For mosquitoes, summertime is prime time. The pesky buggers swarm and feast as thirstily as their targets at backyard bashes in Brooklyn or outdoor fetes in the Hamptons. But with the looming threat of Zika this summer, mosquito season is underlined with uncharacteristic anxiety. Cue the mad scramble for mosquito repellents.
As people anxiously douse themselves (and eau de Off! is intended to … well, repel), perfumes that double as bug repellent are having a moment. And they’re considerably more sophisticated than the classic Avon Skin So Soft.
One of them, Coqui Coqui, the fragrance line of a group of Mexican boutique hotels of the same name, offers a citrusy mosquito repellent packaged in the same manner as its fancy perfumes ($12 for 2 ounces). It is sold out nearly everywhere, including on net-a-porter.com.
At Aromaflage, a perfume-repellent hybrid line, Michael and Melissa Fensterstock, its husband-and-wife founders, have been fielding daily questions about the Zika virus through their customer service channels.
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“Our sales have doubled since last summer,” Michael Fensterstock said.
The couple started the company in New Jersey in 2013 after traveling in Southeast Asia for their honeymoon. There they discovered that locals used essential-oil blends as repellents and thought to create a lab-refined version.
They now offer two scents at $65 for 1.7 ounces: the original, a zesty, active blend of orange peel oil, cedarwood oil and vanillin; and the Wild fragrance, which is more woodsy and features geranium oil, geraniol, lemon grass oil, cedarwood oil, citronellol and thyme.
The line has been largely marketed through luxury hotel chains. (At Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons properties in the Caribbean, orders were up 50 percent during the peak travel season earlier this year.)
“The thought was, ‘Why can’t we launch something that was beautiful and efficacious?’ ” Melissa Fensterstock said.
But when it comes to efficacy, most essential oils can do only so much, said Dr. Dendy Engelman, a dermatologist in Manhattan. She pointed to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommend only four mosquito-repelling ingredients: DEET, picaridin, IR3535 and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
“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,” Engelman said. Still, she said, a lot of her patients “bristle the second you mention anything chemical.”
For those who dislike a chemical odor, Jessica Richards, founder of Shen Beauty in Brooklyn, has a savvy solution. She imports Mrs. White’s Unstung Hero Anti-Mosquito Eau de Cologne from London ($38 for 8.5 ounces), which contains IR3535 but smells like lemon tea. She has nearly doubled her usual order this season.
“We usually sell a ton of it anyway,” Richards said. “It smells great, it’s in pretty packaging, it works and people love that it’s British. But Zika is freaking everybody out. I have moms come in asking all sorts of questions and buying cases of 12.”
That has made the Unstung Hero quite the hostess gift in the neighborhood, Richards said.
For die-hard anti-chemical clients, Engelman points to a natural option: a repellent with oil of lemon eucalyptus as its base. Some studies support the effectiveness of rosemary and peppermint as well. (Intelligent Nutrients Smart Armor Perfume Spray bug repellent contains both: $31 for 3.5 ounces.) And burning citronella candles can help clear an area, she said.