Sandals, sunglasses... bug bites? It's a rare soul who doesn't have to deal with this pesky summer accessory. To help readers stave off an insanely itchy experience, we sleuthed out some solid anti-itch, mosquito bite-soothing picks. Here, a few highly-rated products, some DIY home remedies and who-the-heck-knew truths to help you better cope this season.
First, some fun facts about mosquito bites...
1. Bizarrely, bites are a souvenir left behind by female mosquitoes. Most subside on plant materials like nectar, but when it's time for females to lay their eggs, they need protein (aka your blood) to survive.
2. After she bites you, the female mosquito injects her saliva into your skin, this concoction helps her more rapidly gulp down the red stuff. Your immune system is instantly annoyed, then goes into attack mode interpreting her spit as a foreign substance in your body. In response, it produces symptom-causing histamine, ultimately spurring a chain of events that results in an itchy red welt on your skin.
Two reasons why scratching isn't a wise move
Scratching causes more inflammation, say experts, irritating the area. Not only will this intensify the affected skin, it can hinder the healing process, making it take even longer to go away. Plus, scratching the area can boost your risk of breaking your skin, so you could wind up with an infection.
Three Itch-Sucking All Stars
To quell the itch and burn of mosquito bites, many consumers rely on over-the-counter products. Unfortunately, the inventory can be overwhelming to many shoppers. To help you dodge a dud, we poured over reviews. Some standouts:
1. Burt's Bees Bug Bite Relief (Est. $6 per stick)
Reviewers at Buzillions.com and Drugstore.com enthusiastically recommend this product, which contains a blend of all-natural oils like tea tree, lemongrass and lavender. At Buzillions, this chap-stick-like product receives 4.1 stars out of a possible five, with the majority of the 43 reviewers raving about the product. Mosquitoes aside, users say it can help soothe the itch and burn from other insect bites like fire ants, fleas and flies, too. Most of the 43 reviewers at Drugstore.com praise the product's compact size and all-natural ingredients. Several even say using the Burt's Bees stick initially after the bite significantly reduced the redness and swelling of the site -- in some cases as quickly as the next day. Though some users describe its natural smell as "funky" and say its waxy texture can be tricky to use, it's still an overwhelming hit.
2. Aveeno's Maximum Strength Anti-Itch Cream 1% Hydrocortisone (Est. $6 per tube)
Most of the 23 reviewers at Drugstore.com say this Aveeno product, which contains aloe vera, beeswax and oat kernel flour, can quickly quell an itch. Here, this general skin soother receives 4.5 out of five stars. Users say they appreciate its lightweight texture and say it can also aid individuals with eczema, hives and psoriasis.
3. After Bite - The Itch Eraser Original Formula (Est. $4 per tube)
Repeated reviewers at Walgreens.com and Buzillions.com rave about this product. Users at Drugstore.com also agree saying this product is tops in its field, since it can be used on a number of insect stings and bites (flies, fleas, bees and more). After Bite's primary ingredient is ammonia, a fact that users say prompts the product to smell strong and can cause the treated area to sting when applied. Still, most users say this product, which comes in an easy to use pen-like applicator, provides rapid relief. It's also easy to tote during travel. In addition to soothing the skin, some users at Buzillions.com also claim After Bite can speed the healing of bites, making them go away much faster.
Not into any of the above options? Here are some über-basic alternatives....
Ice: Applied immediately after the bite, experts say this strategy can reduce inflammation, slightly lowering the bite's long term itch intensity. Ice can also numb the skin, to stop pesky itchiness.
Antacids: According to Prevention, products like Alka-Seltzer contain aspirin, an anesthetic that can help zap the itch. They recommend making a paste with a crushed Antacid tablet and water and applying it to soothe the skin.
Heat: As strange as it may sound, hot water can eliminate the itch for up to three hours. That's right, according to the book, Best Choices From the People's Pharmacy, exposing a bite to hot water (roughly 120 degrees Farenheit -- hot enough to be uncomfortable but not burn the skin) for a second or two (until you feel a slight sting) can "short circuit" the itch reflex. In other words, the nerve network in the skin gets so overloaded by the heat stimulus, the urge to scratch is abolished for up to three hours. Having tried this, I can attest that it does actually work.
For more skin-soothing advice, check out our reports on the best facial moisturizers, insect repellants and sunscreens.