Bugs are not my favorite thing. Even after living in Florida for 35 years, I never grew accustomed to them. If you’re like me and would rather not admit defeat in the summer by staying indoors, then go ahead and enjoy the outdoors. You can always soothe your bug bites with my tips below.
Just FYI, the B vitamin trick doesn’t really work. Some people assume that taking B vitamins repels mosquitos and prevents bug bites, but that’s simply not true. You’re still going to get attacked because mosquitoes are more attracted by carbon dioxide and heat, which all of us put off. So forget the B vitamin trick.
Why are Bug Bites so Irritating?
It’s slightly easier to forgive insects for hurting us once you realize their response is just a built-in defense mechanism from eons of evolution. You see, bees, wasps, and spiders usually sting and bite people when they feel like we are threatening their home or life, when we enter their domain. Essentially, ignoring them as they buzz by, or leaving these creatures alone (rather than flailing at them) will sometimes cause them to fly by. It takes courage though, but it goes a long way towards keeping you sting-free.
Mosquitos, on the other hand, seek out the sugars in your blood as a primary food source. They’re not going away just because you ignore them. You have to reckon with those, avoid damp areas, lakes, ponds, water retention areas etc. You can also sometimes repel them naturally, see below.
Thankfully, in most cases, bug bites are little more than a temporary annoyance. Even so, the symptoms include redness, localized pain, swelling, and itching, and mild burning at the entry point. It depends on the bug. If you’re not allergic, the symptoms typically diminish within a week, but for sure, it’s possible to find relief even faster if you know about natural remedies.
As an aside, many of you have NOT been bitten by a bug, but you have skin problems, or rashes of an unexplained etiology. The itching and the unexplained rashes could be related to what you’re eating, or to a popular class of medications sold without prescription. This tidbit of information usually comes as a big shock to people when I inform them. If this intrigues you, CLICK HERE to read my other article, Gluten’s Impact on Your Mood and Skin, and Why Acid Blockers May Make it Worse.
Before you begin, be sure to scrutinize the site of the sting for evidence of a stinger. Strive to carefully scrape it out of your skin as soon as possible with a knife, or the edge of a credit card, as the longer it stays lodged in your skin, the more it will irritate you. Tweezers or your fingers are a bad idea, as you’re likely to squeeze more venom from the stinger into your skin.
There are few things less pleasant than living with an irritating bug bite, so I don’t blame you for seeking ways to calm it down quickly. Below are seven of my preferred remedies for getting bug bites under control so that you can find some relief. As a pharmacist, there’s nothing wrong with one Advil or Tylenol if you have to contend with a lot of pain that first day, but again, my preference is always holistic, natural remedies.
Here are 8 quick ways to soothe the pain of stings and minor bug bites:
1. Ice Cubes
Ice is an almost foolproof method for relieving irritation from insect bites. Not only does ice temporarily numb the pain, but it also reduces swelling and inflammation so that the injury heals faster. You can apply the ice cubes directly, or put them in a zip log baggie to cut down on dripping. You can also apply the ice cubes before getting the stinger out, if you’d like to. Just do that for 30 seconds or a minute. The reason is that the ice cube (or ice pack) will numb your skin so then you can scrape the stinger out (see above).
To reduce the risk of harming your skin, don’t leave the ice cube in direct contact for more than 5 minutes. Instead, it’s better to wrap a few ice cubes or a freezer pack in a hand towel or baggie and press it to the mark for about 5 to 10 minutes (or as long as you can tolerate).
2. Tea Bags
While you might typically turn to tea to soothe your emotional state, this potent brew can aid sensitive skin as well. The tannins within black tea are naturally astringent, which means that they will draw toxins out of your skin and quickly ease discomfort. Used tea bags work fine, so consider storing them in the fridge in a damp Ziplock bag so that they are chilled and ready when you need them during the healing process.
While regular black tea tends to work well because of the high content of tannins, you can also consider using an herbal tea such as chamomile. This daisy family relative is a common ingredient in natural remedies, and it works well to reduce inflammation and prevent skin irritation at the site of your bite.
