When friends warned me about the South and bugs, I really thought they were exaggerating. Unfortunately, they weren’t. Once summer began, there were bugs everywhere. I mean everywhere! And these were not just normal California bugs like I was familiar with. Bugs of every shape, color, and size decided to make their appearance, and it wasn’t long before I was scrambling to learn the best bug bite remedies that wouldn’t have harsh side effects.
At first, it was fun to learn about these new insects. However, the fun wore off fast when I realized I have an extreme reaction to bug bites. Not an emergency room type of reaction, thankfully. It is more of a rash, liquid oozing from the bites, swelling, and welts.
This resulted in a study of repellents and learning what I can do to prevent as many bites as possible because who needs to be covered with bug bites that become liquid-oozing welts? Read on for what I discovered.
Table of contents
Bug Bite Remedies for Mosquitoes
Let me start with mosquitos. Oh, how I despise them. You may have heard that some people attract mosquitos more than others. I am one of them. People made every suggestion to me, dryer sheets in my pockets, don’t wear perfume, add things to my diet, eliminate certain foods, and to use non-scented deodorant and hair products. I have heard and read them all. While most people don’t have the extreme reaction I did, or it may be in a lesser degree, bugs still bug, and for me, mosquitoes are the worst.
There are only so many ways to sidestep mosquitoes. One way is to dress in a way that much of your skin is covered. Light, long-sleeved shirts, pants, and loose-fitting clothes are the best way to go. Dark colored clothing attracts mosquitos. So, stick to light colors for your summer wardrobe. Wearing a light-colored hat could also prevent them from using your neck and face for a small snack.
Treat your clothing with permethrin (KBR 3023), a synthetic insect repellent, is one other layer of protection you can offer yourself. You can find clothing already treated with the chemical and you can just buy them off the rack, like this long-sleeve tee. If you treat your own clothes with a permethrin product, it will protect them for many washings. Check the labels on the clothes or information on the bottle to learn how long you can expect protection. Permethrin products were meant to be used on clothing only. Do not spray permethrin on your skin.
Use a Repellent
Another way to shield yourself is by using a repellent. After my desperate study on bugs and numerous trial and error, I concluded that DEET (N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide) will be my new perfume. I will usually try natural solutions before chemical, but none of those worked for me. DEET comes in different concentrations. So, when purchasing, look at the percentage of the ingredients to see how much of it is really DEET. For me, I purchase the 98% DEET repellent. It works the best and the longest. You can find Repel 100 Insect Repellent here. Sprays that contain DEET come in a variety of formulas that contain 5% to 100% of the chemical. This gives the wearer 1 ½ hour to 10 hours of protection.
Summer is a time of outdoor weddings, church gatherings, and family reunions. When I don’t want to smell like industrial strength repellent, or if I know that I won’t be outside for too long, I use a lemon eucalyptus natural insect repellent. It is the only natural bug repellent that has been tested and found to be almost as good at DEET. Don’t forget to reapply if you get wet or sweat for any of these bug bite remedies to be effective.
Wondering if DEET is safe? Read this most recent research and information from Consumer Reports.
The Right Way to Apply Bug Bite Remedies
Consumer Reports tested bug repellents and how they were applied. What they found was that correct application, along with use is vital. Here are their recommendations for application to protect you but avoid any eye and skin irritation.
- Apply repellent only to exposed skin or clothing (as directed on the product label). Never put it on under clothing.
- Use just enough to cover and only for as long as needed; heavier doses don’t work better and can increase risks. This applies to all bug bite remedies.
- Don’t apply repellents over cuts, wounds, or irritated skin. When applying to your face, spray first on your hands, then rub in, avoiding your eyes and mouth, and using sparingly around ears.
- Don’t let young children apply. Instead, put it on your own hands, then rub it on. Limit use on children’s hands because they often put their hands in their eyes and mouths.
- Don’t use near food, and wash hands after application and before eating or drinking.
- At the end of the day, wash treated skin with soap and water, and wash treated clothing in a separate wash before wearing again.
- If you’re planning to use repellents on your clothes, note that most of the ones we tested damaged leather and vinyl, and some of them stained synthetic fabrics. Wash repellent off your skin and launder treated clothes.
A Few Unusual Bug Bite Remedies
If you are in an apocalyptic situation where you are out of insect repellent and can’t get any more, what is your option? One is rancid alligator fat! I was shocked to learn this, too. It isn’t like I have a tub of this sitting on my shelf!
