseasonably warm winter months breeding and waiting to feast.
Mosquitoes can carry threatening diseases like malaria, West Nile and encephalitis, but only 29 percent of people say they fear mosquitoes for health reasons, according to a recent survey conducted by OFF! Insect Repellents. Nearly 60 percent, however, say they fear mosquitos because of the itch.
Still, we're not about to let some pesky flying bugs ruin an entire summer of backyard barbecues, woodsy hikes or dips in the lake.
So what can you do to prevent bites?
Most commercial insect repellents contain one of two chemicals, DEET or picaridin. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that when these products are used according to the instructions on their labels, they are safe for both adults and children.
These conventional products offer the longest-lasting protection against mosquitoes, but concerns have been raised over allergic and other reactions to using strong chemicals on the skin.
Joseph Conlon, retired U.S. Navy entomologist and technical adviser for the American Mosquito Control Association tells The Huffington Post that these concerns have been "greatly overstated." He agrees that these chemicals may not be things you want to put on your infants, but says that toxicity-related reactions have been in situations where people neglected the instructions for use and over-applied repellent. "If you want to put DEET on your children, don't bathe them in it!" he says.
Still, there are more natural ways to keep mosquitoes at bay.
Keep in mind, though, that just because a repellent comes from a natural source, doesn't always mean it's safe. Conlon gives oil of cloves as an example. In a low-concentration, it's a pleasant smelling oil, but in very high concentrations, as in the amount that would be required to repel mosquitoes, as it has been rumored to do, "will burn a hole through your skin," he says.
Also, if you do choose to use an essential oil as a repellent, you might find yourself reapplying more often than is directed, since many are only effective for short periods of time. Be sure to follow all instructions for use.
Click through the slideshow below to see which methods are backed by solid research and which Conlon says to skip.
Avoid Dusk And Dawn
The evening and early morning hours are <a href="http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/westnile/prevention_info.htm" target="_hplink">peak biting times for many mosquito species</a>, according to the CDC, so consider ramping up your protection or staying inside at these times if you can. <br><br> But, Conlon warns, other species bite during the day, too. "Whenever you're present, you're on the menu," he says. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/activesteve/5628626857/" target="_hplink">ActiveSteve</a></em>
Garlic has long been rumored to ward off mosquitoes, but there isn't much research to back up the claims. However, <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090130154901.htm" target="_hplink">garlic does have some healthy benefits</a>, thanks to the powerful antioxidant allicin that gives it its smell and flavor. Adding a little extra garlic to your summer diet certainly won't hurt! <br><br> Pure garlic oil, on the other hand, when rubbed on the skin <em>will</em> repel mosquitos -- for around 20 minutes -- but it will probably repel everyone around you as well, jokes Conlon. <br><br> There is one ingestible to avoid, however. The <em>New York Times</em> reports that alcohol is just about the <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/health/24real.html" target="_hplink">only food or beverage proven to have a true effect on mosquitos</a>, and the bad news is it attracts them. A small 2002 study showed that more mosquitoes landed on beer drinkers than tee-totalers. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenorton/2212742541/" target="_hplink">lowjumpingfrog</a></em>
Avoid Scented Shampoos, Soaps And Perfumes
This one is mostly rumor, says Conlon. When they're not feasting on humans, mosquitos obtain some nourishment from plants, so the thinking goes that if you smell like a pretty flower, a bug might mistake you for one, but it's never been proven, he says.
A small study from 2002 found that <a href="http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa011699#t=articleResults" target="_hplink">citronella-based repellents</a> keep bugs away for about 20 minutes or less. <br><br> While the plant-based oil is thought to smell bad to mosquitoes, it's not highly unpleasant to humans, so if you feel like it works, there's no reason to stop using it, says Conlon, but there may be a bit of a placebo effect going on, he says. <br><br> The same study found that other plant-based repellents, like geranium oil, didn't provide lasting protection either. However, protection from <a href="http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa011699#t=articleResults" target="_hplink">soybean-oil-based repellents</a> lasted about 90 minutes. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/elwillo/5021856163/" target="_hplink">Keith Williamson</a></em>
Burn A Candle
Whether you light citronella candles or decorative patio torches, smoke will keep mosquitos at bay, says Conlon. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/tedsblog/904732/" target="_hplink">TedsBlog</a></em>
The CDC recommends wearing long sleeves, pants, hats and closed-toed shoes instead of sandals to <a href="http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/mosquito-tick.htm" target="_hplink">cover exposed skin</a>. In the dead of summer, this might not always be appropriate, but if you have to be outside during dusk or dawn, when temperatures are likely to be cooler, long sleeves may be more practical. <br><br> "Any exposed skin is 'fair game,'" says Conlon.
