Bug bites are a common problem, but that doesn’t make them any less frustrating. In fact, depending on the bite, they can be downright maddening! Some individuals are sensitive to or even allergic to certain bug bites. In these circumstances, more serious reactions can occur. For instance, when I get a mosquito bite, it’s merely itchy and annoying. However, when my youngest son gets bit, the area swells up drastically and turns an angry shade of red.
Common types of bug bites
Depending on where you live, there are probably numerous types of biting bugs that are common in your area. In this article, however, I’ll explain some of the most common in the US for you below before we get into discussing the best essential oils for bug bites.
- Mosquito bites – Mosquito bites are incredibly common, especially during the warmer months. When bit by a mosquito, you’ll feel a sharp sting and then the area will rise into a small, red, bump. The bump will start itching within a few minutes or hours and will continue to itch for a few days. Although mosquito bites are usually harmless, it’s important to note that mosquitoes can carry a handful of viruses that are harmful to humans.
- Tick bites – Tick bites aren’t usually too hard to identify since the tick is often still attached to the skin. Ticks are often found in trees, grass, and brush and can make their way to hard-to-reach places on your skin. When in an area that you know or suspect is tick-infested, it’s always a good idea to check your skin from head to toe afterward to make sure you don’t have any ticks. While most tick bites are harmless, some ticks do carry tick-borne diseases that can be harmful to humans. If you’ve been bitten by a tick and you notice a red rash or you don’t feel well afterward, this can be a sign of an allergic reaction or that you’ve been exposed to a tick-borne illness.
- Chigger bites – Although they’re a nuisance, chigger bites are harmless for most people. Chiggers like to hang out in grassy areas, so it’s usually the lower part of the body that gets bit. If you’re sitting or lying in the grass, however, anywhere is fair game! Often, chigger bites come in multiples and are identified by small, itchy red bumps. The good news is the itchiness and redness usually start diminishing after a couple of days.
- Ant bites – Of the many varieties of ants, there are only a few types that bite or sting. Ants can bite or sting repeatedly, so make sure to brush the ant off and remove yourself from the area to avoid getting bit or stung repeatedly.1 Ant bites/stings become red and inflamed and can blister. Usually, they fade away after a few days.
- Fly bites – There are numerous types of flies that bite and most feel like a sharp sting or pinch, especially horsefly bites. Most fly bites will sting for a few seconds followed by a raised red bump. I experienced my first horsefly bite last summer and although harmless, it was not pleasant. I didn’t even know that horseflies got that big!
- Spider bites – Unlike the bugs mentioned above, spiders are not technically insects. However, spider bites are worth mentioning because they can be harmful to humans, depending on the type of spider doing the biting. Specifically, brown recluses and black widows (in the US) can be harmful due to their venom. If you have been bitten by a spider, especially if you suspect a brown recluse or black widow bite, make sure to keep an eye on the bite area and contact your doctor immediately if you notice redness, swelling, or any other signs of infection.
- Bee/wasp stings – While bee and wasp stings aren’t technically bug bites, they are incredibly common. With most bee stings, the stinger is left in the skin and needs to be removed. Stings are accompanied by sharp pain and a red, swollen welt or lump usually follows. Many people are allergic to bee stings, so be aware if you or any of your family members have an allergy to bees.
Treating bug bites
Treatments for bug bites will vary based on the bite and level of discomfort, but some common treatments for bug bites include:
- Ice packs
- Poultices or compresses
- Calamine lotion
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Anti-inflammatories or NSAIDs
- Herbal salves
Additionally, it’s important to note that allergic reactions can occur with bug bites, so be sure to look for any signs of infection that go beyond the normal symptoms of a bug bite. This can include:
- Severe redness and swelling around the bite
- Hives, redness, or swelling in other areas of the body
- Trouble breathing
- Stomach pain, discomfort, and/or diarrhea
Best essential oils for bug bites
The great news is that there are several essential oils that can be useful when dealing with bug bites or stings. Below, I’ve shared 6 of the best essential oils for bug bites. Each oil can effectively be used individually or in a custom blend with other essential oils.
If you don’t already own a bottle of lavender, I highly recommend that you get one. It’s useful in most situations, including when dealing with bug bites. The analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties alone make it one of the best essential oils for bug bites.2
As an added bonus, lavender is a gentle oil that is safe to use around most individuals, including children.
2. Tea Tree
Along with lavender, tea tree is one of the most commonly used essential oils for bug bites. The antimicrobial and antiseptic properties make it a great choice for helping to cleanse the area, but it also contains anti-inflammatory properties.3 4 Even though tea tree packs a powerful antimicrobial punch, it is another essential oil that is gentle enough to be used around even children.
