Your Perfume May Be Lethal (to Mosquitoes, at Least)

woman spraying on perfumeWe spray on perfume to feel pretty -- or to disguise the fact that we didn't have time to shower. But those amber, musk, or petal-y notes (and confusing adjectives!) may have an unexpected perk. A new study has shown that some perfumes work almost as well as DEET in repelling bugs.


When you go to the store to buy bug spray, they all look about the same on the shelf. But New Mexico State University researchers recently set out to see if all bug repellents work equally. (Spoiler alert: They don't.)

In a lab, 10 common products that promise to keep away mosquitoes were tested for effectiveness. Three of the sprays -- Repel 100 Insect Repellent, OFF Deep Woods Insect Repellent VIII, and Cutter Skinsations Insect Repellent -- contained DEET, a chemical as hardcore as you can find on the market when you want to stop swatting your neck on a camping trip.

The other products were DEET-free: Cutter Natural Insect Repellent, EcoSmart Organic Insect Repellent, Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent, and Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard.

Just for fun, the research team also tested two things that aren't actually bug sprays: Avon Skin So Soft bath oil and Victoria's Secret Bombshell perfume. (A vitamin B1–based mosquito skin patch was also tested, but you don't have to be a scientist to guess those results!)

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The overall results?

DEET worked. (Of course.)

Non-DEET products, not so much, except for Cutter Lemon Eucalyptus.

But weirdly, both the Avon bath oil and the VS perfume kept mosquitoes away from skin for two HOURS.

Researchers think it's because the perfume provides a "temporary masking effect." (But they also applied a huge amount of the stuff, which most of us might not be wont to do next time we're road-tripping to the lake.)

"It was surprising that the fragrances did have repellent effects," one of the study's authors, research assistant Stacy Rodriguez, tells The Stir. "Previous studies have swayed people away from wearing fruity/flowery scents."

But not all perfumes will have the same effect as VS Bombshell and ASOS bath oil, she notes.

Still, if this research makes you wonder if it's safe to be wearing a perfume that repels bugs, you're not alone. 

Connie Engel, PhD, science and education manager for the Breast Cancer Fund's Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tells us, "The problem with fragrance is that it can stand in for dozens of ingredients that are not identified on the label."

And those ingredients may not just keep bugs away. "Some are probable carcinogens ... and others disrupt hormone levels," says Engel.

You might presume that the Food and Drug Administration regulates perfumes like they do, um, food and drugs.

"In reality, cosmetics are one of the least regulated consumer products on the market today," Engel notes. "Existing law is more than 70 years old."

Maybe that explains why perfume ingredients can include anal secretions from beavers and gunk from the digestive tracts of sperm whales?


Image via © GlobalStock/iStock

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