Nothing says summer like beach trips, burgers on the grill—and mosquito bites.
When a mosquito bites you, it deposits a little bit of its saliva into your skin.
The proteins in the saliva spark a mild allergic reaction from your immune system, which leads to inflammation and itching, says New York-based medical and cosmetic dermatologist Sapna Westley, M.D.
You’re probably tempted to scratch, but Scratching an Itch Only Makes It Worse.
That’s because when you pick or scratch at your skin, your body releases compounds from your immune system that create more swelling and itching, says Dr. Westley.
Instead, soothe your skin with these 6 tips below.
1. Calamine lotion
The bubblegum-colored lotion, which is made of zinc oxide, is your first line of defense for mildly itchy mosquito bites.
When the lotion comes in contact with your skin, it creates a cooling sensation that temporarily relieves itching and discomfort, says Dr. Westley.
Calamine lotion doesn’t work to reduce inflammation though, so it won’t actually help heal your bite.
You can use it on its own if it’s enough to make you comfortable, but you can also combine it with other treatments, like hydrocortisone cream or antihistamines, Dr. Westley says (see below).
That means once the lotion wears off (usually after a couple of hours), you’ll probably start to itch again.
How to use it: Apply a thin layer over the affected area and reapply as needed.
2. Hydrocortisone cream
If calamine lotion doesn’t stop your scratching, try an over-the-counter hydrocortisone ointment or cream that contains 1 percent hydrocortisone, recommends Dr. Westley.
They contain corticosteroids to reduce inflammation, redness, and swelling—which ease itching as well as help your bite heal faster.
If an OTC cream isn’t getting the job done, your doctor can prescribe a stronger prescription cream.
How to use it: Apply a thin layer over the affected area up to twice a day, or as prescribed by your doctor.
Just don’t go crazy with it: Overuse of hydrocortisone cream can actually make your skin more irritated and lead to discoloration.
“If you’re itchy in between applications, you can use calamine lotion,” Dr. Westley says.
3. Oral antihistamine
Taking an oral antihistamine (like Benadryl) can give you all-over relief by calming your body’s response to histamines, or itch-causing compounds.
“They’re especially good for when you’re having trouble sleeping, since they make you drowsy,” says Dr. Westley.
If you want to take antihistamines during the day, look for a non-drowsy formula designed to be taken during the day, like Claritin or Zyrtec.
How to use them: Follow the dosing amount on the product label or your doctor’s instructions.
Taking more won’t relieve your symptoms faster, and could put you at risk for side effects like nausea or vomiting, drowsiness, rapid heartbeat, and even seizures.
“The cold is vasoconstricting, so it reduces the amount of blood flowing to the bite area to reduce swelling and itching,” Dr. Westley says.
Like calamine lotion, you can use it to get extra relief in between other treatments, like hydrocortisone cream, she says.
How to use it: Fill a zip-top bag with ice, wrap the bag in a kitchen towel or cloth, and apply to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, recommends Dr. Westley.
Repeat as needed, up to once an hour.
5. Cold tea bag
Like ice, a tea bag soaked in cold water will reduce blood flow to the surface of your skin to take down swelling and ease itchiness.
But tea also contains additional vasoconstricting properties, like compounds called tannins as well as caffeine, Dr. Westley says. (Use black tea, since it contains the most of these.)
So you might find that it’s more soothing than plain ice.
How to use it: Dunk a tea bag in very cold water until the bag is fully soaked through.
Gently squeeze the tea bag to remove excess liquid, and apply to the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, Dr. Westley says. Repeat as needed.
6. Oatmeal bath
Oatmeal contains calming properties that moisturize skin and lower its pH level, which soothes irritation and reduces itching, Dr. Westley says.
How to use it: Try this on its own, or while you’re waiting for your antihistamine to kick in.
Finely grind 1 cup of rolled oatmeal in a blender or food processor to make a flour-like powder, and sprinkle in a lukewarm bath. (Grinding the oats makes it easier for the calming compounds to penetrate your skin.)
Soak in the bath for 10 minutes, Dr. Westley says.