Ah, the skin of summer – grubby feet, farmer’s tan lines, bruises and scrapes on little legs, and red, painful, swelling bumps – often which become scabby, nasty looking things on children.
Mosquito bites (or whatever the biting bug du jour is in your climate) are nearly inevitable and not any fun at all.
I understand that in our state of Michigan, the mosquito season is serious this year. I saw many advertisements in lake areas for companies that would spray your whole yard with insect-repelling chemicals (ick), but personally I’d rather take my chances with natural solutions.
A reader asked the question recently:
“Do you have a home remedy or natural remedy for mosquito bites?”
Of course with three kids, we have some ideas for that:
You bet! I like to use hydrated Redmond Clay (aff link on Amazon) myself, which you can do DIY by buying the dry clay or buy a ready-made tube, nice for on the go travel. (I’ve had bad luck with home-hydrated clay getting musty or moldy, perhaps because the jars I use aren’t 100% clean? I’d spring for the tube, personally. It lasts a looooong time!)
You can also go super simple and just make an “X” over the bite with your fingernail. It actually kind of works to make the itch go away! One or two of the natural insect repellants I tested can also be used as an itch reliever.
I shared the reader question on Facebook as well, and I can’t tell you how excited I am to now have this awesome list of remedies from the wise women in the KS audience – believe me, as helpful as this natural bug bite itch relief post might be for you, I’m really just collecting them all so I have an easy place to find them for the next mosquito attack!
The answers fell into five general categories of battle plan, from the scientific (usurping your body’s natural pain receptors) to the old-fashioned home remedies that seem as random as rainfall – but probably work! Ask your grandmother…
Tricking Pain Receptors to Overcome the Itch
A few people suggested utilizing one’s pain receptors to overcome the itch – basically overloading on minor pain so you don’t feel the itch anymore:
- Heat up a cup of water and dip a metal spoon in it. Touch the hot spoon to the bite. Supposedly it breaks down the stuff that make you itch. (not recommended for children)
- Hold a blow dryer over the spot until it heats up and gets painful (not burning, obviously). At first it will itch more, but once the pain receptors begin to take over, the itching is gone for hours. Often you only need to do this once or twice (hours apart) before the bite goes away completely.
Essential Oils on Bug Bites
Try one of the three essential oils KS readers suggested:
- Peppermint essential oil takes the swelling down right away and the itch disappeared too for me.
- I use either tea tree oil or lavender essential oil for bug bites.
- A dab of straight lavender essential oil works wonders! Takes away all itching.
- And for the DIYers out there, here’s a homemade anti-itch remedy using essential oils from Joy in My Kitchen.
Mountain Rose Herbs is a great place to get essential oils, and there are many different brands on Amazon of course…KS also recommends Plant Therapy.
Note: Anytime you’re using essential oils, do your research. Some are not recommended for children under two (like eucalyptus) or pregnant/nursing women (like peppermint) – just because they’re from plants doesn’t mean you can use them with abandon. Most of them need to be applied with a carrier oil, for example, not straight (called “neat” in the EO world).
EOs are powerful little treatments, but you need to know what you’re doing. This source was very eye-opening for me. Also, many people may have read to avoid lavender and tea tree oils, especially for boys, because they’re estrogenic. One of my favorite blogger researchers demonstrates that they’re not.
Plants and Herbs
If you fancy yourself an herbalist, backyard gardener or homesteader – or if you just want something you might be able to find in your own backyard for free – you’ll love this simple itch solution which also often reduce redness and swelling if you or your kids have a particularly rough reaction with insect bites.
- “We have issues with major swelling, redness and itching on our kids if they get a bite. What’s worked for us is a plantain salve.” (There are many options for purchase, including a few we have in our home from Rainwater Farms and both the Healthy Skin Salve and Creature Comfort from Graham Gardens, and of course there’s always something on Amazon, just be sure to check the other ingredients).
