Welcome to summer and all it entails: barbecues, hiking, evening walks—and bee stings and bug bites. Take heart: You don’t have to spend the entire season scratching. Many of the best anti-itch remedies are as close as your backyard, kitchen or local health-food store. No single remedy will work for everyone, so experiment to see what works best for you.
Treating Bug Bites with Natural Remedies
When bugs bite or sting, they deposit irritating saliva or venom into your skin, which can cause itching, pain and swelling. To stop the reaction, you need to neutralize the saliva or venom. Fortunately, several natural products are adept at doing just that.
Baking soda: One of the components of bee venom is formic acid. To neutralize the acid, apply a paste of alkaline baking soda to the sting. If you’re on vacation and don’t have access to baking soda, try toothpaste instead.
Calendula and chamomile: Herbal lotions or creams containing calendula or chamomile may help soothe bug bites or mild stings. Both have been shown to reduce inflammation and encourage healing. Calendula lotions can also help take the itch out of chigger bites.
Lavender and peppermint essential oils: These essential oils help disinfect bites and soothe itchy skin. In most cases, these oils are safe to apply directly to skin, but all essential oils are potentially irritating, so test them on a small patch of skin before applying liberally. If you find the oils too strong, add them to clay, olive oil or vegetable oil before applying.
Ice: Try applying ice to the bite or sting. Anecdotal evidence shows that this simple remedy may be the most effective at providing immediate relief.
Lemon: Lemon juice seems to stop the allergic reaction to bug saliva. Rub a piece of lemon on bug bites to soothe them.
Plantain: The herb plantain (not the banana-like fruit) is many herbalists’ favorite bite and sting remedy. It’s thought to pull the bug’s toxins out of the skin, and works particularly well for bee stings. To use plantain for a bite or sting, bruise the leaves by crushing or chewing them, then apply directly to the site for quick relief.
Vinegar: Wasp stings are the opposite of bee stings; they contain acetic acid, which leans toward the alkaline side of the pH scale. Dabbing acidic vinegar on the affected area may help neutralize the effects of a wasp sting.
Yellow onion: “The onion’s detoxifying sulphur compounds help neutralize the poison of the bite or venom of the sting, reducing inflammation,” says Andrea Candee, author of Gentle Healing for Baby & Child. Just slice open an onion and rub it on the bite. Repeat as often as necessary until itching stops.
(Don’t) Bite Me
One of the best ways to treat a bug bite is to prevent it. Keep bugs at bay by not attracting their attention.
• Don’t wear bright colors or floral prints. Opt for light- or neutral-colored clothing.
• Avoid the use of heavily perfumed personal care products such as soaps, shampoos and deodorants.
• If you are stung by a bee, leave the area immediately. When bees sting, they release a pheromone that signals other bees of danger and draws them to the area.
• If spending time in tall grass, wear long sleeves and tall boots. Tuck your pants into your socks.
• Because some chiggers wander around our bodies for hours before feeding, vigorously rub down your skin every half hour or rinse off after being outdoors to help prevent bites. Pay extra attention to armpits and the area under waistbands.