I have always been the girl who gets the most mosquito bites.
I remember as a kid spending the summer in New Jersey and my Mother had putting me in a cornmeal bath because I itched so badly after playing outside on a muggy night. Another time as a teenager I went camping with my Dad and gave myself scars because I scratched my bites until they bled. As an adult I had friends over for a BBQ and that night rubbed the bites on my feet only to wake the next morning so swollen I had trouble walking.
When I started traveling it only got worse.
I recall one evening watching the sunset in Mexico and returning to find over forty swollen insect bites just on one leg. On a trip to Costa Rica I scratched my bites so badly that I developed pus filled blisters all over my legs. The doctor determined it was MRSA. A serious form of staph infection.
Dealing with mosquitoes became the bane of my existence each time I traveled to a tropical destination. The natural stuff, the Picardin, the Deet, it didn’t matter what I used. I always got massacred.
Yet here I am today, writing to you from the South Caribbean, laying on my bed without a mosquito net or insect repellent, with smooth bite free skin. This last year I traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Indonesia, Panama, and Costa Rica with very little itching or scratching.
I no longer struggle with the unbearable mosquito bites that once plagued me, and it has genuinely changed my life.
So how did I do it?
I Made Peace with Mosquitoes
A year and a half ago, while taking a few months off of traveling to settle down in Puerto Viejo Talamanca, I decided to join some of the women in the community for a sweat lodge. I imagined something close to a sauna or a spa. If you’ve ever done a sweat lodge, also known as a Temescal, you know that the experience is far from a day at the spa. It is an intense and deeply spiritual journey that I plan to write about in a future post. I bring it up now because it marked the beginning of my liberation from mosquito bites.
Crouched in the dirt, half naked, sweating more than I have ever sweat in my life, in complete darkness, chanting with a group of women, the most challenging part of my experience was the itching. From the moment I entered the sweat lodge I was swarmed by mosquitoes who bit me so badly I begged for more heat to keep them at bay. Worse than the itching my mind went wild from the discomfort. Until a calming thought rushed over me. “Maybe I need to make peace with the mosquitoes. Maybe I need to love the mosquitoes.” I thought. “Yes, I love the mosquitoes. I love the mosquitoes.” It feels ridiculous saying this now, but in that moment of complete surrender I decided to free myself of my hatred towards mosquitoes. Perhaps by making peace with them they’d no longer need to teach me a lesson.
I’m not necessarily suggesting you get inside of a tent in the jungle and sweat with a bunch of naked women, though if you get the chance a Temescal is an incredible life changing experience I highly recommend. What I’m proposing here is simply that most change begins with first deciding to rewrite your story. That evening in the sweat lodge I decided that I didn’t have to be enemies with mosquitoes and I didn’t have to be the girl who was always plagued by them. From there, I took the first step.
I Stopped Scratching
The surest way to torment yourself is to scratch your insect bites. It’s like sleeping with an ex. You want to do it so badly that when you give in and scratch the itch it feels so good; but you ultimately end up with a bigger wound that takes even longer to heal.
After I vowed to start loving mosquitoes, I dedicated myself to not scratching my bites. It was hard. Extremely hard. So I made it my meditation. I focused on my breathing and considered it another challenge to find peace and comfort in an uncomfortable situation.
I noticed that if I didn’t scratch them right away the swelling went down and the itch subsided. I also discovered some better ways to handle the itch. I used all natural itch balms, honey, and if I had nothing else I noticed my own spit worked. A lot of people in Costa Rica swear by using their fingernail to make an “x” over the bite. I’ve found this effective, just be sure not to press so hard that you break the skin.
Whatever you do, don’t scratch your bites. It takes some willpower, but if you leave them alone, they will go away, I promise.
I Did a Coconut Water Fast
Relatively speaking I’ve always eaten pretty healthy. Even as a kid I loved vegetables and would rather eat an enormous salad than a piece of cake. However in my pre travel lifestyle I dined in trendy restaurants often and when I started traveling I indulged in plenty of strange street food. I also went through a brief phase where I was partying. A lot.
So soon after my sweat lodge experience I decided to get serious about my health. I switched to eating mostly organic, I stopped drinking, I removed all refined foods from my diet, I upped my intake of dark leafy greens, and I started doing some cleanses. The one I believe has kept the mosquitoes at bay was my coconut water fast.
During the coconut water fast I ingested only coconut water, purified water, and tea for several days. Allegedly in doing so you flush so much coconut water into your bloodstream that it’s essentially like doing a full blood cleanse.
I’ve been told that the reaction your skin has to a bite indicates the cleanliness of your blood. I can’t verify this statement but I will say that I noticed a significant decrease in mosquito bites after doing the fast and I now experience very little reaction to bites.
Coconut water also has Vitamin B, which mosquitoes hate. This could explain why drinking a lot of it deters mosquitoes. Whenever I’m in a tropical place I always drink at least one local young coconut per day, if not three. I drink them because they’re delicious, but if they also keep me from getting bitten? Perfect.
I Took Probiotics
Those white pills? They’ve never really done much for me. Not to mention the fact that they can get extremely expensive. The kind of probiotics I’m referring to are the ones that I’ve made myself in fermented foods.
To cure myself of the travel sickness that I endured again and again on the road I began to eat fermented foods daily to proliferate the healthy bacteria in my system. Doing so improved my immune system and my digestion incredibly and I have a sneaking suspicion that they’ve protected me against mosquitoes as well.
I drink water kefir daily because I find it’s the simplest, easiest fermented product to make while traveling. Most people I meet can hardly stand to smell the liquid when I open the jar, which leads me to believe a mosquito would not want to bite skin that leaches it.
I Covered My Skin in Coconut Oil
Insects are attracted to scents and some are much more desirable than others. The same way citronella keeps them away many of the sweet scented commercial beauty products likely attract them. For convenience and health reasons I’ve transitioned away from conventional skin products and now use coconut oil exclusively as my skin moisturizer.
In many tropical islands locals swear by coconut oil to combat sand fleas. The tiny bugs are either unable to land on your skin or they drown while trying to bite. I’ve found that when I use coconut oil mosquitoes either seem less interested in biting me or they can’t seem to land on me in the first place.
For even more protection you can mix coconut oil with different essential oils intended to keep away insects including lemongrass, citronella, lavender, and tea tree. I’m a strong believer in the many healing benefits of coconut for just about everything. Read my post What to do With a Coconut for more info.
So there you have it, the things I changed over the last year and a half that have led me to mosquito liberation. Yes, I still occasionally get bites, and they still itch sometimes. However I went from someone who once would be covered head to toe in big swollen bites to someone who rarely has any.
Please keep in mind, I’m not a medical professional or a nutritionist. These are simply my experiences. I hope you find them helpful, and please feel free to share your experiences in the comments.