I’m a Mosquito Magnet, and I Swear by These Products to Keep Me Itch-Free All Summer

published Jul 1, 2023
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Senior father and adult son having a good time on beach at sunset, Kikai Island of the Amami Islands, Kagoshima, Japan
Credit: Ippei Naoi / Getty Images

I’ve spent dozens of summers lumpy with mosquito bites, skin scratched raw in all kinds of semi-tropical, humid places. Everywhere I go, I’m the first and last to be bitten, racking up nasty bites as late as February — I’m the sole food source of the strong that survive. I’ve heard all the theories: I have sweet blood; it’s my blood type; I have a natural scent that lures them in; I wear colors that are too bright or too dark or too light (depending on who you ask); I eat too much fruit (or meat) and it comes out in my sweat, my pheromones, my aura. The only thing that’s important to me is how to make it stop. 

On that quest, I’ve tried everything. Sprays, lotions, wipes, after-bite aids … even literal outfits made out of mosquito netting, which only made me extremely uncomfortable. After much trial and error, these are the products that I’ve found that actually work to dampen the enthusiasm of mosquitoes in the Northeast, Deep South, and the jungles of the Caribbean and Mexico too. 

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I first stumbled upon this miraculous spray years ago when I was looking for a bug spray that I could safely use around my dog. This eco-friendly, non-toxic, non-aerosol, child- and pet-safe spray (not to be confused with their for pets version) seemed like just the ticket, and I swear by it.

It uses no propellants or DEET, both of which are bad for our planet, and dries quickly without any stickiness. Despite leading with essential oils, it’s not greasy, either. Its organic formula is comprised of geraniol, rosemary, cinnamon, lemongrass, and a hint of wintergreen that’s refreshing in the summer heat. And there’s a pleasant, slightly sweet floral smell to it. Plus, you don’t need much of it — my bottle’s lasted me years. Its natural scent fades more quickly than its long-lasting, hours-long protection, even through sweat, which is why it lives permanently in my hiking sling.

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This packaging of their tingly 30% lemon eucalyptus oil formula provides smooth, even coverage in a nonstop spray for those who appreciate the effortless push of aerosol cans. But even better, it’s propelled using compressed air, the aluminum can and inner bag are both recyclable, it’s DEET- and chemical-free, and the lemon eucalyptus oil is harvested using a waste-free, regenerative process. In fact, it’s so harmless to the environment that it’s designed strictly to repel mosquitoes, not kill them! They also donate 2% of their revenue to environmental and social impact organizations, including 1% for the Planet.

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If sprays on your skin and clothes just aren’t for you, Zevo has a unique answer: rub-in lotion. Using the power of IR3535, a naturally-occurring amino acid, one application can repel mosquitoes and ticks for up to a whopping eight hours. It doesn’t harm the planet, either — it’s not toxic to four-legged friends, fish, or algae, making it uniquely reef-safe for your tropical summer adventures and doesn’t build up in the environment. In fact, it’s gentle enough to apply on toddlers or left overnight on adults.

It’s odorless and goes on completely sheer and isn’t greasy in the slightest, which is why it’s my favorite pick for events like picnics, barbecues, beach parties, or waterside drinks — anywhere I might not want to smell like an outdoor candle.

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Free People

Instead of traveling with (often messy) insect repellent, I always keep this solid bug repellent balm in my go-bag. Brands like Badger Balm and Murphy’s Naturals sell them in tin or mini deodorant stick packaging, respectively, but I like Soap & Salve for a few reasons: The cardboard packaging is much gentler on the environment than plastic; the push-up functionality is gentler on sore or arthritic fingers; and it’s strong as heck. It does smell of citronella, lemon eucalyptus, lemongrass, and thyme, with some basil, lavender, rosemary, and cedarwood in the mix. Plus, its base is organic virgin shea butter, organic jojoba oil, and organic beeswax, so it moisturizes and protects your skin, too.

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This is another discreet way to repel bugs while out, as the lightweight, highly breathable, moisture-wicking, hypoallergenic recycled cotton and eucalyptus fiber material is treated with non-toxic, odorless Insect Shield technology, a proprietary permethrin insecticide that acts like natural extracts from chrysanthemums. Although it’s simple, it’ll reliably repel mosquitoes, ticks, flies, fleas, chiggers, ants, and midges for around 70 washes. It comes in five beautiful colors (mine’s teal), and also comes in scarves, bandanas, blankets, or even leggings. Just keep it on you and out of water, as it is toxic to marine life.

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So maybe you missed a spot. I keep one of these Shark Tank-backed, chemical-free plastic Bug Bite Things in my hiking bag, my dog walking pack, my car, next to my front door — you get the picture. It works with the power of suction. As soon as you get a fresh bite, assess the size to choose which side of the tip to use, then invert it to switch between the smaller or the larger size. Push down on the handles to seal off the bite and draw it back up slowly like a reverse syringe. It pulls the itch-creating saliva or venom out of your skin through the puncture spot. It’s such a small amount that it’s not detectable to the eye, but the relief sure is. Nipping bites in the bud with this has saved me from my usual swelling and scratching, and because it’s just a tool, it’s basically effective forever.

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Many say that the sensation of minor pain is distracting enough to dull the itching of mosquito bites, but according to Magic Patch, there’s something to the gridding aspect. They’ve designed little grid-like stickers that work kinesthetically “to drain the lymphatic system” by lifting the skin mechanically and dispersing the itch-causing saliva the skeeter left behind.

They stay on for up to a week, even with exposure to water, which is pretty darn impressive. Plus, they come in emoji- and cartoon-patterned BuzzPatch repellent stickers — which are slightly more fragrant with bergamot, peppermint, lavender, vetiver, frankincense, and citrus oils — if you or your kids are looking for something more fun.

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For those pesky and older bites that continue to itch (and itch), I turn to my trusted bottle of liquid Benadryl for its superhuman antihistamine powers. I discovered the now-discontinued original strength formula when I was living in New Orleans and, no exaggeration, it changed my life. I no longer had to fear weeks of residual itch and massive swelling, or use calamine lotion or cortisone cream or steroids, which I try to use sparingly. One spritz is all it takes for instant cooling relief.