Beat the Bugs
Skincare for the Outdoors
You know what to do about sun exposure– apply sunscreen everywhere and reapply every two hours, wear hats and cover up when you can. But when you’re exposed and outside, your skin can be at risk for more than just sunburn. Bugs, such as mosquitos, ticks, flies, gnats and fleas, can also attack your skin. Most of the time, they’re just a nuisance, but protection tips and warning signs can keep your skin safe.
Do You Need DEET?
A good repellent can work wonders for protecting your skin from bug bites. Unfortunately, most natural ingredients are not as effective as diethyltoluamide (DEET), the most commonly used chemical repellent. But you can still pick a safe, environmentally friendly option, certified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The amount of DEET in your insect repellent matters. The percentage of DEET should be high enough to protect (the more DEET, the longer it lasts) but not so high that it causes skin irritation, which is a particular concern for children. Look for a bug spray with 20 to 30 percent DEET.
Insect-repelling candles, diffusers, mosquito coils and mosquito sticks are also popular options for a patio or campsite in low-wind conditions.
When to Reapply
Like sunscreen, insect repellent needs to be reapplied to stay effective. Every few hours is a reliable strategy, but the specific frequency depends on the active ingredient and its percentage. Repellents with DEET can last 8 to 10 hours, while Picaridin, another chemical option, lasts up to 8 hours. Synthesized plant oils like EPA-certified lemon eucalyptus oil or IR3535 usually last anywhere from 4 to 8 hours. However, if you choose to use a completely natural repellent, such as essential plant oils, you may need to reapply as frequently as every 30 minutes.
No matter what you choose, bugs are most likely to bite from dusk to dawn, so reapply more frequently during that period.
Risks to Remember
Bug bites tend to be itchy and uncomfortable. Round red skin bumps, some swelling and even a sharp immediate pain are unpleasant, but normal. Most of the time you can treat them at home with a pain reliever, an anti-inflammatory or hydrocortisone cream. In certain cases, you may need to seek medical attention.
Mosquitos have been known to cause West Nile virus, and ticks can transmit Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. If you experience flu-like symptoms, a bull’s-eye rash, headache, muscle soreness, fever or fatigue after a bug bite, you could have a serious condition.
Look for these signs to determine if you should see a professional; when in doubt, reach out.
- Mosquito: Headache, fever or swollen glands 5 to 15 days after bite.
- Bed Bug: Allergic reaction 1 to 3 days after bite.
- Spider Bite: Tightness in the chest and problems breathing or swallowing may be signs of an allergic reaction. Your bite may be poisonous if you feel pain and swelling after 30 to 40 minutes, or if you have muscle, stomach and back pain and rigidity, nausea, vomiting and breathing difficulties within eight hours.
- Ticks: Fever, headache, muscle or joint aches and fatigue can be cause for concern. A bull’s-eye rash or pattern of rings up to a month after the bite may be a sign of Lyme disease, whereas a skin rash that begins on the ankles and wrists and spreads to the rest of the body is a sign of Rocky Mountain spotted fever.