a mosquito on somone's skin, dengue fever, Zika virus, keep mosquitoes from biting

Q. Is there any herb I can take to make myself less attractive to mosquitoes without also making myself less attractive to the human race? I wear no perfumed lotions but seem to attract mosquitoes like a magnet.

A. We don’t know why some people are especially attractive to mosquitoes, although it seems to be related to body chemistry. Foot odor has been proposed as one possible explanation, and using an antiperspirant on the soles of the feet might help.

Mosquitoes have been biting humans for thousands of years, and for almost that long people have been trying to ward them off.

Native Americans are said to have used rancid bear grease. At Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau tried a concoction of camphor, turpentine and oil of spearmint. (He eventually decided the smell was worse than the itch.) Marines have extolled the virtues of Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil.

The trouble is, most of these folk remedies have not been proven effective. One indisputably effective repellent was originally developed for the military.

Pros & Cons of DEET:

DEET is unrivaled in its ability to keep mosquitoes from biting. But there are concerns about toxicity, especially for young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using insect repellents with more than 10 percent DEET on little children. There have been a few reports of headaches, behavioral changes, disorientation and seizures.

What About Thiamine?

Another approach to repelling mosquitoes is to take 100 mg of vitamin B-1 (thiamine). The original research on this was done in the 1940s and doesn’t meet today’s standards. But we recently heard from a reader who found it very effective:

“Twenty years ago, my husband and I went backpacking in the High Sierras with three friends. It was an extremely wet year with a lot of snow melting.

“On the east side, we had many good places to camp. But on the west side, there wasn’t a dry spot to be found. Where there wasn’t snow, there were soggy marshes, ponds, and swollen streams. It was mosquito heaven!

“Anticipating such conditions, my husband and I began taking a daily vitamin B-1 supplement two weeks before the trip. No one else in our group believed in this advice, and they all stuck with conventional insect repellent.

“Never in my life (and I grew up in New Jersey) had I seen so many mosquitoes. They hovered in thick black blankets over every square inch of our bodies. They tried to enter every available orifice, making it unpleasant to eat, drink water, or go to the bathroom. It was so horrible that after two days on that side of the mountain, we gave up and retreated to the east side.

“My husband and I had only seven mosquito bites between us after those two nightmarish days. Our three friends, however, were literally covered with bites. One woman had more than 50 bites on a small section of her shoulder. There was a solid row of bites along the part of her hair. Each of the three was similarly blanketed with bites. The evidence I’ve provided is purely anecdotal, not scientific, but it was enough to prove to me the value of vitamin B-1 for keeping mosquitoes from thinking you’re a good target.”

The theory is that oral doses of vitamin B-1 create a smell at the level of the skin that mosquitoes don’t like. But some people report that what once worked well is less effective against some species of mosquito. Personal body chemistry may also have something to do with effectiveness.

Garlic capsules also have their enthusiasts, but the odor might discourage people as much as mosquitoes.

Better Options Now:

Companies have now come up with newer repellents that work as well as DEET, but are derived from natural products or synthesized to mimic natural compounds. Both picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus have proven helpful. According to Consumer Reports, side effects are less worrisome than those associated with DEET. Picaridin is a more appropriate choice for children. Be sure to keep all insect repellents out of the eyes, and use them only on clothing or exposed skin, never on skin under clothing.


Home-made insect repellent can be put together using 1 tablespoon citronella oil, 2 cups white vinegar, 1 cup water and 1 cup Avon Skin-So-Soft bath oil.

A product called Bite Blocker contains soybean, coconut and geranium oils. In a Canadian study, Bite Blocker repelled mosquitoes better than citronella and a brand with a low concentration of the effective chemical repellent DEET.

No insect repellent, even DEET, is one hundred percent effective. To relieve itching, a prescription-strength steroid cream may work, but applying hot water (uncomfortable, but not scalding) for a few seconds relieves itching for an hour or more.

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  1. Jordan L

    I know that colloidal silver gel can be applied to insect bites to stop itching; it works within 4 seconds.

  2. Claire

    My English husband says I’ll smell like a Marmite pot. Hmmm, I read about garlic fending them off, but also humans, so, is it really my choice to be bitten or small like Marmite?

  3. Lynn

    Perfect and safe way to treat mosquito bites – just rub stick deodorant over them. Works like a charm, itching gone in minutes.

  4. Lynn

    I am a gardener and have always been a mosquito magnet. Read about B1 and have been taking it for several days. Just went outside 6 pm and not one bite! Usually they are all over me! Plus, we have had rain for several days which makes them worse here in the South. I will continue to take B1 until cold weather!

    • Cindy O
      Western NY

      What dosage of B1 did you take? We have terrible mosquitoes here because our valley tends to be wet. We might all try the B1 come warm weather.

