It Turns Out Body-Paint Protects You from Disease-Carrying Bloodsucking Insects

New research looks at the effects of indigenous style human body paint and the protection against nefarious insects.
Donovan Alexander

Body-painting has a rich history that goes beyond just parties and festivals. In fact, countless indigenous people use body paint to display some localized social norms, for religious ceremonies, to convey some form hierarchy, or simply for decoration. However, new research points to body painting as an effective means to protect against insects.

Vector Borne Diseases

Insect contracted diseases are a major issue for billions of people across the globe. Researchers and private institutions are hard at work either looking for ways to target specific insect populations or better ways to protect populations from insects.  


Vector-borne diseases or insect-transmitted diseases account for more than 17% of all infectious disease across the globe, contributing to more than 700,000 deaths annually. While an estimated 3.9 billion people in over 128 countries are at risk of contracting dengue, according to the World Health Organization.

A Little Body Paint

Indigenous communities who tend to paint their bodies also tend to live in areas that have a large exposure to vector-borne diseases. In these communities, you can usually find an abundance of bloodsucking horseflies, mosquitoes or tsetse flies. These insects transfer bacteria, parasites, and other pathogens.

It Turns Out Body-Paint Protects You from Disease-Carrying Bloodsucking Insects
Source: Lund Univerity

Researchers from both Hungary and Sweden have discovered that body paint provides protection against insects,

Lead by Susanne Åkesson, a professor at Lund University’s Department of Biology, the research team tested out human models with body paint and without body paint to see which ones attract more insects.

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For the experiments, the team covered three human-sized models with insect glue. Then the team proceeded to paint the human plastic models, one dark, one dark with pale stripes and one beige.

The team discovered that their brown plastic model of a human attracted ten times as many horse flies as a dark model painted with white stripes. The research built off of previous insights from a past study that observed that the zebra’s stripes act as protection against horseflies.

Body painting has been around for a while, and way before humans started wearing clothing. Maybe put on a little body paint next time you go out this summer?