Insect bites are ubiquitous in humid weather, and if you’ve spent the day trying not to scratch an itch that it can bring, you know that it can be an uphill battle. Doctors suggest keeping your hands off (just like you’re meant to do for acne or a rash) so the skin can heal by itself. But if leaving it be proves to be too difficult, we spoke to experts for a ready reckoner of what you can do to soothe the skin. Mumbai-based Dr Satish Bhatia’s first response? “Do not scratch!” as it can leave a scar, increase wound healing time and actually cause more inflammation in the area. “Itching them can lead to compromising the skin barrier which can cause immediate infection and leave lasting scars,” he confirms. Here’s what to do instead.
1) Try soothing the bites with a topical agent
“A mosquito bite is naturally itchy as the saliva of the insects contains anticoagulant and proteins, and when they enter the human blood stream, it triggers the body’s immune system. To counter this imminent threat, the body’s immune system releases histamines, and it is this action which causes itching, redness and swelling,” explains Dr Bhatia. “So, the best remedy is to wash the bitten area with soap and water and then apply calamine or an anti-itch lotion.” Other topicals like a hydrocortisone cream can reduce the stress response too—and fast.
2) Apply ice to the skin
“An ice pack on the bite can immediately calm the skin down too. The drop in temperature causes the dilated blood vessels to contract, thereby decreasing the inflammation,” he adds. The cold also numbs the skin, which can give you immediate but short-term relief.
3) Use essential oils
“You could also try a DIY remedy by applying a mix of lavender and tea tree oil on the affected areas. Because of their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory benefits, these oils work very well against bug bite discomforts,” Jhelum Biswas Bose, author Phoolproof, a Bach Flower consultant and aromatherapist.
4) Look for anti-inflammatory ingredients
Oatmeal can relieve itching and swelling because it contains avenanthramides that reduce redness and soothe the skin, so spackling it on the bite can help. Aloe vera works in a similar manner, as it can help to heal minor wounds or calm infections. Witch hazel, a popular astringent, can soothe the burning and speed up healing by improving the stress response. Even honey, a must-have in all skincare DIY recipes, is an ideal spot treatment for a bug bite—it prevents you from itching, and the anti-inflammatory and humectant properties of honey keep the area from feeling dry and uncomfortable without without letting outside moisture in and preventing infections in the process.
5) Prevent bug bites
In the case of bug bites, prevention definitely is better than cure. This is particularly so because mosquitos can be carriers of diseases like malaria. “Apply some bugs spray with DEET (look for N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide on the label). Any formulation with 10 to 20% concentration of DEET is safe and effective,” advises Dr Bhatia. Natural bug sprays that include citronella, lemon and eucalyptus oil can be helpful too.
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