  5. Stacey

    Hope my tips will be helpful – these measures help me to protect myself from mosquito bites. I don’t like DEET repellents and my main “weapon” against mosquitoes is Repel Lemon Eucalyptus. It’s great for me because It’s possible to apply it even on my sensitive skin and don’t worry about negative effects. Also I don’t dress dark or bright clothes (it attracts biting insects) when we go to the forest with my friends. Also I don’t use sweet perfume in the peak of mosquito season (all my favorite fragrances are sweet… but I’m ready to do anything in order not to be bitten!)

  6. Carol

    I am an avid gardener which means I do not have the good sense to go inside when the mosquitoes start biting. One such evening, I got multiple bites on the back fatty part of my upper arms. Like covered. When I did go inside I slathered tea tree oil on the areas where I had gotten bit. There was immediate relief but the itchy feeling started coming back after I bathed, so I again dosed my upper arms with tea tree oil. That did it! No more red itchy arms!

  7. David H

    I noticed years ago that taking daily garlic supplements or fresh herb made the mosquitoes totally uninterested in me. WARNING: it may make other humans uninterested in you as well. … I am now experimenting with my own dried, aged garlic which is far less odiferous, but since we have no mosquitoes yet, it’s too early to tell. In any case, the benefits of fresh garlic are so many and so outstanding — and the fresh form is so cheap — that I take it every day regardless of its aroma!

    There are doubtless other natural remedies besides garlic or the ones discussed in the article above. I remember going on a camping trip 12 years ago during a period where I was eating raw vegan. Except for small seasoning quantities, I was using no garlic at the time. However, *something* in my diet totally repelled mosquitoes. The first night and first day of that camping trip, I was able to maintain my diet via vegan snacks I’d brought. When outdoors on the trail, I noticed that every one but me was constantly slapping at mosquitoes and scratching at bites. They marveled at why the bugs were avoiding me. I shrugged and said “I guess I smell bad to them.”

    THEN that night came the campfire where I broke down and had ONE hot dog. And then, the skeeters came after me like there was no tomorrow. That night and the remaining day of the camping trip, I was getting bit and swatting at mosquitos like everybody else.

    So, it’s easy to conclude, there was something in my plant-based diet that repelled them OR something about the meat that attracted them — or both.

  8. Opal

    For Mosquito bites used baking soda, make it into a paste and rub it over the bite for a minute or two, stops itching and takes down the swelling. A nurse used this on me in college.

  9. Sandy

    I lived in the country for 30+ years. People around me suffered with yellow fly bites, red bug (chigger) bites, mosquito bites, etc. They didn’t “get” why I never got bit. When warm weather approached I up my B-1 supplement! Worked great!

  10. Garth

    I live in Dallas & have numerous mosquitos. What is safe repellant for 4yr old who loves Grandaddy’s garden? I use deet but prefer not to spray her so often. Any suggestions beyond website comments above?

  11. MB

    Never mind those mosquitoes, in the southern central plains it is ticks that are the problem. I have already had Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and never want to be that sick again. But I seem to be a tick magnet.
    Is there something I can change about the way I eat? Don’t want to use Deet or anything like it. Would garlic help? Cider vinegar? We eat almost no processed food, have our own free range chickens, goat milk from neighbors, so we already eat healthier than most Americans. Rather than concentrating on how to safely remove ticks I want to become unattractive to them.

  12. Jennie G.

    I read many years ago that B vitamins repel bug bites. Not just mosquitos but all bugs that bite. We have what is called noseeums here in my part of Georgia. I’ve been taking B complex for years and I can sit outside without being bitten and everyone around me is getting bites.

  13. HP

    No, fat soluble vitamins cannot dissolve in the blood stream (unlike water soluble vitamins) so must be encased in lipoproteins (transporters of fatty acids, cholesterol – a critical substance for life and health – antioxidants and fat soluble vitamins (these are known as VLDL, LDL, IDL, and HDL). It means that the vitamins cannot be absorbed and utilized without fat. . A, E, D, K2 are all fat soluble vitamins – we fortify skim milk with A, E, and D and they are synthetic vitamins. But that doesn’t make a difference because we can’t use them without the fat that is supposed to be in milk.

  14. Elle

    I hate mosquitoes. For the past 25 years, I have been tormented by these [evil] blood sucking-stalkers. Unfortunately, I am highly allergic to their bite, specifically the saliva. My skin swells up to unnatural proportions with itching so intense it was unbearable. I’d wished I could have the bite area surgically removed to stop the itching. Nothing helped, including antihistamines, & every home folk remedy known. I’d scour the internet daily to find/try anything that might work. Finally, about 3 years, I found it! Someone had traveled in Thailand. A pharmacy team in Bangkok prescribed THE best preventative [healthy] remedy.
    *Vitamin B1* 400mg daily, not anything less! I take 2x 250mg tabs daily.
    B vitamins are water soluble [like C] so you needn’t worry about excess. Your body needs B1, and it will naturally eliminate all excess in your urine. No more potions, mixing, slathering, garlic smell or dryer sheets. This works!! The odd bite I did get didn’t have the histamine reaction in my body. No swelling and barely an itch. I thank God. Hope this helps!

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