Dermatologist Advice on How to Treat a Bug Bite
From stingy sunburns to miserable bug bites, it’s nearly impossible to get through a summer totally unscathed. My good luck streak recently ended when I was zapped in the ankle by a wasp on my front porch. After collecting advice from my Mom and Google, I asked Dr. Joshua Zeichner, Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City, for the best plan of action so that the pain, swelling, and redness dissipated ASAP.
Step 1. “If you get a bee or wasp sting, the first thing you want to do is see if the stinger is left in the skin,” says Zeichner. You can do this by gently rubbing your finger across your skin and looking for a small, dark thorn. If it is there, clean the area gently with rubbing alcohol and try to remove it with a clean pair of tweezers (firmly dragging a credit card across your skin works, too). The key is to scrape the stinger out instead of squeezing or pulling it, since doing so often results in getting more venom into your surrounding skin. If you can’t get it out easily, don’t dig at it. Apply a cold compress (wrap ice in a wash cloth) then visit your dermatologist.
Step 2: “If there is no stinger, apply ice right away to minimize swelling,” advises Zeichner. Leave it on for 10 minutes, then off for 10 and repeat until the discomfort subsides. “The skin reaction is essentially an allergy from the sting. You can put on an over the counter 1% hydrocortisone to reduce inflammation.”
Doctor’s orders: “If you have any difficulty breathing or swallowing, go directly to the emergency room because you may be experiencing a generalized allergic reaction,” warns Zeichner.
Step 3: “For common bug bites—large, itchy ones—ice can help calm them. Otherwise, apply cortisone ointment or calamine lotion to help relieve itching. If the itching is severe, visit your derm and ask for a prescription cortisone cream.”
Bonus: Some buzz-worthy products to help ward off future stings
Avon Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Picaridin Towelettes ($14 for 8 packets, avon.com) are mess-free and easy to travel with. Unfold the 9-inch, individually-wrapped towelette, which is loaded with Picaridin (a DEET alternative), then glide it across your skin.
Bull Frog Mosquito Coast Sunscreen + Insect Repellant Pump Spray SPF 30 ($9, target.com) does double duty to help protect your skin from the sun’s rays and bug bites. DEET and paraben-free, this formula is water resistant. Make sure to spray liberally onto skin (when the wind’s not blowing) to ensure an even application.
Dr. Fedorenko True Organic Bug Stick ($11 for 2 ounces, drfedorenko.com) is slim enough to fit your bag (so you’re never caught without it), plus it’s formulated with essential oils—clove, peppermint, lemongrass, and cedar—and without parabens, DEET, and synthetic colors or fragrance (making it a safe bet for those with sensitive skin). Rub on bite-prone skin spots.