- Plantain weed grows all over (not the banana-like fruit from the grocery; see photo above), so you can probably find some and make your own salve with plantain infused oil, beeswax, and vitamin E (Google for recipes) or a poultice – just chew it or mash it and put the leaves directly on the inflamed insect bite. A reader says: “My son loves to find plantain, chew it up and stick it on bites himself. Plantain is a weed that grows just about anywhere and is free. No burning vinegar or hot spoons required and completely natural.” (Note: Hosta is also referred to as “plantain lily,” but this does not seem to be the medicinal herb.)
- More info and photos: 1, 2, 3, 4
Old School DIY Home Remedies
You’d be likely to find these natural remedies (or sometimes not so natural, but simple and quick nonetheless) circa 1950s and before or in a book about what your grandmothers did that still works. I love the variety, much of which you can find in your kitchen — in the words of the readers:
- My grandma used to meat tenderizer on bites.
- A trick I learned from an Indian momma — just make a paste with salt and rub it on. Works!
- Epsom salt can ease the symptoms of mosquito bites. Make a compress by soaking a washcloth in cold water that has been mixed with Epsom salt (2 tablespoons per cup of water), then gently apply to the bite area. Plus plenty of other (larger) uses for Epsom salts to ease summer ills, in case this doesn’t seem like it will use up a whole bag… 😉
- We make a paste out of water and baking soda. Works great!
- White vinegar, provided you haven’t scratched it open. I still use it even then… LOL probably about the pain receptors!
- A dab of clear fingernail polish.
- A dab of toothpaste. We don’t have the “natural” kind, but it works fine.
- We use plain old ice (or an ice pack). Reduces swelling and numbs the nerves to stop the itching.
- An ace wrap compresses and eases itching.
- Witch hazel (on Amazon, but I’d check the dollar store!) for redness and swelling.
- Don’t forget just trying that “X” over the bite with a fingernail. It’s quick if nothing else!
- UPDATES included below from comments:
- Plain black tea bags (wet on the bite)
- Diatomaceous earth (made into a paste)
- At least two mentioned apple cider vinegar
- Dab of lemon juice
- Rubbing alcohol
- Rub any dry bar of soap over area inflamed
- One reader says add some spit to the “X” trick!
- This one is purported to stop even nasty chigger bite itches!
In a clean bottle (I use an empty witch hazel bottle):
– one part witch hazel
– one part mint mouthwash (the real kind with menthol and other natural ingredients, NOT the one with the chemical ingredients…you can make your own if you want)
– one part water
– any and all of the essential oils for soothing (lavender), antiseptic (tea tree), and healing that you have on hand in whatever quantity makes sense to you.Shake well, rub in well with cotton balls. Relief is in seconds. Carry a small bottle with you and apply as often as needed.
- For sleep and just a few fire ant bites, put a bit of fluff from a cotton ball in a bandaid (get enough stuck in the adhesive so it can’t fall out) put it over the bite, soak cotton (use an eye dropper if you have one) with the above solution or just plain ACV.
Common but Questionable on the “Natural” Scale
When I was a kid, the only thing I remember for itchy bug bite relief was the pink stuff – you know that snazzy look with pink dots all over your legs and arms? Rock on, 1980s.
The question is this: Is calamine lotion a natural enough solution to the itches of summer? It comes in “clear” now, so the beauty hazard is erased…are there any health hazards?
Main Ingredients in Calamine Lotion
The active ingredients include zinc oxide, less than 1% iron oxide, and often pramoxine HCl.
The zinc oxide is not a concern to me at all; it’s my favorite main ingredient in natural sunscreens and is rated safe even for infants under 6 months old. Iron oxide also is not a huge concern, especially in tiny quantities.
It’s the pramoxine HCl that I needed to look up.
“Pramoxine is in a class of medications called topical anesthetics. It works by stopping nerves from sending pain signals.” (source)
Generally pramoxine HCl doesn’t have a lot of side effects or warnings, but it is related to or often used in conjunction with corticosteroids, which are definitely a risk for pregnant women. Both have unknown impacts on breastmilk for nursing moms. Pramoxine is not recommended for children under 2 years old (which could mean it’s less than safe or simply that it hasn’t been tested – the FDA is more cautious with that age group, FYI).
