Your best bug bite remedies!
June 10, 2020 2:58 PM   Subscribe

Now in the northern hemisphere, it's summer and that means bug bite season. I always get bitten a lot and my bites usually itch like hell. Is there a bug bite remedy you swear by? Salt has helped when the bites are open, but I'm trying to nip them before they get too angry.
posted by starlybri to Health & Fitness (42 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I learned this from an article on beekeepers a few years ago - if you scald the bite with the hottest water you can stand, it can neutralize the itch. Not the most painless way to go, and can be awkward or awful depending on the body part, but it works about 90% of the time for me (depending on the bug).
posted by Mchelly at 3:03 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

For bites, either an antihistamine cream or some 1% hydrocortisone. I've never found 'household remedies' to be all that effective.
posted by pipeski at 3:08 PM on June 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Seconding hydrocortisone. It just works!
posted by duoshao at 3:10 PM on June 10, 2020

Any cheap lotion with pramoxine hcl works very well.
posted by Botanizer at 3:10 PM on June 10, 2020

For mosquito bites (especially if they're fresh and haven't been scratched yet) covering the bite with a small piece of scotch tape can help prevent itchiness and scratching. I usually leave the tape on/reapply as needed for a few days, after which the bite is mostly healed and virtually itch-free!
posted by massa intermedia at 3:12 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

2nding scalding hot water. Saved my ankles.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 3:19 PM on June 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I like to use a dab of straight ammonia for mosquito bites (not if the bite has been scratched open, though, because ouch).
posted by theatro at 3:24 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nthing the scalding hot water. You may find, as I do, that the itch intensifies to something near unbearable for about 5 seconds while you're running the hot water over it - but after that, hours of blissful freedom from itch!
posted by invincible summer at 3:28 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I take a daily antihistamine anyway, but in mosquito season that's the one thing that keeps them from repeatedly flaring back up (often swelling back up quite a bit as well) and itching again.

I keep AfterBite sticks scattered all around the house and our outdoor sitting areas.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

There are small devices that apply localized heat to such bites -- high heat breaks down the irritant that causes the itch. I have a Therapik and take it on camping trips. Although it is nothing more than a tiny incandescent flashlight with a metal grille before the bulb, it works.
posted by seanmpuckett at 3:42 PM on June 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

Watching this thread very closely for tips. I swear I became more attractive to bugs after pregnancy/childbirth, and that hasn't gone away despite my baby being almost a teenager.

When my doctor saw my bitten up legs after a trip down south (I was there for an unrelated reason), she recommended taking Reactine each night just before bed to take away the itch (I was scratching in my sleep).

I also seem to do well using diaper cream with zinc oxide in it. Since it's a barrier cream, it's not as easy to scratch once the cream is applied so the bites can heal up.
posted by melissa at 3:42 PM on June 10, 2020

Seconding scotch tape (or clear packing tape if your bites swell up to golf ball size like mine and/or you want something that will really stay on).
posted by lovableiago at 3:46 PM on June 10, 2020

Bee stings: quick stir up somebaking soda paste and spread it on there.

Some southern friends said chewing tobacco on the sting site, and I've seen em do it, pretty sure I wasn't bein played. Tried it, no effect for me.
posted by j_curiouser at 3:54 PM on June 10, 2020

I'm a fan of Calagel (link is amazon but available elsewhere). It doesn't sting which makes it easier to put on kids, too.
posted by nkknkk at 3:58 PM on June 10, 2020

The old standby when I was a kid was Bag Balm.
posted by Fukiyama at 4:01 PM on June 10, 2020

For mosquito bites, in my experience topical diphenhydramine sprays seem to work well, because it actually tamps down the reaction the itch. After Bite and products like it sort of distract from it (via the cooling sensation of the ammonia).
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 4:01 PM on June 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

A half a tablet of Zyrtec is the only thing that ever worked for my mosquito bite reaction. I've tried every other antihistamine.
posted by muddgirl at 4:01 PM on June 10, 2020

Wipe with rubbing alcohol. Miraculous
posted by uans at 4:04 PM on June 10, 2020

Full disclosure: I know the person who makes this stuff - but I also have an allergy to mosquito bits (softball-sized hives! Fun times!), so I have Opinions about this topic.

