Summer Survival Guide

How to Deal
With Bugs

Bug bite prevention and treatment

They are essentially summer’s worst party crashers. Bugs of all kinds are always showing up uninvited, annoying and harassing everyone. They take drinks without asking and often leave a mess when they depart. That mess can be anything from a red bump to an inflamed itchy and painful rash, let alone an actual stinger stuck in your skin that you're now forced to deal with.

The bad news is that mosquitoes really are targeting us. “It's very striking how good mosquitoes are at detecting us,” says Diego Giraldo, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins and co-author of a study that characterizes human odor profiles that attract the little blood suckers. Further research discovered that mosquitoes are also drawn to certain colors—they love red and black, researchers found. But they tend to dislike white and green.

The good news is that there's plenty you can do to keep the bugs away so they don't ruin your time outdoors this summer. And when you do, inevitably, get a bite or sting, you can minimize the damage by treating it quickly and regularly to shorten the suffering time.

Bug bite prevention and treatment


When it comes to keeping mosquitoes and even flies and ticks at bay, experts agree that DEET insect repellant is your best bet. As you may know, it has a powerful reputation, but multiple studies have shown that DEET is safe for humans to use topically. If you want to avoid inhaling the spray or getting it in your eyes or mouth, try spraying the repellant into your hands and rubbing it on rather than spraying it directly onto your face or arms. Natural repellents like lemon eucalyptus oil have also been shown to work, but they're much less effective and must be reapplied more often.

Cutter Dry insect repellent

Packed with 25% DEET, this repellent has that classic bug spray chemical smell, but it's mild and this version is the least greasy texture of all the DEET sprays we tried.

Dry insect repellent,
$7.30 / $3.42 by Cutter

Murphy's Naturals Natural insect repellent

For effective plant-based protection, this spray is made from 30% lemon eucalyptus essential oil, distilled water and corn-based alcohol. It smells great and won't harm your clothes or gear.

Natural insect repellent,
$21.99 / $19.98 (for two) by Murphy's Naturals

Proven DEET alternative repellent

This spray uses a 20% Picaridin formula. The active ingredient (derived from pepper plants) is one of the best DEET-free options for repelling bugs, including ticks and flies. It's also odorless and not greasy, making it an effective and easy choice.

DEET alternative repellent,
$17.99 / $14.99 by Proven

Treat a Bite

Start with ice. Apply an icepack to the bite or sting for five-to-15 minutes to decrease the body's natural histamine release and constrict swollen blood vessels in the area. Another home remedy doctors recommend is to apply meat tenderizer on mosquito bites, bee and wasp stings, or nonpoisonous spider bites. Tea tree oil can help with inflammation and itching. Also, for any bite or sting, you can apply hydrocortisone (for itching and inflammation) and take an oral anti-histamine like Benadryl. Both will shorten the lifespan of the bite while also minimizing any discomfort.

Wasps and hornets have smooth stingers and rarely lose them in the skin of the person they sting. Bees have barbed stingers, so the stinger is usually found in your skin. Remove it quickly by scraping it off with a credit card so as not to squeeze the venom sac.

Cortizone 10 Anti-itch liquid with aloe

This fast-acting blotter applicator bottle dispenses hydrocortisone and skin-soothing aloe with precision and no mess. It's cooling and quick-drying and doesn't have any odor.

Anti-itch liquid with aloe,
$7.49 by Cortizone 10

Plant Therapy Organic tea tree oil

This highly-effective oil is steam distilled from Melaleuca alternifolia leaves, a plant only found in Australia, producing a USDA-certified organic raw essential oil without any additives.

Organic tea tree oil,
$11.05 by Plant Therapy

McCormick Meat tenderizer

Meat tenderizer contains papain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins. But papain can also break down toxins from bug bites and cut back on itching. Mix with water, rub the paste on the area, and let it sit for 10 minutes.

Meat tenderizer,
$5.36 by McCormick

Mom Was Right:
Don’t Scratch

When you scratch, you ignite immune-system messenger proteins at the site, which intensifies the itch. And, according to Vreeman, scratching definitely makes bites look worse as the irritation can cause more redness and swelling or lead to an infection. An old camp trick that does work? Hold an ice cube (or chilled can) on the bite, which slows the body's chemical signals at the site.

Citronella Candles

Some people might not care for it, but I've always been somewhat partial to the sweet, citrusy scent. Of course, the fragrance masters at Diptyque thought they could do it one better. Their version blends lemongrass with rich verbena and sweet orange blossom for a sophisticated and bright smell that fills a room (or back patio). And bonus, this will actually repel those annoying mosquitoes, too.

$74 by Diptyque


Only female mosquitos bite humans and animals. Males typically feed on nectar and plant juices.