The Akokisa tribe of the Houston, Texas area would rub this greasy fat all over any exposed skin. The fat from raccoons, opossums, bears, or any other animal that was around, was also used by other tribes. For some reason, mosquitoes dislike rancid animal fat as much as we do! If I needed to, I would be willing to coat myself with rancid fat grease, that’s how much bug bites affect me!
Other natural ingredients that the Native American tribes used were camphor-type plants that would deter bugs. The main ones were citronella, basil, and lavender. An area of 100 feet in diameter could be cleared of biting insects when burning wands of these repellent plants. They could also be carried like a burning incense if you needed to walk somewhere. The oil from these plants can be made to cover the skin or hair.
Golden Seal roots (Hydrastis canadensis) were smashed into a pulp by the Cherokee Indians. They mixed it with bear fat and smeared it all over their body. Western Yarrow was also used as a repellent and a poultice for infected wounds. The Western Yarrow leaves were put on hot coals and then made into a smudge.
My favorite suggestion in a doomsday scenario is mud. Again, the American Indians used it for protection from mosquitoes. It is thought that the mud covered up any scent on the skin that attracted the mosquitos. Mud is usually easy to come by and would be quick and easy to apply.
TIP: If you are allergic, read about ways to think about how you would handle allergies in a SHTF scenario.
A Few Modern Methods to Repel Bugs
If your yard attracts bugs, consider having a barrier spray treatment done during bug season. These treatments offer a variety of sprays. Some are a broad-spectrum pesticide, or you can choose a natural repellent like garlic juice. These barriers can keep your yard free from mosquitoes, ticks, gnats, fleas, and other bugs away for about a month and act as another layer of protection for your various bug bite remedies.
Here are some other tips to keep yourself itch-free:
- Tuck your pants into your socks if you must walk in areas where they may be ticks. Avoid underbrush and tall grass. Cut your lawn short. Once indoors, do a full body check.
- Mosquitos love dawn and dusk. These are good times to stay indoors.
- Use a fan when cooking and serving food outdoors. The wind discourages mosquitos. In a power outage, you’ll need to have other preps and plans in place that you can learn about here.
- Planting scented marigold, geraniums, lemon thyme, tansy, citrosa plants, sweet basil and sassafras near your home may keep some bugs away.
- Mosquitos reproduce in standing water! Look for areas in the yard that would hold water. Like plastic pots, old tires, garbage cans, kiddie pools, clogged gutters, etc.
- Any ponds with fish will help with the mosquito population. They love to eat mosquito larvae. Good bugs that eat the irritating bugs are ladybugs, dragonflies, praying mantis, and spiders. Bats and birds too! Creating a landscape that attracts these beneficial insects is very helpful.
- Think yellow! Bugs aren’t attracted to yellow light bulbs.
All-natural Bug Bite Remedies
If you do get stung or bitten, you can try these natural remedies.
- Mix oatmeal with water to make a paste. Apply and rinse off after 10-20 minutes.
- Tea tree oil is wonderful for stings. Remove the stinger and softly rub the oil around the sting.
- Lavender oil can reduce itching and inflammation; Peppermint essential oil is another possibility if mixed with a carrier oil first.
- Ice, a cold damp rag, or a cold pack all have a cooling sensation that can switch brain signals from “Itchy!” to “Cold!”, as well as help with swelling and inflammation.
- Baking soda mixed with water forms a soothing paste. Remove the stinger, put on the baking soda paste, and cover until the pain has left.
- Yellow onion contains sulfur compounds, which can minimize bug bite itches. Slice the onion in half and rub the cut side over the bite. Refrigerate the leftover onion and make a new, fresh slice before reapplying.
- Vinegar helps all types of bug bites. Tape or wrap a soaked cotton ball over the bite and let it sit overnight.
- Aloe vera is another solution and is a mainstay of a natural medicine kit.
- Witch hazel is another option for easing the itching and discomfort of bug bites. Mix it with essential oils to make a spray to keep bugs away.
I have learned that I cannot avoid the bugs. Instead, I treat summer like some people treat snowy winters, I stay inside more. I do take full advantage of the other three seasons. But with some proper clothing, repellent, and timing, I can survive the outdoors, and so can you!
Originally published May 2, 2019; has been updated and revised.