Summertime is a season beloved by many, but it has one glaring negative: mosquitoes. If you live in a warm climate, these pesky insects might even be around most of the year. Unfortunately, even the simplest skin trauma—including a bug bite—can lead to discoloration if you're unlucky enough. If you’re a mosquito magnet, you won't only end up annoyed by the resulting itching, but your skin could end up riddled with equally annoying dark spots.
When a mosquito bites you, it injects an anticoagulant into the skin to make the blood thinner and flow easier and longer, so it can feast on enough of your blood. In turn, the skin releases histamine, causing an inflammatory reaction. This skin then gets red, and forms a bump. If left alone, the swelling and redness usually go away pretty quickly. If you scratch or rub the bite, however, or if you have an allergic reaction, the little bump can swell considerably. It could also be extremely itchy or become infected as a result of scratching.
Meet the Expert
- Frank Lipman, MD, is board-certified in internal medicine and has studied acupuncture, Chinese medicine, functional medicine, nutrition, herbal medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga to combine Eastern and Western modalities for a more holistic practice. He is the founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in Manhattan.
- Marthe Dika, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in skin cancer prevention and treatment, and the management of complex skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and rashes. She currently works as a dermatologist at the Wisconsin-based Forefront Dermatology.
The best solution is to discourage the mosquitoes from biting you, either by creating barriers or repelling them. If you’re avoiding your own backyard because of mosquitoes, Dr. Frank Lipman suggests planting a bug-proof garden. Several plants have scents that keep bugs away. Lemon basil, lavender, peppermint, rosemary, citronella grass, eucalyptus, pyrethrum, and chamomile all work to varying degrees. Bugs can be attracted to fragrance, too, so avoid wearing too much perfume or heavily-scented product. This includes scented hairspray and lotions if you plan on being outside during mosquito season. You need to be particularly aware of this if you are going to be outside around dusk, because it's when mosquitoes are the most active.
According to Marthe Dika, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at Forefront Dermatology's Franklin, Wisconsin office, time usually heals (most) wounds—but after-care is equally important. "Dark spots from bug bites or acne bumps—post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—usually fade over time," says Dika. "One important factor is the care of the area after injury/inflammation."
Below, we've rounded up four ways to fade the dark spots brought on by insect bites.
First, Remember That Prevention Is Key
When you go outside, particularly in the evening, wear long sleeves and pants if the weather permits. Unfortunately, wearing clothing from head to toe isn't exactly practical on hot, humid days, so you'll probably need to use an insect repellant. If you want to stay clear of insect repellents with DEET and other potentially harmful chemicals, try a natural, pre-blended repellant like the one produced by Repel.
Another important mode of protection is via sunscreen. Though it might not ward off bugs, it can help protect from UV rays, and too much sun can cause dark marks to get even darker, says Dika. "Sun protection/sunscreen is vital as sun exposure can actually make the area darker," she says.
Avoid Scratching to Reduce Scarring Risk
Though it may be tempting, try to avoid scratching mosquito bites as much as possible. Scratching the itch of the bug bite might provide temporary relief, but it also causes more skin trauma, and this can lead to hyperpigmentation. Scratching can also allow bacteria from your fingertips and under the fingernails to get into the small break in the skin caused by the bite and cause an infection. However, you don't have to just suffer through the itching. When you get a mosquito bite, cleanse the area with a gentle soap or cleanser. Use a soap that is specially formulated to relieve itching from poison ivy, like Marie's Original Poison Oak Soap.
Try an Anti-Itch Cream
If the mosquito bite itching persists, try an anti-itch cream that will relieve the pain and itch of insect bites. There are a variety of options available, but a good option is Benadryl Itch Relief Gel ($5), because it provides cooling relief for all types of itches from insect bites to minor burns. You can also try a hydrocortisone cream if your itching persists. Cortizone 10-Maximum Strength ($6) relieves itching fast and is gentle on your skin. After Bite ($6) also helps to relieve the itch of mosquito bites.
Calamine lotion is often suggested as a remedy for insect bites, but it’s debatable whether it really stops itching. Calamine lotion tends to help more with a rash or irritation caused by the mosquito bite. Women who are pregnant or nursing shouldn’t use calamine lotion. It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor if calamine will interact with any medicines you’re taking. You can also try these options:
- Apply ice to reduce swelling.
- Aloe vera is an anti-inflammatory, which can be used to soothe a bite and lessen the itching as well as help heal the skin. Dab the gel or juice on the bite.
- Take a colloidal oatmeal bath to soothe itching.
- Rub tea tree oil on the bite. Tea tree is an antiseptic and can kill bacteria and reduce allergic skin reactions.
Try a Lightening Cream
If you couldn’t resist the urge to scratch, or had an inflammatory reaction that caused hyperpigmentation spots, you can try using lightening ingredients. "For persistent darkening, bleaching creams can be used; the active ingredient being hydroquinone," says Dika. "There are over-the-counter preparations with 2% hydroquinone; anything higher usually needs to be prescribed."
Just be sure not to use too strong of a product. "Using too high of a percentage or using the cream for too long could cause paradoxical darkening (ochronosis)," says Dika.
Some recommend using hydroquinone for fading dark marks, but it can be problematic for people of color. When using fade creams or ingredients to fade marks, only apply the lightening agents to the dark spots. Don’t apply to the unaffected skin. Instead, treatments for the healing of scars are better. It's best to use hydroquinone under the recommendation (and supervision) of a dermatologist.
Try a Natural Remedy
If you'd rather go natural, try these options to reduce hyperpigmentation:
- Vitamin E applied to bite marks helps reduce redness and helps the skin heal.
- Rosehip Seed Oil helps reduce the discoloration and even out skin tone.
- Coconut oil can lighten dark marks.
- Papaya helps fade dark spots and even out skin tone. Green papaya can be mixed with lemon or lime juice to help lighten spots.
When you use any product, whether a cream or a natural option, you should take precautions. Make sure it won't cause an allergic reaction, and do a patch test. If the product is meant to lighten spots, leave it on for about 10 minutes and then rinse it off. And always, always protect the treated area with sunscreen. Not only can sun exposure make the dark marks worse, but in addition, some people find that sun exposure also causes a bite to itch again.