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 be left with equally annoying dark spots.
Prevention is key (via bug spray, long sleeves, and the like), but bug bites are often unavoidable. According to Marthe Dika, MD, FAAD, a dermatologist at Forefront Dermatology's Franklin, Wisconsin, office, time heals (most) wounds—but after-care is equally important. "One important factor is the care of the area after injury/inflammation," says Dika.
Meet the Expert
- Jordan Carqueville, MD, is a dermatologist based in Chicago, specializing in treating facial wrinkles and volume loss, as well as laser treatment methods for pigmentation, skin texture, and tightening.
- Marthe Dika, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist specializing in skin cancer prevention and treatment as well as the management of complex skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, and rashes. She currently works as a dermatologist at the Wisconsin-based Forefront Dermatology.
Below, we've rounded up eight ways to fade the dark spots brought on by insect bites, with tips from Dika and dermatologist Jordan Carqueville, MD.
Though it might not ward off bugs, sunscreen 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.
Carqueville concurs, adding that sunscreen is imperative to ensure the spots don't get worse. "Sunscreen applied over the dark spots will reduce the UV activation of the enzyme that produces pigment," she says.
Try an Anti-Itch Cream
Scratching an itch 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. If the 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 one is Benadryl Itch Stopping Gel, because it provides cooling relief for all types of itches, from insect bites to minor burns.
You can also try a hydrocortisone cream. "Dark spots that are left on the skin after a mosquito bite or any inflammatory reaction would be called post inflammatory hyperpigmentation (PIH)," says Carqueville. "PIH from a mosquito bite can be reduced by mitigating the inflammatory response at the beginning by using a topical steroid to the itchy bite, such as hydrocortisone. This will reduce the amount of damage to the skin that will later result in pigment dispersion in the dermis." 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.
Try a Lightening Cream or Hydroquinone
If you couldn’t resist the urge to scratch or had an inflammatory reaction that caused hyperpigmentation spots, try 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 percent 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.
Carqueville recommends hydroquinone on dark spots. "Hydroquinone will block tyrosinase, the enzyme that produces pigment in the skin and will prevent further darkening of the spot," she says. It's important to note, however, that hydroquinone 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.
Apply Calamine Lotion
Calamine lotion is often suggested as a remedy for insect bites, but it’s debatable whether it really stops itching. It does, however, tend to help with a rash or irritation caused by the mosquito bite. Because it contains kaolin—a type of clay—studies have found that it can also help lighten dark spots.
Women who are pregnant or nursing shouldn’t use calamine lotion, however. It’s also a good idea to ask your doctor if calamine will interact with any medicines you’re taking.
Reduce the Swelling
"Ice is a great way to reduce inflammation," says Carqueville. Applying an ice pack works by reducing the temperature of the skin tissue and therefore decreasing the amount of secondary damage to skin surrounding the bite. Because it helps reduce inflammation, it can also ensure the surrounding skin doesn't get too red or irritated.
Aloe vera is also an anti-inflammatory, which can also be used to soothe a bite and lessen the itching as well as help heal the skin. In fact, a study conducted on rats found that aloe not only helped prevent swelling, but also helped heal wounds. To use it on irritated skin, just dab the gel or juice directly on the bite and reapply throughout the day.
Use Tea Tree Oil
A 2001 study of tea tree oil found that it "exhibits a broad-spectrum antimicrobial activity." In other words, it's an antiseptic that can kill bacteria and reduce allergic skin reactions, making it a prime candidate to help tackle a bug bite. In the same way that it works to combat breakouts, tea tree destabilizes bacteria, essentially killing it and halting further damage. Carqueville cautions that it wouldn't be her fist choice, though, instead preferring alternate natural ingredients, such as though below. "I would not recommend tea tree oil as my first line," she says.
Try a Natural Remedy
If you'd rather go natural, try vitamin E, which, when applied to bite marks, helps reduce redness and aids the skin in the healing process. Vitamin E tablets are a good option, too, as it is said to help promote the skin's natural healing process when taken orally. The tablets can also be opened, with the oil inside then applied directly to the bite.
Another natural remedy is kojic acid. "Kojic acid is a natural skin lightener that also inhibits the enzyme used to make melanin," says Carqueville. Make sure it won't cause an allergic reaction by doing a patch test. If the product is meant to lighten spots, leave it on for about 10 minutes and then rinse it off.
Wait It Out
Of course, the oldest natural remedy—time—also comes in clutch when it comes to healing dark spots. "The tincture of time will be a big factor for pigment reduction, as the body takes time to clean up after the inflammatory insult," notes Carqueville.
While after care is important, Dika concurs that time works wonders. "Dark spots from bug bites or acne bumps—post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation—usually fade over time," says Dika.