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Can firing a tiny 'gun' at an insect bite really stop a maddening itch?

Bites and stings can ruin any summer outing or vacation – but a range of products claim to relieve the pain and irritation.

Adrian Monti asked Ben Merriman, a clinical pharmacist in Cumbria, and Robert Bradshaw, a clinical pharmacist at Oxford Online Pharmacy, to review widely available products. We then assessed them.

Bug Bite thing


Bug Bite thing

Bug Bite thing

Claim: This plastic suction device is said to remove insect saliva or poison left in the skin of mosquitoes, bees, wasps and ants. The user first removes the ‘stinger’ using the scraper provided.

Then the device is placed over the bite and the handles are pulled up, creating suction in the skin. This draws the poison into the tube and “instantly relieves the stinging, itching and swelling,” says the maker.

Expert verdict: “This seems easy to use and makes sense, but I could only see anecdotal evidence, rather than scientific evidence, that it works,” says Ben Merriman.

‘Most of the symptoms of a bite don’t come from the bite itself, but from the body’s response to saliva or venom left in the skin — so the faster you can get rid of it, the fewer symptoms you’ll experience.

‘That’s the disadvantage of this device, you have to use it as soon as possible after a bite, but sometimes you don’t notice a bite until hours later. Also, although it claims to be suitable for children, their skin is delicate. I’d recommend a small amount of suction first to make sure it doesn’t do any damage.”


Skincalm bite and puncture relief cream

10g, £1.20,

Claim: This contains 1 percent hydrocortisone (a steroid drug) to reduce itching, redness, and inflammation from bites and stings. Rub a small amount on the affected area once or twice a day for up to three days, but not on the face.

Expert judgment: ‘Hydrocortisone reduces inflammation and stops the need to scratch,’ says Robert Bradshaw.

‘I always recommend this type of cream because it is cheap and effective.

‘But as a mild steroid, it should only be used for up to seven days, especially in children, as it can thin the skin.

Before using it, place a credit card against the skin next to the stinger (this works better than tweezers) and apply pressure and scrape to loosen the stinger. Clean the area with an antiseptic wipe and then apply the hydrocortisone cream.”


Beurer insect bite healer BR90


Claim: This pen-sized battery-powered gadget has a ceramic hob on the tip that heats up to 50c at the touch of a button. If held directly against the puncture site for up to six seconds, it can “speed up healing” by relieving “itching and swelling,” the maker says.

Expert judgment: “The general advice for bites and stings is to apply something cold, such as a wet washcloth, rather than heat,” says Robert Bradshaw.

But a 2014 study from Germany found that applying heat from a similar device to people stung by wasps, bees and mosquitoes made their symptoms — particularly pain — disappear in just ten minutes.

‘But 50c can feel uncomfortably warm, even though this product is certified as safe. I’d be careful not to recommend it until I’d seen clearer evidence of its effectiveness.”


Incognito Zap Ease Instant Bite Relief


Claim: This little pistol-shaped device stops itching and swelling by firing a small electrical impulse at the bite or sting, said to “prevent the urge to scratch.” The maker says it sends a small electrical pulse to the brain, which stops the release of histamine, the chemical that causes swelling after a bite, and also stimulates the release of endorphins — natural pain relievers.

Expert verdict: ‘When we are bitten or stung, our body’s natural defenses release histamine, which activates the immune system to fight the insect venom, bacteria or virus, preventing any infection,’ says Robert Bradshaw.

“This device works in a similar way to a TENS machine, which women sometimes use during labor to reduce pain by sending electrical signals to the brain that ignore the pain messages.

“This device is also said to reduce pain and inflammation in the same way, but it must be used within minutes to be effective.”

“If it’s used along with an antihistamine (especially if you react badly to bites), it should work really well.”


Incognito Zap Ease Instant Bite Relief

Incognito Zap Ease Instant Bite Relief

Incognito Zap Ease Instant Bite Relief

Science of Skin Solution for Bites

5ml, £8.99,

CLAIM: This roller ball contains aloe vera, green tea extract, and pro-vitamin B5, all ingredients that the maker says “quickly cools and soothes bites, while also greatly reducing redness.”

EXPERT JUDGMENT: “A roll-on applicator seems like a practical way to apply a soothing solution to bites — it’s easier to apply to the face than with a spray,” says Robert Bradshaw. ‘It contains alcohol, which cools the skin, reduces redness and can prevent you from scratching, which can cause an infection.

“The other ingredients are natural products that act as mild antiseptics, which don’t relieve symptoms, but can prevent an infection from the bite from getting worse.”


After Bite Classic

14ml, £4.50,

Claim: This pen-sized gadget contains the chemical ammonia [which acts as a mild irritant on the skin]. Not for use on children under three years of age, or anyone with an ammonia sensitivity.

Expert Judgment: “Ammonia works by over-stimulating nerve endings in the affected area so that the body temporarily ignores the symptoms of a bite or sting, relieving pain and discomfort,” says Ben Merriman. ‘Although it is irritating to the skin, it is not as bad as a bite.

‘Given the small amount of ammonia in this product and because it is only applied to a small area of ​​skin, sensitivity to it, while possible, is unlikely. The pen may offer some benefit, but I would prefer the standard treatment of washing the affected area with soap and water as soon as possible after applying a cold compress for ten minutes.”


Jungle Formula Bite & Prick Patches

30 patches, £6.49,

Jungle Formula Bite & Prick Patches

Jungle Formula Bite & Prick Patches

Jungle Formula Bite & Prick Patches

Claim: These transparent patches provide instant relief with calendula (from daisy-like plants) and zanthoxylum (from an evergreen shrub). Each patch can be used for up to eight hours.

Expert verdict: ‘Calendula is an analgesic, antiseptic wound healing agent, and zanthoxylum is said to relieve itching,’ says Robert Bradshaw.

“More research is needed to verify their health benefits, but both are quite harmless.

‘These patches would be good for children and adults with a strong urge to scratch, but using them can be a bit impractical if you have multiple bites.

“I’d rather not cover a bite, but instead treat it with some hydrocortisone cream and watch as it heals to make sure it’s not infected.”


Fragrance bracelet to prevent bites

Tanness Mosquito Bracelet, pack of 12


Claim: These scented, elastic bracelets can be worn on the wrists or ankles to deter mosquitoes. They are said to be effective repellent for up to 250 hours by scents such as citronella, lemongrass oil, lemon oil and geranium oil.

Expert verdict: “These bracelets contain a variety of essential oils, some of which have been shown to have insect repellent properties,” says pharmacist Ben Merriman.

‘They also say on the packaging that they are also free of the chemical DEET (diethyltoluamide), which is actually considered the gold standard for repellents. [it disrupts receptors on mosquitoes’ antennae when they are seeking their prey]. There are concerns about potential side effects of overexposure to DEET, although a 2014 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found it to be safe as long as it was used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions and for less than a month.

“I wouldn’t like to rely on these wristbands as my only protection in an area where malaria – which is spread by mosquito bites – is common.”


Tanness Mosquito Bracelet

Tanness Mosquito Bracelet

Tanness Mosquito Bracelet