Bug Bite Relief: what Works (And what Doesnt)

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Summer often means more time outdoors (woo!). But trips to the lake, mountain hikes, barbecues, and stargazing all have one thing in common: bug bites, and the painful, itchy, swollen reactions that come with them.

While there are a lot of products that promise to ease your suffering, it’s hard to know what will actually do the trick. We tried 11 different bug bite relief products to see what works and what really doesn’t, so you can quit scratching and get back to summer fun.

Our testing process

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In some cases, we got different feedback from different testers on the same product — meaning some liked it, and some weren’t as impressed. In those cases, we made sure to include all feedback in our review.

What works best for you will likely depend on your preferences and body chemistry, but these 11 picks should give you a place to start.

What we tested

Bite Away
  • Price: $$$
  • Pros: chemical-free and doesn’t leave residue
  • Cons: hot

“Yes, there’s evidence out there that heat can offer itch relief, but this thing was way too hot. I pressed the on button as I put it to my skin and waited, only to yelp when the heat kicked in. It almost felt like being stung by a bee. “I even made a friend try it to make sure I wasn’t just being a baby, and he yelped just like I did! I’m sure it’s harmless, but the sting wasn’t worth the potential benefits. I’d also definitely avoid using this on little kids.” — Jamey Powell, ishonest editor

Bug Bite Thing

This “As Seen On TV” device uses suction to draw out the insect saliva or venom, alleviating the itchy, swollen pain they cause. That means that, instead of treating the symptoms alone, the Bug Bite Thing (like Bite Away) actually addresses the cause of those symptoms.

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To use the device, place it over the bite, handles down. Slowly pull the handles up until you feel suction. Hold for 10 to 20 seconds, then release suction by pushing down.

“The design of this little tool is well-thought-out. The cap is reversible to accommodate bites on smaller parts of the body, and I’ve actually used the smaller size successfully on a few splinters. Plus, since it’s removable, you can wash it off between uses (just don’t get the pump part wet). The handle is also designed to flick off any stingers that may be left in the skin.“This simple tool works well, but it’s a little fiddly, and it took a few tries to get the hang of it. Once you know what you’re doing, it’s a great way to manage bug bites.” — Timmons

“I wanted to love the Bug Bite Thing — brand points for keeping it real with the name — but it wasn’t a winner for me. It’s a manual suction tool that claims to suck out insect venom and saliva (ew!) from under the skin. However, the packaging says to use immediately after a bite or sting, and they’re not kidding.“Although I weirdly enjoyed the sensation of suctioning a day-old bite on my calf, I didn’t feel any itch-relief, which is a bummer. I’m not often aware I’m being attacked by bloodsuckers until a day later.” — Powell

EiR NYC Bite Tamer

EiR Bite Tamer is a roll-on itch reliever designed to offer immediate relief from itchy bites. A blend of castor oil, camphor bark, tea tree oil, and copaiba, among other ingredients, offers soothing properties and gives it a minty, herbal fragrance.

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“I used this on a mosquito bite on the top of my foot, and, while it didn’t make the bite heal any faster, it did make quick work of the itch and even reduced the swelling. Plus, I really love the scent, so I have no problem rolling this on whenever I start idly scratching.” — Timmons

“I prefer using natural, eco-friendly products whenever possible, so this product gets points from me in those categories. I like that most of the ingredients are organic, and the packaging is mostly glass (with a plastic cap). It also has a really nice herbal smell.“Some ingredients are meant to reduce inflammation, and I do feel like it made my swelling go down. However, it doesn’t help with the itchiness as much as I’d hoped.” — Chelsea Logan, ishonest editor

Plant Therapy Itch Away KidSafe Essential Oil

This is another anti-itch roll-on made with a mix of pure essential oils, including copaiba, lavender, spearmint, patchouli, and more. The oils are all designated as “kid safe,” with a safety data sheet explaining all safety information and potential sensitivities.

“I’m a sucker for great fragrances, and this one is really nice: sweet and lightly floral with a little spice. It’s a nice bonus that it’s also an itch- relieving product.“While Itch Away is intended for kids ages 2 to 10, I find it useful for relieving the itch of my own bug bites. And I’m not the only one — of more than 700 reviews about this product on the Plant Therapy website, a good number are adults who are happily using it themselves.” — Timmons

Aveeno Soothing Bath Treatment
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This colloidal oatmeal bath treatment is made to soothe the pain and itchiness associated with sunburn, rash, eczema, and, you guessed it, bug bites.

