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Mosquito Magnets Rejoice: New Study Says Changing Your Soap Could Help Scare Off Bites

Although previous studies have found that natural body odor plays a big role in your attractiveness to mosquitoes, the new research suggests that the soap you wash with could also be responsible.

If you’re that person who is seemingly the only one in groups to get ravaged by mosquitoes in the summer, a new study may be a beacon of hope.

Washing with certain soap scents may change how mosquitoes are attracted to you, according to the study, which was conducted by Virginia Tech researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and was funded in part by the United States Department of Agriculture and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

The peer-reviewed study published Wednesday in the journal iScience found that using some soaps that alter a person’s odor profile attracts mosquitoes, while other soaps keep them away. 

Some volunteers’ scents before washing were more attractive to mosquitoes than others, but soap “significantly” changed the volunteers’ odor profiles.

“Soaps drastically change the way we smell, not only by adding chemicals but also by causing variations in the emission of compounds that we are already naturally producing,” co-author of the study Chloé Lahondère, an assistant professor of biochemistry at Virginia Tech, said in a press release.

Floral scents tend to be more attractive to mosquitoes, study shows

According to the study, scents alter a mosquito’s host selection, and floral scents tend to be more attractive. Researchers noted that mosquitoes also feast on plant-nectar, which is why plant-derived or plant-mimicking scents “could potentially confuse their decision-making.” The impact of soap smell on mosquito preference was largely ignored until now, the release claimed.

“Just by changing soap scents, someone who already attracts mosquitoes at a higher-than-average rate could further amplify or decrease that attraction,” said Clément Vinauger, an assistant professor of biochemistry and co-principal investigator on the proof-of-concept study alongside his collaborator Lahondère.

To conduct the study, the research team characterized the chemical odors of four volunteers when unwashed and after they’d washed with Dial, Dove, Native, and Simple Truth soaps. Combing each soap with volunteers’ unique odor profile caused varying effects between different people.  

The researchers repeatedly tested their theory by releasing mosquitoes in a meshed cage which held unwashed scents gathered from the individuals, along with their washed scents. Mosquitos were able to choose between two cups containing each odor extract.

“(Soap) is not simply adding stuff to our body odor, but it’s also replacing some chemicals while eliminating others, that are washed away,” Vinauger said. “So we think there is a lot of chemical interaction between our natural chemicals and soap chemicals.”

Coconut-scented soaps decreased attractiveness

Three of the four soaps, which all had a fruity or flowery scent, increased mosquito attractiveness.

The scent that decreased attractiveness was coconut scented.

“That was very interesting for us because there is other evidence in the literature that elevating certain fatty acids, such as those found in coconut oil derivatives, could serve as a repellant for mosquitoes and other insects,” Vinauger said.

The researchers hope their findings will influence future studies to develop better mosquito repellents to prevent bites and attractants for traps.

“Trying different soaps is important because we are showing that it’s really the combination between your natural odor and a specific soap that matters,” Vinauger said.

Vinauger said more research needs to be done on the duration of these effects.

“What if you shower in the morning? The evening? We need to answer these questions in our future work.”

Source : Usatoday