The Bite, Sting and Rash salve from The Vagabond Tabby is, IMHO, amazing. It surprises me with its efficacy and speed every time.

If you’re looking for a preventative, I also swear by their Good-Smelling Bug Stuff (natural bug spray) - I am the person who the bugs will bite in favor of everyone else at an event, and this stuff always keeps them away as long as I actually remember to put it on.

Neither of these recommendations are specific to mosquito bites.
posted by okayokayigive at 4:06 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

The hot water comments reminded me of a remedy I heard about years ago. Make a cup of hot tea, put a spoon in the mug to heat it up and press the hot spoon on the bite until it cools.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 4:07 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Loratidine (Claritin) works well for me.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 4:19 PM on June 10, 2020

Benadryl Gel works for me. Also good for itchy cactus plant stabs, kitty play scratches and minor burns.
posted by rekrap at 4:19 PM on June 10, 2020

Flat slices of raw potato, applied as a compress. via The Nature Doctor.
posted by katra at 4:42 PM on June 10, 2020

If you can find Stingose in the US, it's near instantaneous. It does leave a chalky white powder, but it's worth it. The active ingredient is Aluminium Sulphate, I will use aluminium containing deoderant if I don't have any.
posted by kjs4 at 4:49 PM on June 10, 2020

I went to an allergy specialist about this, because mosquitoes and other bitey things have ruined countless vacations for me.

They recommended three things:
  1. Take antihistamine, such as Claritin, before you anticipate getting bitten.
  2. Take them regularly, and ask a doctor what is a safe maximum dose (hint: even though my Claritin packet says one tablet is a 24-hr dose, I could take way more than one per day safely, according to my doc - but you should consult yours)
  3. If it's still really bad, get allergy shots.
My latest camping trips I've followed #1 and 2 and I actually enjoyed myself. I have been in literal tears due to bug bites, so that was a huge improvement for me.
posted by tinydancer at 5:27 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have had several kinds of steroids prescribed because redbugs/chiggers give me awful welts, and prophylactic OTC antihistamines work for me against all bug bites. Pair with DEET and long sleeves/pants if you’re headed somewhere especially dire.

I had someone convince me to try powdered sulfur and it was horrible, did nothing, and took forever to wash the smell out of my clothes. So, don’t do that.
posted by momus_window at 5:36 PM on June 10, 2020

Long ago a coworker from the UK turned me onto these. Magic.
posted by gottabefunky at 7:04 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

I’m terribly allergic to mosquito and other bug bites—I swell up enormously and itch terribly. I’m also extremely attractive to them, to the point where I can be outdoors in a group of people and the bugs will all swarm around me and leave others alone. Fun times.

What works for me is to take Reactine antihistamine daily for my existing hay fever. It makes the itching less bad. I also use Benadryl topical (spray or cream).

I have also used devil’s club salve for bug bites and minor skin irritations and it works very well. Devil’s club is a good example of a traditional medicine that has had good scientific studies to show it is quite effective in a number of uses. (I try to buy devil’s club related items from Indigenous-owned businesses like the one I linked to.)
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:08 PM on June 10, 2020

I use hot water as others recommend, but alternate it with very cold water. Itches like crazy but then stops for a good while. I learned this from someone for a wasp sting, but I also use it on hives. Other than preventative medications like Benadryl, this is the only anti-itch I've ever found to work consistently.
posted by Crystal Fox at 7:19 PM on June 10, 2020

I have a cottage in northern Ontario. Everyone who visits falls in love with the therapik. It works amazingly well.
posted by trigger at 8:16 PM on June 10, 2020

Do not run scalding water on your skin. Rather, dip a washcloth or small piece of fabric or paper in very hot water and dab, for your preferred number of times and duration of each dab. That allows you to stop the itching with minimal danger and maximal targeting.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 9:12 PM on June 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Definitely an oral antihistamine is the most effective; I still react to mosquitoes but the bites don’t swell up bigger than my kneecaps.