Gentle and fragrance free, the bath could be just what you need if you’re dealing with more than an isolated bite or two.

“I’m a big fan of baths to begin with, but anytime I have a rash or bug bite, I lean into colloidal oat baths. They’re so soothing and calming. “The only drawback (which is true for most hot baths) is that it can be dehydrating afterward, so I like to drink a big glass of water after I dry off.” — Jen Anderson, ishonest copy editor

Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Cooling Spray

This is a cooling anti-itch spray designed to begin working on contact. The formula includes a diphenhydramine topical analgesic and a zinc acetate skin protectant for quick relief.

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Some online reviewers note that the spray works well to relieve itch, but it leaves a sticky film behind.

“I am mosquito caviar, and this product is *essential* to survive summer. I love it, because you don’t actually have to touch your bug bite to apply it. And the relief is almost instant. A few sprays replaces inflamed, itchy agony with cool relief.” — Ashley Sepanski, Greatist editor

Benadryl Extra Strength Itch Stopping Gel

Benadryl’s gel version offers similar relief from itching and swelling. It’s transparent and lightweight, leaving behind a mild shine but minimal to no stickiness if you apply it sparingly.

Note that the formula does contain parabens, if those are something you avoid. It shouldn’t be applied more than four times per day.

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“This works well. I’ve used it on mosquito bites, poison oak, and bedbug bites (ew!). I like that it doesn’t show on the skin and doesn’t smell strong.” — Maggie Brown, ishonest Content Operations Manager

“I wouldn’t say this product doesn’t work, but it’s much less effective than the spray. I find it very counterproductive to have to apply this manually, and rubbing the gel onto a bite really decreases the cooling effect. “It’s mosquito bite rule No. 1: Even though it takes a Herculean effort, you need to leave bites alone. More scratching equals more itching, and for sensitive folks like me, even just touching a bug bite can bring on a wave of itchiness. Save yourself from scratching your skin into scabby wounds and go with the ‘hands free’ spray option.” — Sepanski

Cortizone 10 1% Hydrocortisone Anti-Itch Creme – Intensive Healing Formula

Hydrocortisone meets chamomile and vitamins A, C, and E in this creamy formula, which is made to soothe itchy skin related to bug bites, poison ivy, and plain dry skin. According to the manufacturer, this is the strongest itch-relief medication you can buy without a prescription.

While online reviews were generally positive, our personal experience is mixed.

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“This works well, and I like that it doesn’t show on the skin.” — Brown

“On mosquito bites with allergic reaction, this didn’t really stop the itching, no matter how thoroughly I covered a bite.” — Candice Abellon, ishonest editor

Prescription hydrocortisone cream, 2.5%

For a stronger hydrocortisone cream, you’ll need a prescription from your doctor. A 2.5 percent strength topical steroid cream can be used to treat inflammation and itching, which makes it effective if your bug bites get really swollen.

“I’ve found this strength to be more effective than over-the-counter options. A major drawback is, of course, access. In the United States, you need a prescription through a doctor. The other ingredients are typically petrolatum and mineral oil. “You can use it on hives, mosquito bites, and spider bites. This has worked well for me as someone whose bug bites tend to swell up.” — Abellon

Gold Bond Pain & Itch Relief Cream with 4% Lidocaine
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Lidocaine is a topical antiseptic with a mild numbing effect, and that’s the role it plays in this lotion. The steroid-free formula can be used to soothe minor burns and scrapes, insect bites, and even sunburn.

“It soothes and works quickly — the mosquitoes are bad this 2021 camping season!” — Abellon

Badger After-Bug Balm

This is an effective itch reliever made with organic ingredients — think: colloidal oatmeal, beeswax, sunflower oil, coconut oil, castor oil, and several essential oils.

The gentle balm doubles as a natural bug repellent, and the stick applicator is convenient.

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“Mosquitos love me, and my body hates them — I swell up a ton any time I get bit. This doesn’t really do anything for swelling, but it’s my go-to product for itchiness. I like that it’s made with natural ingredients, and it’s USDA certified organic. “Another bonus is that, since it’s a solid stick, it doesn’t take up space in your liquids bag when you fly. It also isn’t as messy or sticky as some other products (no waiting for it to dry).” — Logan

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