Can Essential Oils Help Soothe Itchy Bug Bites?

Photographed by Caroline Tompkins.
'Tis the season to be decorated with bug bites and constantly fighting an itch. From mosquitos to horse flies, noseeums to ticks, bug bites can be miserable, especially if they're itchy. And it often feels like no matter what you do, the itch just can't be scratched.
As it turns out, itching bug bites often makes them worse, explains Meghan Feely, MD, FAAD a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor at Mount Sinai’s Department of Dermatology. When a mosquito bites your skin, histamine is released, which causes the itch, and your body sends immune cells to the location of the bite, she says. If you scratch it, you'll damage or irritate your skin further, which only intensifies the itch. This scenario is what Dr. Feely calls the "itch-scratch cycle."
The best way to stop the cycle and soothe your itchy bug bites is to use oral antihistamines and topical corticosteroids, Dr. Feely says. Icing bug bites or applying a cold compress can also decrease the inflammation sans medications, she adds. And if you're looking for another home remedy that's slightly more potent, you might consider using essential oils on your bug bites.
Lots of people use essential oils topically for sore muscles and various skin ailments. But with any essential oil, it's important to be somewhat cautious, because even though these oils are viewed as "natural," they're highly concentrated and could result in a reaction if they're not diluted with a carrier oil. And the last thing you'd want is to make your bug bites even more irritated. It's a good idea to talk to a board-certified dermatologist before trying any OTC or home treatment, Dr. Feely says — but especially if you're experimenting with essential oils.
Keeping those warnings in mind, here are the essential oils that could help calm itchy bug bites:

Tea Tree Oil

Some say that tea tree oil may ease the discomfort and itch associated with bug bites, as well as act as a repellent and antibacterial agent, Dr. Feely says. A study on canines showed that tea tree oil can be promising treatment for itching, too.


When applied to the skin, peppermint oil can help with headache pain, achy muscles, and of course, itches, according to the National Centre for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). As far as essential oils are concerned, peppermint oil tends to be on the potent side, so it's best to only use a few drops in a carrier.


German chamomile herb is often used topically, as a rub or ointment, for skin conditions that occur during cancer treatments, according to the NCCIH. Given its anti-inflammatory properties, chamomile could also calm your bug bites.


Be careful with lavender oil, because some people with sensitive skin may experience an allergic reaction to the calming essential oil. (On top of that, lavender oil is believed to be an endocrine-disruptor.) However, it's generally considered safe for topical use, and could reduce pain associated with bug bites.


Known for its cooling effect on the skin, eucalyptus oil contains chemicals substances that are supposed to relieve pain and reduce inflammation, according to MedlinePlus. But again, this essential oil has to be diluted if it's going to be applied directly to the skin, and it shouldn't be used on children.

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