How Not To Be Bug Food This Summer

Even if you don’t live in a perpetual swamp like I do, you should be wary of bug bites.

I’m not bothered or grossed out by bugs, but bug bites are no joke. Come warmer, swampier weather, mosquitos, gnats, and ticks are out in full effect. Not only are bug bites itchy, painful, and unpleasant to look at, they have the potential to carry some serious diseases.

Here in Mississippi, we routinely report some of the highest number of cases of West Nile Virus each year, so I’m extra careful about bug repellant and protection. Even if you don’t live in a perpetual swamp like I do, you should be wary of bug bites. Here are some of my bug-repelling tips.

Use--And Reuse--Bug Repellant

Living inside of a mosquito net 24/7 would be ideal, but isn’t particularly practical. That’s where bug repellant sprays come into play. Inexpensive bug repellants from your local drugstore are a great option. Off! brand formulas are solid, and I’ve been using them since I was a kid.

Off! Family Care Insect Repellent is unscented and lasts up to two hours. (Most bug repellants will need to be reapplied every couple hours.) This pump spray comes is made with 7% DEET, plus aloe vera, which makes your skin feel soft rather than greasy, and works to repel flies, mosquitos, ticks, and chiggers. This is a great-spray for everyday use.

On days when I’m hiking, floating down a river, or otherwise adventuring, I turn to something more serious. Cutter Backwoods Insect Repellant is the long-wear lip stain of bug repellants. This stuff lasts up to 10 hours (though I still try and respray every 4-5 hours, just to be safe and also because I sweat a lot) and contains 25% DEET.

A quick word on DEET: Many claims have been made as to whether it’s safe for skin. My personal experience with DEET products has never been unpleasant, but I am wary of DEET’s effect on the environment since we spray it so freely in our yards and parks. [Editor's note: The EPA recently conducted a review of DEET and concluded that "Currently registered uses of DEET are also not expected to result in adverse effects for listed and non-listed endangered species, or critical habitat."]

DEET products can be harsher on face skin and will irritate eyes and noses more than some DEET-free options, so that’s worth keeping in mind. Also, like SPF, the more DEET a product contains, the more protection it guarantees--to a point. After about 50%, the numbers become a bit superfluous.

If you are looking for a DEET-free alternative, many are available at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. Greenerways Organic Bug Spray is a DEET-free insect repellant that uses a blend of natural oils, like cintronella, lemongrass, and cedar, to keep bugs at bay. Because this spray is a bit thicker, like a spray-on sunscreen, it needs to be rubbed in and reapplied every 2-3 hours. It’s got a strong citronella scent, which I enjoy because citronella smells like summer on the back porch.

If the scent of citronella or traditional bug sprays isn’t your style, might I suggest a perfume that’s also a bug repellent? Intelligent Nutrients Certified Organic Perfume Spray, as well as their Bug Repellent Perfume Serum, is a hard-working product that’s adorable enough to keep on your vanity. Look at the little bat!!

It's food grade, cruelty-free, and DEET-free. As a perfume, it’s a lovely blend of floral and spice: geranium, lemongrass, peppermint, cedar, and clove. It goes on strong, but fades nicely into something subtle and sexy. If you’re looking for some anti-bug protection for a picnic date, this is your new go-to.

Treating Bug Bites

There are plenty of “bug bite relief” products available in stores, but I prefer to take a DIY route. Many things you already have in your house can go a long way toward healing bites and soothing itchiness.

Ice applied immediately after the bite happens is extremely helpful, but not always practical. It’s summertime—ice lasts about 30 seconds and all of it goes into my cocktails.

A bit of minty toothpaste dabbed on the bite will help to cool it and calm the itch. A banana peel rubbed onto the bite can also help. (OK, doctors are mixed on this one, but you get to eat the banana. Yum! ) I usually apply a mixture of tea-tree oil and lavender essential oil diluted with just a bit of water. This blend will help dry out and soothe the bug bite quickly and naturally.

If you’ve somehow gotten a LOT of bites and are itchy all over, an oatmeal bath is your best friend. This is my favorite trick for both bug bites or any sort of itchy rash, like hives or poison ivy. I love Studio 35 Natural Oatmeal Bath Treatment from Walgreens.


I know this advice is difficult to follow, but it’s so important. Scratching bug bites can cause them to rupture, which may lead to infection or scarring. To avoid being tempted, try placing some sort of healing bandage over the bite. (I love these ScarAway Silicone Scar Sheets.) Avoid wearing rough fabrics that might rub against the bite and further irritate it, making it take longer to heal.

Keep an eye on your bites. Changes or abnormalities in the bite can be a dangerous sign. If your bug bite refuses to heal, or gets worse, or if you start to feel sick (nausea, headaches, dizziness) see a doctor immediately.

After spending any time outdoors, especially if you’re near a body of water or in the woods, thoroughly inspect your body for bites--especially ticks. You can’t be too careful.

What's your go-to bug-prevention strategy? Are you the outdoors-y type?