Surviving SummerBecause Inland 360 wants you to have the best summer ever, we’re arming you with tips in Surviving Summer, a series of stories about staying alive while living large in the Inland Northwest. This week: Winged Beasts and How to Fight Them. From invisible force fields to bacterial bandages, the arsenal is growing in our timeless battle with insects.
By JAMIE FLATHERS
for INLAND 360
Summer means bugs. Sure, they’re an important part of the ecosystem or whatever but they out number humans several million to one, and if you’ve ever spent an evening slapping them off your sunburned skin, you understand that feeling of being under attack. You probably also have your own way of fighting back. Citronella, DEET, flamethrowers — you know, the old standbys. But if you’re looking to up your game, or to clap back at old wives’ tales spouted by well-intentioned friends, I’ve got some advice for you. Whether preemptive strikes are your game, or you’ve lost a battle and need to treat your war wounds, the following tips and tricks may help.
Ways to repel the attack
First, let’s talk repellents. Three things to consider here: the active ingredient, the ingredient’s concentration, and the delivery system. Common active ingredients in insect repellents include DEET, picaridin, oil of lemon eucalyptus, citronella, and 2-Undecanone (which few people realize was the original name of the band One Direction). Repellents can take almost as many forms as there are ingredients: candles, sprays, lotions, wipes, bracelets, even butane-powered dispersal systems like ThermaCell, which claims to emit a 15-foot invisible shield of insect repellent and comes with a cancer and reproductive health warning.
The debate between natural versus synthetic ingredients rages on, as you might expect, as do questions about whether some insect repellents are safe for children. I’m not prepared to weigh in on that, but I will say this: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, as well as Consumer Reports, DEET, in the form of a spray, is the most effective insect repellent, capable of warding off mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs for as long as seven hours. Take care with the concentration, though — the academy and Consumer Reports both recommend a 25 to 30 percent concentration. Less than that, and the product won’t be effective; more than that, and you risk some side effects. Neither Consumer Reports nor the FDA recommend using any kind of insect repellent on children younger than 2 months, and they both recommend following usage instructions carefully.
Besides taking care with active ingredients and delivery systems, I’ve discovered some other repellent hacks that you might be interested in. The first one is not to use sunscreen with insect repellent in it. Sunscreen should be applied every two hours, and that much insect repellent could cause side effects. The second one has to do with your clothes. Avid campers and hikers probably already know this, but wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing that covers your arms and legs is a good start toward preventing insect bites. Mosquitoes can bite through tight clothing, and ticks can hide in dark clothing. Also, tucking your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks creates less surface area for insects to gnaw. Obviously, you’ll have a fashion dilemma on your hands, but on the spectrum of dorky to itchy, I’ll lean dorky every time.
Treating the wounded
But what happens if you’ve taken every possible preventative measure and still get bitten or stung? The bad news is, you’re probably going to itch, but the good news is, remedies abound.
Over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can reduce swelling, and ointments that contain a topical analgesic (like lidocaine or benzocaine), an antihistamine (like diphenhydramine), or a corticosterioid (like cortisone) can help stop itching. If you’re not into chemical intervention, natural remedies are everywhere as well. My personal favorites are ice and apple cider vinegar, often in combination — a rag soaked in water and vinegar, when chilled, will not only numb your skin, but hasten its healing. This will work for some other summer-related skin irritation, too — I wouldn’t have survived the Great Poison Oak Incident of 2013 without it.
The news for fans of natural is especially good for those who brew their own komboucha. The komboucha mother, or SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), can be used to treat insect bites as well. I recommend snipping off a strip about as wide as the bite itself, pressing it against the bite, then covering it with a paper towel or a thin, clean rag to prevent dripping. As the SCOBY dries, it will take on a leather-like texture and adhere gently to the skin, eliminating the need for bandages or tape. My mother did this when I got stung by a wasp last summer. I’m normally quite reactive to insect bites; bee stings, in particular, tend to itch for days. I left the SCOBY over the sting for something like an hour, until it had dried completely, and the next day, the sting was barely detectable.
There you have it, summer peeps! Hopefully, these tips and tricks will help you remain victorious over biters and stingers. Just don’t forget to untuck your pants from your socks before you hit up any block parties.
Flathers is a Moscow resident and University of Idaho alum. She does a killer impression of a corkscrew. She’s a Ravenclaw with Hufflepuff leanings and is usually reading two or three books at a time. Questions or glad tidings can be sent to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.