Chamomile is a little pricier than some of the other oils on this list, but it’s another must-have oil, in my opinion. The aroma is excellent for promoting feelings of calm, but it also happens to have pain-relieving properties as well.5 Additionally, chamomile has a long history of use as an anti-inflammatory and can even be used around children.
Helichrysum may be the most expensive on this list, but it’s great to have on hand for skin issues. Plus, a little goes a long way with this oil. Helichrysum contains antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties and has traditionally been used for skin care in general─including the treatment of wounds, scars, and even aging skin.6 7
The cooling properties of peppermint alone make it a fantastic essential oil to have on hand for bug bites. Studies have found that it can help with itchy skin and that it contains anti-inflammatory properties as well.8 9 However, it’s important to note that peppermint essential oil should be used with caution and shouldn’t be used around young children.
Last but by no means least is basil essential oil. Studies have shown that it’s considered one of the best essential oils for bug bites and stings.10 Additionally, it contains potent anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties as well, increasing its benefits for bites and stings.11 12 Due to its potency, however, basil essential oil should not be used around pregnant or breastfeeding women or young children.
Essential oil blends for bug bites
There are several different blend combinations you can use for bug bites. However, to keep things simple I’ve included two recipes for you to make and have on the ready. As always, feel free to swap or substitute ingredients to suit your needs.
For each of these blends, simply add the essential oils to a 10 ml roller bottle and then fill the bottle the rest of the way up with a carrier oil such as almond, grapeseed, or jojoba. Then roll the bottle between your palms to thoroughly combine the oils. To use, simply apply the blend topically.
Bug bite blend #1
- 1 drop basil essential oil
- 3 drops helichrysum essential oil
- 6 drops lavender essential oil
Bug bite blend #2
- 1 drop chamomile essential oil
- 3 drops peppermint essential oil
- 6 drops tea tree essential oil
Essential oils are a great choice for bug bites
As you can see, there’s a reason why essential oils are so popular to use on bug bites. Not only are there a number of essential oils to choose from, but there are also a variety of ways that they can be beneficial. From helping with itchiness to inflammation, essential oils can be extremely beneficial to have on hand, especially when you’re dealing with pesky bites and stings.
About Nicole Stine
Nicole Stine is a certified herbalist who has numerous aromatherapy and natural health certifications. She is passionate about using herbs and essential oils safely and thoroughly enjoys researching and writing about natural health, as well as creating her own formulations.
- “Stung by an Ant?” Poison Control. National Capital Poison Center. Poison.org.
- Silva, G. L., C. Luft, et al. “Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil.” Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciências 87, no. 2 suppl (2015): 1397–1408.
- Carson, C. F., K. A. Hammer, & T.V. Riley. “Melaleuca alternifolia (Tea Tree) oil: a review of antimicrobial and other medicinal properties.” Clinical Microbiology Reviews 19, no. 1 (2006): 50–62.
- Koh, K.J., A.L. Pearce, et al. “Tea tree oil reduces histamine-induced skin inflammation.” British Journal of Dermatology 147, no. 6 (2002): 1212–17.
- Shoara, R., M. H. Hashempur, et al. “Efficacy and safety of topical Matricaria chamomilla L. (chamomile) oil for knee osteoarthritis: A randomized controlled clinical trial.” Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice 21, no. 3 (2015): 181–87.
- Lorenzi, V. and A. Muselli. “Geraniol Restores Antibiotic Activities against Multidrug-Resistant Isolates from Gram-Negative Species.” Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy 53, no. 5 (2009): 2209–11.
- Djihane, B. and Z. M. Mihoub. “Evaluation of anti-inflammatory activity of Helichrysum italicum (Roth) G. Don essential oil .” Der Pharmacia Lettre 8, no. (4) (2016): 41–44.
- Elsaie, L. and A. El Mohsen. “Effectiveness of topical peppermint oil on symptomatic treatment of chronic pruritus.” Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology Volume 9 (2016): 333–38.
- Chumpitazi, B. P., G. L. Kearns, & R.J. Shulman. “Review article: The physiological effects and safety of Peppermint Oil and its efficacy in irritable bowel syndrome and other functional disorders.” Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics 47, no. 6 (2018): 738–52.
- Orchard, A., and S. van Vuuren. “Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases.” Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2017 (2017): 1–92.
- Rodrigues, L. B., A.O. Martins, et al. “Anti-inflammatory activity of the essential oil obtained from Ocimum basilicum complexed with β-cyclodextrin (β-CD) in mice.” Food and Chemical Toxicology 109 (2017): 836–46.
- Sienkiewicz, M. and M. Łysakowska. “The potential of use basil and rosemary Essential oils as effective antibacterial agents.” Molecules 18, no. 8 (2013): 9334–51.