The good news: Spring and summer mean longer days, poolside BBQs, and more outdoor workouts. The not-so-good news? Bugs are also buzzing about, so whether you’re biking, hiking, or just firing up the grill in the backyard, you risk being eaten alive by pesky insects.
Itching for some relief? Here are some natural (yet effective!) ways to soothe bug bites, plus proven tricks for keeping critters at bay.
First, Why Do Bug Bites Itch?
If you’ve ever had a patch of bug bites anywhere on your body, you know just how hard it is to resist scratching them. But why do mosquito bites itch in the first place?
As it turns out, it’s not the bug bite itself that causes the itching or redness, but rather your body’s response to it, explains Dr. Rajnish Jaiswal, M.D., assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at New York Medical College.
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“Once a mosquito bite occurs, the proteins in the mosquito’s saliva evoke an allergic reaction, a type of an inflammatory process,” Jaiswal explains. Your body activates its defenses, the hallmark of which is the release of histamine, which is what causes the intense itching and redness.
Why Do Bugs Bite Some People More Than Others?
Have you ever heard someone say “mosquitoes just love me!”? Or perhaps you’re the one who seems to get more bug bites than everyone else. Several factors, ranging from blood type to the color of clothing you wear, can influence how prone you are to being eaten up.
Here are a few things that affect how likely you are to get mosquito bites, according to Jaiswal:
- Blood type: Blood types O and AB have been shown to attract mosquitos.
- Metabolic rate and the amount of CO2 released: Insects use carbon dioxide (CO2) as a way to detect humans, meaning that we reveal ourselves to them with every exhale. The more CO2 you exhale, the more likely you are to get bitten. This means that when you’re huffing and puffing during an outdoor workout, you’re also a bug magnet!
- Sweat and body temperature: Insects can also detect body heat. The more body heat you release, the more likely you’ll attract them. If you run hot, they’ll be onto you.
- Clothing colors: Dark colors tend to invite bites, so skip those black yoga pants if you’re in an area with a lot of mosquitos.
Tips For Preventing Bug Bites
In most scenarios, bug bites are merely a nuisance and cause some itching and irritation—but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to prevent them!
While DEET is the most well-known insect repellant, some people prefer a chemical-free alternative to keeping bugs away.
According to Emily Wood, board-certified dermatologist with Westlake Dermatology in Austin, Texas, garlic, citronella, lemon, and eucalyptus can all help repel mosquitos. “Growing garlic or citronella in your garden can be helpful to deter mosquitoes,” Wood says. Experts also specifically recommend lemon and eucalyptus oils, which you can diffuse in your garden or on your patio to repel mosquitos.
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Protective clothing is another good option for preventing mosquito bites, Wood adds. Since mosquitoes can bite through tight-fitting clothes like yoga pants, light, looser-fitting clothes (think cotton or linen) make for a better first line of defense. If you’re venturing into a particularly buggy area, tuck your socks into your pants so you don’t leave your ankles exposed, she notes.
If you tend to hang outside in the spring or summer, Wood also recommends making sure you don’t have pooled water in your yard or still water in birdbaths, as that can attract mosquitos. Keep tall grass and weeds trimmed to prevent new mosquitoes from hatching, she adds.
You might also consider planting basil or citronella plants in your garden or backyard, as the plants can help repel mosquitos, Wood says.
How To Soothe Bug Bites Naturally
If you’ve got some itchy bug bites, there are a few all-natural, at-home remedies that you can try to soothe the itch.
- Cold compress: For immediate relief post-bite, try a cold compress, suggests Wood. Apply a cloth that’s dampened with cold water or filled with ice to the area of the bite for 10 to 20 minutes.
- Baking soda paste: Try dabbing the bite with a paste made of baking soda (which has anti-inflammatory properties) and water, says Dr. Enrizza Factor, M.D., a dermatologist at My Vitiligo Team. Just add water to a tablespoon of baking soda.
- Aloe Vera: You may have used aloe vera to soothe a sunburn before, but did you know it can also tame itching? The gel in aloe vera’s leaves contains salicylic acid, which helps ease itching, according to the Cleveland Clinic. You can apply it directly to your bites.
- Honey: An enzyme known as catalase that’s found in honey can provide relief for minor irritation. You can apply honey directly to your bite, and then cover with a bandage to prevent any sticky messes.
- Oatmeal: When oatmeal is turned into a fine powder (known as colloidal oatmeal) it can soothe your itchy skin, research has shown. Use a food processor or blender to grind oatmeal into a fine powder and then mix it with warm water to create a paste, the Cleveland Clinic recommends. Apply the paste to your mosquito bites.
The good news: As intensely annoying as they may be, bug bites should stop itching within a few days. Rarely do insect bites get infected, but should that be the case, Jaiswal recommends checking in with your doctor.