Fexofenadine (Allegra) is the most effective non-drowsy drug for me. I will pair it with a diphenhydramine cream if needed. If the itch is bad enough that I can’t sleep, then oral diphenhydramine is the big guns. For diphenhydramine you aren’t supposed to use both the cream and the oral drug, and also the oral drug makes me a zombie for the next ten hours or so, so I avoid it when possible.

The other thing I avoid when possible is getting bites in the first place. Depending on your activity it might be worth treating your clothes as well as using a spray or cream to reduce bites. For me, I found the most effective option is to cover up entirely— take that, you jerk mosquito trying to bite me through my jeans. Although it does have to be entirely— I once went to a bbq covered entirely save my ankles - and ended up with over a hundred bites in just he two inches of exposed skin on my two ankles. Blegh.
posted by nat at 3:14 AM on June 11, 2020

Absorbine Jr.. It's a mentholated pain rub, so it's smelly.

I find it works more quickly than hydrocortisone creams. For a two-pronged itch approach, Absorbine followed by hydrocortisone cream.
posted by Guess What at 4:33 AM on June 11, 2020

Seconding ammonia. Not sure why Afterbite now lists ammonia as an "inactive ingredient." I'm pretty sure that used to be listed as the active ingredient. Maybe it was too obviously simple for people to just go with household ammonia for next-to-no money, instead of paying $s for Afterbite, so they added some other stuff to complicate their formula, and changed the activeness of ammonia on the label.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 5:20 AM on June 11, 2020

Probably related to the scotch tape or band-aid method, I found that if I discover a fresh mosquito bite and resist the urge to scratch *completely*, the bite will stop itching after about five minutes and disappear completely much faster than if I scratched it. It takes an immense amount of self-control to not scratch, but it really works. (Sometimes I will scratch *around* the bite, carefully avoiding the bite itself, just for a little relief. It also helps to distract yourself with some other activity.) Works best when the bug has just bitten you and you know it's there, rather than for the bites you absentmindedly scratch before figuring out it was an mosquito bite. Then you stop scratching immediately and the bite will still be there, but for a shorter time than if you scratched all you wanted.
posted by Liesl at 5:38 AM on June 11, 2020

I use this concoction. It's ammonia plus some other helpful things.
posted by Too-Ticky at 5:43 AM on June 11, 2020

It's going to sound strange but...capsaicin cream. Yes, the stuff in hot peppers. I had a somewhat mild case of shingles but the itching was driving me crazy. None of the topicals like hydrocortisone or benadryl worked. My doctor recommended the capsaicin cream and it was like a miracle. I use it now for bug bites too. It does burn a bit at the beginning, so you have to be careful how much and how often you use it, especially if you have sensitive skin or an open bite. And of course wash your hands carefully after applying!
posted by Preserver at 7:14 AM on June 11, 2020

nthing the hot water method - I used to do hot compresses, but I find just running hot water (not actually scalding!) over the bite for a couple of minutes drastically reduces the itch. Mosquitoes find me quite edible so I have employed this method with success many times.
posted by bedhead at 12:24 PM on June 11, 2020

Love the No Bite Me product. Works as a preventative and after care.
posted by terrapin at 1:05 PM on June 11, 2020

Bactine Pain Relieving Cleansing Spray. The spray is important, because that way I am not touching/itching the bug bite.

Seconding After Bite. A tube stays in my purse at all times. Bugs love me, and I swell up and itch for a week.

Tis the season to stock up on Off and Cutter and Repel Plant-Based Lemon Eucalyptus Insect Repellent. It's also time to reschedule my morning walks so that the sun is fully up when I return to the front door and can shower off the bug spray and not need the sunscreen.
posted by TrishaU at 6:59 PM on June 11, 2020

The comments above about using heat are spot on. The toxic elements in most bug bites are thermolabile and break down under heat.

We use the Therapik device to heat them up gently in our family. It looks like such a piece of questionable junk that, rather than link directly to where to buy it, I'm going to link to a Gizmodo article expressing profound disbelief that this clumsy looking device somehow completely and totally works.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 12:40 PM on June 12, 2020

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