How about Caladryl?
The most commonly known calamine lotion is Caladryl, and in fact, like Kleenex and Scotch tape, it’s nearly taken over the linguistic market. Here are the active ingredients:
Caladryl lotion contains Calamine 8% (skin protectant) and Pramoxine HCl 1% (Topical Analgesic) while Caladryl Clear contains Zinc Acetate 0.1% and Pramoxine HCI 1% (Topical Analgesic). (from the Calydryl website)
The site also says it’s only approved for children ages 2 and up and to apply no more than 3-4 times daily.
SD alcohol 38-B, camphor, diazolidinyl urea, fragrance, hypromellose, methylparaben, polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, propylparaben, purified water, xanthan gum
Diazolidinyl urea was on a list of top 10 ingredients to avoid in personal products that I memorized five years ago when I first started my green journey, so it always stands out to me as a warning sign, and two different kinds of parabens, a known endocrine disruptor? Now I’m finished with Caladryl. No need to go further.
Other brands of the pink stuff may have cleaner “other” ingredients, so you’ll have to read labels to find out.
For example, one on-the-way-to-being-natural brand is Aveeno, and they have an Anti-Itch Concentrated Lotion on Amazon. Here are the ingredients:
Active Ingredients: Calamine 3%, Pramoxine HCL 1%
Inactive Ingredients: Water, Glycerin, Disearyldimonium Chloride, Petrolatum, Isopropyl Palmitate, Cetyl Alcohol, Dimethicone, Camphor, Avena sativa (oat) kernel flour, Sodium Chloride.
You can quickly see that the active ingredients are similar compared to the pink Caladryl, although a lesser percentage of calamine itself. The inactive ingredients, although neither entirely natural or ideal, are missing some of the key problems I identified in the Caladryl brand. Petroleum jelly (petrolatum) is of course oil-based, a non-renewable resource and can be clogging to the skin, but it’s not the worst thing in the world.
The interesting part about calamine is that there have never been any studies to show that it does much of anything, so the companies can’t make many claims on the bottle because of it. But like many old-school remedies, grandmothers everywhere will tell you what’s up.
In general, the only people who suffer any obvious reaction from calamine lotion are those who are allergic to an ingredient. It doesn’t have any real side effects to speak of.
Bottom line: Would I bother? Only if I needed something found at a local pharmacy and I’d already exhausted all the other natural remedies above on my itchy bug bites – and then I’d go with Aveeno or something similar, not Caladryl.
One last common mosquito bite relief recommendation is a styptic pencil (found on Amazon), usually used to stop bleeding while shaving or whenever. Folks say to moisten it and rub on the bite, that it works great and is inexpensive. But is it safe? Here’s the scoop:
- The active ingredient in a styptic pencil is either aluminum sulfate or alum, depending on your source, and maybe they’re the same thing in the long run (?).
- The aluminum, something I try to avoid in all personal products and cooking, is the key ingredient to stop the bleeding by constricting blood flow.
- Other ingredients might include alcohol and titanium dioxide, neither of which would set off my “unsafe” sensors, but I’m not crazy about the aluminum if there are other options that are equally as effective.
If you’ve tried any of these and found them to be entirely ineffective, we’d love to hear that, too…thanks!!
Other Natural Insect Issues and Solutions
Mosquitoes aren’t the only annoying little buggers out there to content with. We’ve got some more solutions for you here at KS:
- Natural Ant Killers (great for those little “sugar ants” that invade your kitchen!)
- Get Rid of a Wasp Nest Naturally (you’ll love what my commando husband did on a 95-degree day!)
- 10 Brands of Natural Insect Repellent Reviewed (got any more ideas for us?)
- Homemade Natural Insect Repellents
- Get Rid of Fruit Flies, Fast!
- Homemade Natural Insect Repellents
And be sure to Follow me on Pinterest for more natural health and real food goodies!