Learn how to maintain insect bites from itching

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There you are, on a long hike down the trail or chilling out with your friends during a camping trip, when you feel that telltale itch on your ankles, arms, legs or any other exposed part of your body. You’ve been attacked by bugs, probably mosquitoes, or even ticks or flies, and suddenly you can focus less on having fun and more on your itching and the skin reaction that’s likely to follow.

While you might appear prepped with bug repellent, you might still get bitten if you don’t reapply it carefully, especially if you’ve sweated profusely and put on sunscreen (good move). Luckily, there are ways to find relief, provided you have access to some common remedies.

Why do insect bites itch?

While bug bites aren’t an actual skin condition, a bite is essentially a localized allergic reaction in the skin, according to dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital. This is because after a bite, your skin develops inflammation and swelling, which translates into a red, itchy bump. Insect bites can cause further skin irritation if you give in to the urge to scratch them.

How can you treat bug bites?

Ignoring them probably won’t help much, even if you have the willpower not to scratch. To get rid of the itchy discomfort, you need to treat the bite. (Of course, it’s always good to try and prevent the bite in the first place with an appropriately applied insect repellent. Here are the best insect repellents.)

“When treating a bite, the goal is to reduce the inflammation as quickly as possible and do whatever it takes to repair the skin barrier,” says Dr. Illustrator. This can be done with various remedies, often in the form of over-the-counter medicated creams and lotions, or even homemade remedies.

5 ways to relieve itching from insect bites

hydrocortisone cream

“Over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream is a product of choice for bites because it helps reduce inflammation and relieve itching,” says Dr. Illustrator. Cortizone-10 is usually a good option, although you can usually find equally effective generics at your local drugstore. The tube is also small enough to easily carry in your hiking or camping backpack.

cold therapy

Applying a cold compress or ice pack is a simple and effective way to relieve itchy bug bites, says Dr. Illustrator

“The cold constricts blood vessels, which reduces inflammation in the skin,” he explains. No technique or fancy equipment required: just grab a washcloth and some ice from the freezer or cooler for quick relief.


Applying petroleum jelly (like petroleum jelly) is an easy way to relieve itching while you wait to treat bites more efficiently.

“It forms a protective layer over the skin that allows the barrier to repair itself, especially if you’ve scratched it,” explains Dr. Illustrator.

Colloidal Oatmeal

Colloidal oatmeal is a skin-protecting ingredient found in many moisturizers, although it shouldn’t be your first line of defense when you have other options, says Dr. Illustrator. It’s usually intended for people with eczema, as this balm from Aveeno calls it.

“Colloidal oatmeal has a calming effect that’s great for bug bites,” he says. “But while it can help, unfortunately it won’t relieve significant itchiness.”

Calamine lotion

Calamine lotion is an ideal solution for bug bites because it has soothing and anti-itch effects, says Dr. Illustrator. You can simply apply it to the affected area and let it dry to help the skin heal and prevent scratching.

Emilia Benton is a Houston-based freelance writer and editor.

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