According to the Mayo Clinic, taking a daily dose of <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mosquito-bites/DS01075/DSECTION=alternative-medicine" target="_hplink">75 to 150 milligrams of vitamin B-1</a> (thiamin) could slightly change your scent in a way that might keep mosquitoes away, but the research isn't conclusive. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/seanmichaelragan/6254362902/" target="_hplink">seanmichaelragan</a></em>
Eliminate Standing Water
Any pools or puddles around your home or yard can quickly become mosquito breeding ground. The Mayo Clinic recommends unclogging roof gutters, emptying any kids' pools, changing the water in any bird baths weekly, making sure rain is not accumulating in trash can lids and storing flower pots or any other unused containers upside down, <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/mosquito-bites/ds01075/dsection=prevention" target="_hplink">among other tips you can see here</a>. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/elias_daniel/281970867/" target="_hplink">elias_daniel</a></em>
Stay Close To The Fan
"Mosquitoes are bad fliers," <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/insideout/index.ssf/2010/06/preventing_mosquito_bites_so_b.html" target="_hplink">Dave Shetlar, an Ohio State University professor of urban landscape entomology</a> told Cleveland.com. Perch yourself near ceiling fans on patios, porches or open-air restaurants that have them. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lipstickproject/4637258947/" target="_hplink">JMacPherson</a></em>
Ditch The Bug Zapper
These electronic gadgets will wind up killing bigger bugs, like moths, rather than mosquitoes, says Conlon. <br><br> In fact, an entomology professor from the University of Delaware published a study in 1996 showing that out of nearly 14,000 insects killed by six zappers in one summer, <a href="http://www.popularmechanics.com/home/improvement/4323044" target="_hplink">only 31 were biting fliers</a>, <em>Popular Mechanics</em> reported. Another 2,000 were beneficial bugs that keep real pests at bay, and the others were harmless species. <br><br> Plus, mosquitoes are <a href="http://www.cleveland.com/insideout/index.ssf/2010/06/preventing_mosquito_bites_so_b.html" target="_hplink">attracted to <em>dim</em> light</a>, so they may fly toward the zapper initially, but they'll likely turn away from the thing when they get too close, according to Cleveland.com. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/hfb/182343058/" target="_hplink">hfb</a></em>
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil
The CDC, <em>Consumer Reports</em> and other outlets recommend this "very good repellent" Conlon says, which, at 40 percent concentration will ward off mosquitoes and ticks. <br><br> However, it isn't recommended for <a href="http://www.consumerreports.org/health/healthy-living/beauty-personal-care/insect-repellent/overview/index.htm" target="_hplink">children under 3</a>, according to <em>Consumer Reports</em>. Conlon explains that isn't necessarily because of toxicity, however. "I think they probably haven't taken the time to get the [EPA] registration," he says, a timely and costly process, when children under 3 can be protected in other ways, like dressing them appropriately, he says. <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/fairfaxcounty/7352235208/" target="_hplink">fairfaxcounty</a></em>
According to a 2001 study, this natural repellent is <a href="http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2001/08/010828075659.htm" target="_hplink">10 times more effective than DEET</a>. Since then, scientists have been studying its repellency, and Dow Chemical is in the process of getting EPA registration for a new catnip-based product, says Conlon. Of course, every consumer will have to weigh the cost and the benefits, he jokes. You'll repel mosquitoes wearing the stuff, but you're likely to attract cats! <br><br> <em>Flickr photo by <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/cygnus921/2598483750/" target="_hplink">cygnus921</a> </em>
This cryptically-named repellent, most well-known as the active ingredient in Avon Skin So Soft, is characterized by the EPA as a "biopesticide repellent," meaning it is in fact derived from natural materials. However, the same 2002 study found this compound <a href="http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa011699#t=articleResults" target="_hplink">protects against mosquitoes for only about 23 minutes</a>. <br><br> <em>Photo from <a href="http://www.amazon.com/Avon-Guard-IR3535-EXPEDITION-Spray/dp/B00199RQ5S/ref=sr_1_1?s=hpc&ie=UTF8&qid=1339188213&sr=1-1" target="_hplink">Amazon.com</a></em>
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