Green tea also works well as an alternative, thanks to the tannins as well as its potent anti-inflammatory properties. Some people think that the tea bag trick works due to caffeine, but that’s not really the reason. A cup of green or black tea contains lower amounts of caffeine than coffee, but the tannin concentration is much higher in teas. Tannins not only help reduce pain on contact, but the also break down pain-causing proteins that were injected into you from the stinger. If you drink green tea, you also get the calming benefit of L-theanine, as well as potent anti-cancer properties.
3. Garlic & Onions
Forget scaring away vampires lol, garlic works great against the most irritating kind of bloodsucker- the mosquito! Garlic, onions, shallots, leeks and chives all belong to the Allium genus. All of these might help with bug bites.
You’ll get the best relief from garlics in my opinion. And the strongest method comes from simple cutting a clove in half and applying ‘the meat’ of the garlic directly on to your skin. That said, some people find that their skin is too sensitive (or it’s applied to early on) and the garlic trick results in more itching and stinging. If that happens to you, obviously, put the clove down.
Another option might be to mince up a clove or two and blend it into an unscented lotion that you like, or plain olive oil, or coconut oil. This dilutes the garlic’s intensity, without really compromising its benefits.
Apply this garlic-lotion or garlic-oil blend on the site of your bug bite with your finger, or a Q-tip and let it rest there for at least ten minutes. Afterward, you can wipe it off with a clean, damp washcloth and reapply it again if necessary. Make sure your washcloth is lukewarm or cool, but definitely not hot. The heat will make it hurt more.
Onions, another member of the allium family, can also bring you relief. Fresh onion applied directly to a bite or sting can reduce irritation and swelling, and the plant’s natural anti-fungal properties will reduce your chance of contracting an infection. All you need to do is cut a slice from an onion (any variety can work) and apply it directly to your bite. Be careful cutting onions, for me they are trouble😧
If you’d like to read How Cayenne Pepper Stopped My Bleeding in 30 Seconds, just CLICK HERE.
Let’s assume you can cut an onion slice without cutting your finger, LOL! Just keep it in place for about 5 or 10 minutes before washing it off. That’s long enough to get the healing benefits from the allium/allicin and enough to keep microbes away. If it burns in a bad way, of course, remove it. Be smart.
Are you an onion lover, and curious what else onions can do to promote health? It’s actually pretty interesting. CLICK HERE to read, Onions, Bulbous Beauties with Many Health Benefits.
4. Essential Oils
Considered by many to be the lifeblood of plants, essential oils have some impressive compounds for promoting wellness in humans. Many essential oils are naturally antibacterial, and they can reduce itching, pain and swelling from bug bites.
Two stellar options for bug bites include tea tree oil and lavender oil, thanks to their antiseptic properties. Just dab a small amount on a cotton swab and carefully coat your skin with it until it soaks in. Like garlic, this might require a 50/50 dilution of coconut oil and tea tree, or a dilution in a bit of water. You don’t have to, it depends on your personal sensitivity and the bug bite. Don’t put it on an open wound of course.
Tea tree oil’s compounds will kill any lingering fungi or bacteria, and it will also reduce swelling. Lavender, in contrast, can soothe skin and is believed to help stop bleeding. You don’t need to dilute that one.
Personally, I would mix them both together. You’ll get the best benefit from combining these two oils and distributing them in a carrier oil like coconut oil. This makes the essential oils easier to spread and dilutes them enough that they are less likely to irritate your skin.
Some people think that tea tree oil can deter bugs too, so consider putting a dab on your wrists or arms before going on that hike. You can also sprinkle some of the oil on your clothes or even bed sheets to keep bugs far away.
5. Apple Cider Vinegar
When it comes to bug bites, one of the best ways to alleviate any pain and irritation is to apply some “acid” to the entry point. For this reason, apple cider vinegar is an exceptional treatment option because it contains about 5 percent acetic acid.
If you have an irritating bite, consider dabbing a few drops of apple cider vinegar to it. You could also consider taking a bath with several cups mixed into your bath water (lets assume the pain is severe enough for that). May as well put 10 drops of lavender essential oil into the bath water.
