Mosquitoes may be the most universally hated insect on the planet. Even many entomologists don’t care for them. They aren’t pretty like butterflies, they aren’t as useful as bees, and they cause plenty of harm to humans by spreading disease. To put it bluntly, everyone hates mosquitoes!
Wearable mosquito-repellants bracelets like RepelWatch and ParaKito Wristbands, along with other wearables like JollyPatch stickers, claim to keep mosquitos away all on their own. Do these products actually work?
We are officially on the case! This article will give you the basics of how these products claim to work and offer you some guidance on whether they can keep mosquitoes from biting you.
Why We All Hate Mosquitoes
In addition to the general irritation and itching caused by mosquito bites, every year there are hundreds of millions of cases of mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, Zika virus, West Nile virus, dengue, and yellow fever. This makes the mosquito one of the most deadly animals on the planet.
Not to mention, the terribly irritating high-pitched buzzing sound they emit when flying around your head. I’m struggling to think of a more annoying sensation!
Controlling Mosquitoes is Difficult
Mosquitoes are tremendously difficult to control because they aren’t technically a “pest” in the same way fleas, ants, or bed bugs are. They’re annoying, but they don’t live in your home. So while you can sometimes prevent them from biting you, you can’t really kill them efficiently out in nature. It’s even more difficult to kill them ahead of time because they breed quickly around even the smallest amount of stagnant water.
This is one reason why many developing nations struggle especially hard with mosquitoes – it is difficult to remove all standing water in countries without sufficient means of disposing of household trash, which can collect water when dumped outside).
What are Mosquito Bracelets/Stickers?
Mosquito bracelets and stickers are wearable products that contain materials that are said to be effective at repelling mosquitoes. So instead of spraying a mosquito repellent on yourself like DEET, you (supposedly) just wear a small item and it keeps mosquitoes away.
They can come in a few different forms, the most common being a bracelet or wristband, or a peel-off sticker. They can be worn on the wrist, and some companies even produce them as roll-on product to be used directly on the skin. The exact length of time manufacturers claim these products last depends on the specific company. Some say they last for two weeks, others for just a few days.
Do Mosquito Bracelets Actually Work?
As is the case for many questions in life… it’s complicated. The short answer is – not as well as you’d hope, and sometimes not at all.
Exactly how well these products work depends on what your expectations are for them and how you use them. To explain, why, let’s go into some detail about what repels mosquitoes
What Attracts and Repels Mosquitos?
Female mosquitoes (the only ones who bite) are primarily attracted to carbon dioxide, the gas we exhale. This is a very effective way of tracking humans since we can never stop breathing. Once the mosquito gets closer, it can be further attracted to high body heat, and other subtle chemical factors.
So the main mechanism of mosquito repellents is really quite simple– they just mask the smell of carbon dioxide. However, mosquitoes have very strong senses of smell (you’d have to in order to smell carbon dioxide, which is totally odorless to humans).
Commercial insect replants generally contain diethyltoluamide (DEET). DEET is pretty harsh, which is why repellents smell so bad – but also why they work so well. Mosquito repellent sprays usually contain DEET in very low concentrations, not enough to be harmful to humans. It’s also possible to get stronger DEET sprays with higher concentrations which generally result in a longer-lasting product rather than a more effective one.
What Ingredients are in Mosquito Bracelets/Stickers?
Many wearable mosquito-repellant products do not contain DEET, because it is generally not safe to wear highly concentrated DEET directly on your skin for a long period of time.
Instead, these products contain natural alternatives to DEET like oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or citronella. Some may even attempt to use technological approaches like ultrasonic frequencies to repel mosquitoes.
However, these natural alternatives are not always as effective. In fact, the only natural alternative to DEET that is endorsed by the CDC for use in disease-endemic areas is OLE.
In general, the CDC and the EPA have strong guidelines for selecting effective mosquito repellents, and the vast majority of EPA-approved repellents do contain DEET. So this may spell trouble for wearable products that don’t have this ingredient.
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular mosquito bracelets and other wearable devices to see what they use to mask scents and how well they may work.
Popular Mosquito Bracelets/Stickers
Active ingredients: None. Instead, RepelWatch claims to repel insects through ultrasonic frequencies generated by the device.
Effectiveness: Ultrasonic frequencies are a recent trend in pest-control technology, but the technology has been attempted for decades. These types of frequencies are meant to produce sounds that are too high for us to hear, but very irritating to insects. These frequencies have been demonstrated not to be very effective or worthwhile. Given that mosquitoes are attracted to smell, not sound, it seems especially unlikely this product would do much to protect against mosquitoes.
Active ingredients: Unspecified essential oils.
Effectiveness: It’s a bit more difficult to evaluate this product because the exact combination of essential oils is not made clear by the company (this is likely “proprietary information”). However, essential oils are not usually effective insect repellents.
One of the major issues is that they evaporate very quickly, so when they do work, it doesn’t last very long. This product could may work for short-term applications, especially since the essential oils are distributed slowly through a diffuser in the wristband rather than evaporating directly from the skin. However, it would likely not stand up to long-term usage, and may require refilling more often than every 15 days, which is what the manufacturer claims.
Given there is no listed active ingredients, the odds of this having an repellent impact is close to zero. Stay away!
Active ingredients: Citronella and lavender oil.
Effectiveness: While this product at least indicates the specific oils used, it may struggle the same way as the Parakito product. Citronella can actually be very effective at repelling insects, but works best in closed areas, so this type of formulation (a patch that gradually diffuses oil) is unlikely to reap the full benefits of citronella.
Users may notice some differences at the beginning when concentrations of the oils in the patch are at their strongest, but it may not work as well later. JollyPatch claims that their patches last for 72 hours, so it appears that their recommendations at least line up more closely with the short-term effectiveness of the ingredients.
Given that there is no information as to what concentration of citronella is on each sticker and that these stickers themselves haven’t been studied, I’d recommend skipping the stickers.
If something seems too good to be true, oftentimes it is. Wearable mosquito control is no exception. While the idea is convenient, non-DEET wearables do not have any evidence of being effective.
Products that contain natural repellent ingredients like essential oils are only worth a try if they contain Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus, since this is the most effective natural alternative to DEET. Even then, these products may be best for lighter, short-term use. We would not recommend them for long days in the deep woods, long camping trips, and especially not for any trip to a disease-endemic area. In those cases, DEET-based repellents remain the best option.
Of course, the best protection against mosquito bites is avoiding them altogether. Remaining indoors during the times when mosquitoes are most active (dawn and dusk), wearing clothing that covers your skin, and using mosquito netting in situations that warrant it (for example, over your tent if you are camping) are all strategies you can use along with repellent products to keep your body itch-and-disease-free!