How to Treat Bug Bites
Answers to More Pest(ering) Questions
Why Do Some People Get Bitten More Than Others?
Researchers have found that your kairomones—the odors your body produces—have a lot to do with how attractive you are to bugs.
“Humans can’t detect these scents, but mosquitoes can identify them from 50 meters away,” says Missy Henriksen, the vice president
of public affairs for the National Pest Management Association, in Fairfax, Virginia. Mosquitoes tend to like the scents of
lactic acid and sweat, which are emitted through the skin, says Richard Lampman, a medical entomologist at the Illinois Natural
History Survey Prairie Research Institute, in Champaign. The type and the amount of odor that you give off are largely determined
by genetics, says Henriksen. Other factors that can affect how tasty mosquitoes find you include how much carbon dioxide you
exhale and how much infrared energy (heat) your skin gives off.
What’s the Best Bug Repellent?
“The chemical DEET is the gold standard,” says Henriksen. Some groups have raised health concerns about DEET, but in the more
than 50 years that it has been studied, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported only rare cases of complications
with extreme overuse of the chemical. Most experts agree that when used according to the product directions, DEET is safe
for adults. (It is not recommended for use on babies under two months old.) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
also recommend products with the nontoxic chemical picaridin and/or the biopesticide IR3535 (such as Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug
Guard Plus Expedition SPF 30, $16, avon.com).
Are There More Natural Products That Deter Bugs?
Yes, certain oils may help. A 2002 New England Journal of Medicine study found that all-natural Bite Blocker Xtreme ($8.50, drugstore.com), with soybean oil, may be as effective as chemical-based repellents. Other options include neem oil, which research suggests
is a good mosquito repellent, and oil of lemon eucalyptus. Products that contain both can be found at health-food stores.
The old standby citronella oil can also keep bugs at bay, but to a lesser degree.
What’s Prime Bug-Biting Hour?
It depends on the bug. Mosquitoes tend to be most active around dawn and dusk. (Interesting fact: Only the females bite, because they must digest blood to make eggs.) Bees, wasps, and many biting flies are at their peak midday, during the warmest, sunniest hours. Ticks bite any time of the day or night, because they’re looking for a meal. Spiders bite only when they feel threatened. —Jenny Brown