As apple cider vinegar is less acidic than other forms of vinegar, it should not irritate your skin, though it’s still potent enough to reduce burning and stinging sensations for most people. Of course, do what is comfortable and right for yourself. In some unusual cases, apple cider vinegar provokes a little bit more itching, so again, test yourself before jumping into a bath tub of it. Always ‘start low and go slow’ to gauge your response to new remedies, medications and supplements.
You can CLICK HERE to learn more about the benefits of apple cider vinegar from this article I wrote called, Apple Cider Vinegar, A Cure for Everything?
6. Aloe Vera
You likely already know that aloe vera offers soothing relief from sunburns, but few people realize how well it can heal bug bites. Just slice open a fresh leaf and apply the succulent’s gooey gel to the sting until it dries in place on your skin. The aloe plant’s anti-inflammatory properties make it valuable for healing minor wounds and calming down infections. Don’t have any aloe plants on hand? You can buy the gel at the drugstore and store it in the fridge for easy access when you need it. Learn more about the benefits of aloe vera here!
7. Fresh Herbs
Fresh plants have impressive properties for your health. Though their medicinal properties can vary considerably, there are certain kinds of plants and herbs that I specifically recommend for skin irritation.
Since we’re on the topic of bug bites today (as opposed to rosacea, eczema or dermatitis), then I’d say go for basil. It’s not just for pesto! This fragrant herb contains a chemical compound called eugenol, which studies report relieves itchy skin. Take advantage of this impressive property by adding half an ounce
That’s about 1 tablespoon of dried basil leaves to approximately two cups boiling water.
You could also alternatively use fresh leaves, about 6 of them will do. Just let the brew steep in hot water for about 20 to 30 minutes, just until it cools down in the pot. Then gently apply the basil-infused water to your bug bites with a clean compress. You can keep things simpler by chopping fresh basil leaves into a fine powder and rubbing this directly onto your skin. A mortar and pestle works well for this too.
Learn more about the benefits of basil by CLICKING HERE to read my article, Holy Basil, the Elixir of Life.
Another herb worth experimenting with for insect bite relief is thyme, thanks to its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. You can make a healing poultice by finely mincing some thyme leaves and applying them directly to the site of your bite for at least ten minutes. That’s how long it takes for the herb’s antibacterial and anti-fungal properties to take effect. You can also make a thyme tea by steeping fresh sprigs in hot water and applying it to irritation once it cools. For extra cooling, consider wrapping your clean compress or washcloth around an ice cube; do that just before dipping it in the thyme infused water. The combination of cold sensations along with the herb is a one-two punch!
8. Meat Tenderizer
Mix it with water to make a paste, then apply to the sting. It works on contact.
It’s Best to PREVENT Insect Bites!
Of course, the best way to find relief from insects is to never get bit in the first place! Here are several suggestions for keeping bugs far away from your skin.
Coat your clothing in permethrin, a synthetic version of a natural insect repellent found in the chrysanthemum plant. (Keep it off your skin, it loses its effectiveness!).
Light a citronella candle or use citronella bug spray to keep insects away from your patio space. Every summer I put 20 drops of citronella oil into a 4 oz mister and keep it on my patio table. One squirt will chase away bugs for a few minutes, but not really very long.
Avoid wearing bright clothing when you enter bee territory, lest you attract their attention as they seek out flowers. They love yellow!
Eat a clove or two of garlic a day about four days before an outdoor excursion. Once you begin to sweat, your skin gives off a garlic scent, and as you waft that, you repel the insects.
You can certainly try the coils, like the DEET coils or the lavender ones. I haven’t found either to be effective where I live though, many people swear by these.
Products containing citronella, lavender, peppermint and tea tree oil are quite popular and these make gentle, natural insect repellants. They are not as effective as DEET or picaridin (chemicals) so if you’re going into a dangerous area, or mosquito-infested zone (think West Nile) I’d personally make the commercial choice, but of course it’s up to you. I just want you to know that the commercial products are more effective, and while many people think they are unsafe, you have to weigh the risk to benefits.