Did you have a fun long weekend? Cottage or Camping? Still hungover? Can’t do anything about that, but if, as a city dweller, you forgot your bug repellant, I’m here to help. I have conducted a lengthy and very un-scientific experiment to bring you the best tried-and-true remedies for torturous, itchy bug-bites (even bites on top of bites). Originally, I was going to base this article on an experience during which my flip-flop wearing feet got nuked by cottage country monster mosquitoes. They looked like someone had taken a shotgun to them and even weeks later I was still scratching like mad. My roommate had recently returned from a cottage where she’d proven she’s a city-girl and can’t be bothered with “OFF” providing a good occasion for me to test various remedies on recently acquired bites. Ironically enough, I also got bitten as I was writing this article on my balcony. This was the perfect opportunity to follow my own advice, for once. From natural options to over-the-counter creams and lotions, even which pills to pop, relief is coming.
Frozen water is not just meant for chilling beer. It will numb the itch instantly and this miracle product is featured abundantly during summer. Pharmacist Diana Baek recommends a cold compress, depending on your level of discomfort. Unfortunately, the relief doesn’t last very long. Another potential downside is that ice can be problematic to carry around in a bag.
2. Cucumber slices
Usually encountered in photos of relaxed spa-goers or in salads, these unassuming veggies work like a Swiss clock. I was having lunch with friends, I had forgotten any portable itch relief and the ice was melting way too fast in the scorching sun. “Are you going to eat those?” I asked, pointing to the cucumber slices. “Knock yourself out!” came the reply. After applying them to the aching skin on my feet, I lifted my head from under the table to find confused looks: “You know you don’t have to hide to eat them, right?” Sometimes weird ideas are the best, because now I use cucumber slices on my skin more than in my salads. They don’t melt and the relief is less shocking than ice. It is by far my favourite natural remedy! It may offer some beauty benefits too, but my feet are pretty enough, thank you very much.
3. Commercially Available After-Bite Products
Straightforward, yes, and effective, depending on the ingredients. Some contain alcohols (don’t get any funny ideas – if you do, see end of point 4), menthol-based oils or even baking soda! They start working quickly and provide 2-4 hours of relief. My pharmacist recommends an OTC 0.5% Hydrocortisone cream, a mild steroid cream, which actually reduces inflammation, whereas the other products just cool down or numb the skin. While I trust science on this one, my roommate swears by the “After-Bite Itch Eraser”, but she also believes only liquid-gel Advil capsules can cure her head-aches. To each their own. The pharmacist also advised to stay away from topical Benadryl, since it may have a skin sensitizing effect. The last thing you want is for your aching skin to become even more sensitive!
4. Reactine (Anti-histamines)
Most of us suffer from some sort of allergy, which is an overzealous attempt by the body to defend itself against mostly un-deadly substances, such as pollen, bee venom or mosquito saliva. It does so by releasing disproportionately large amounts of – you guessed it – histamines. Antihistamines can provide much more effective relief than topical products, because they block the release of itch-inducing chemicals, rather than trying to calm the skin locally. While most of us are not allergic to mosquitoes, I compared my bites to Google images of allergy sufferers (so you don’t have to) and was quickly convinced that I dodged a bullet in this category. If in doubt, do the sensible thing and ask your GP or pharmacist, not Dr. Google. You can also call Telehealth Ontario (http://www.ontario.ca/page/get-medical-advice-telehealth-ontario), where registered nurses answer your frantic questions and connect you to Poison Control if you happened to accidentally spray scalp lotion into your nose *ahem*. I bet you the nurses have more idiotic stories, so don’t be afraid to ask.
5. Calamine Lotion
Gentle and effective, it can a bit awkward to apply the pink liquid that dries to a chalky finish. Not to be used during a date, unless you’re one of those people who likes to impress with their weirdness. I keep a bottle in the fridge, next to a bottle of wine, so I always know where to find it, and apply it with cotton pads. A much more convenient option is a calamine-containing skin lotion, such as Aveno’s Anti-Itch Lotion. My personal favourite, hands down.
6. Mindfulness Meditation
Let the pain exist. Focus on your breathing. Realize that this shall pass. Fuck it, doesn’t work for itching.
Winning Combination (pharmacist approved): Pop a Reactine, cool down the site with ice or cucumber for instant relief, pat skin dry and apply your favourite after-bite product, ideally, the hydrocortisone cream. There, there, all better, right? You’re good to go.