Can wearing perfume help ward off mosquitos and protect us from Zika?

As we reach the height of summer, we reach the height of something else: mosquito season. No one likes the winged bloodsuckers (those of us who get bitten a lot like them even less) but this year, everyone is a little more afraid of getting bitten than usual. Concerns over the spread of the Zika virus are causing more people to seek out repellents in the hope that they will save them from a bite — and help halt the spread of the virus itself.

According to the New York Times, this year there has been an uptick in the sales of perfumes claiming to help ward off mosquitos; these luxury alternatives to Off! products and citronella candles claim to have the efficacy without the synthetic-chemical smell.

These include Coqui Coqui, a citrus-scented repellent packaged like a perfume, and two fragrances by Aromaflage. The Aromaflage blends were created by a New Jersey couple who noticed on a trip to Southeast Asia that locals blended essential oils to repel bugs. Melissa Fensterstock, the creator  of the fragrances, stated: “The thought was, ‘Why can’t we launch something that was beautiful and efficacious?'”

However, while these fragrances might include oils that mosquitos don’t like, dermatologists like Dr. Dendy Engelman say that in terms of efficacy, those synthetic chemicals know no match: “I always tell my patients these are the ones that have the studies to back them up, with DEET generally thought as being the most effective.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list DEET as one of four mosquito-repelling ingredients, along with icaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

There are ways to marry the desire for a good-smelling repellent with the most effective ingredients, though. Products like Mrs. White’s Unstung Hero Anti-Mosquito Eau de Cologne contain one of those four CDC recommended ingredients — in this case IR3535 — but still smell good. Jessica Richards of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn imports the product, which is said to smell like lemon tea, and finds that this always-popular item is selling even better this year than in the past.

Though, if someone is dead-set on not using a synthetic repellent, one with lemon eucalyptus oil as its base is the best option. However, anyone looking to avoid bites should use a multi-step approach including citronella candles and keeping pulse points — mosquitos’ favorite feeding grounds — covered.

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