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This Anti-Itch Cream Is the Only Thing That Relieves My Red, Itchy Mosquito Bites

Even with 40 irritating bug bites, it has helped me sleep through the night.
By Rebecca Deczynski
July 14, 2021
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Recently, after spending one evening enjoying a long, leisurely rooftop dinner with friends—the July weather balmy but not oppressively hot—unbeknownst to me, I was being preyed on by a particular summertime pest. In the morning when I woke up, I noticed that I was covered from the knees down in pink, blotchy mosquito bites that grew itchier by the minute. 

There were about 30 to 40 of them, and although I knew that scratching would only make them worse, I couldn't help it—I had never reacted this badly to bug bites before. I tried any method I could think of to relieve the itching that made it hard for me to concentrate through the work day. I dabbed Cortizone-10 ($12, was $17; amazon.com) on each red dot, but it wasn't enough to soothe my skin. Smearing a DIY paste of baking soda and water on my calves and the tops of my feet only provided temporary relief—and was super messy. I attempted the same strategy with rolled oats and water but found no improvement (and it was equally a mess).

The itchiness and irritation were enough to keep me distracted during work and up at night, so I did what anyone would do: scour the internet for a remedy that got the stamp of approval from other mosquito magnets. Luckily, by the next day, I found my savior in Benadryl's Extra Strength Anti-Itch Gel ($6; amazon.com), which I ordered online in a moment of true desperation.

So what makes this anti-itch product so effective, in comparison to other treatments? The active ingredient in Benadryl's gel is diphenhydramine hydrochloride, an antihistamine, unlike Cortizone-10's main ingredient, hydrocortisone, which is a steroid. Antihistamines prevent allergy symptoms (like itching) by blocking chemicals called histamines that can cause these kinds of reactions, says Marie Hayag, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics. Hydrocortisone, by contrast, reduces inflammation. 

My legs and feet looked swollen and irritated, but it was the itching that was so unbearable to me—so diphenhydramine hydrochloride was my best bet at alleviating that pain. "Someone who may want relief from bites constantly should opt for diphenhydramine hydrochloride as opposed to hydrocortisone, a steroid that shouldn't be used long term or on large areas of the body," notes Dr. Hayag, since steroids can cause skin to thin with extended use. Because over-the-counter hydrocortisone is only offered in a weak dosage, some people may find diphenhydramine hydrochloride more beneficial—it just depends on the individual, she adds. 

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Credit: Courtesy of Amazon

When I received the Benadryl Extra-Strength Anti-Itch Gel, I took a shower and then proceeded to slather the clear product over my body, riddled with bites. The gel had an instant cooling effect, and for the first time in 36 hours, the itching fully stopped. I was finally able to sleep through the night, and when I woke up, my ankles looked decidedly less puffy. Over the next few days, I reapplied the gel only a handful of times, as the itching decreased in intensity, and my bug bites slowly faded. I had finally found relief.

Not sure my summer holy grail is for you? I'm not the only one who has benefitted from this anti-itch cream—more than 13,000 Amazon shoppers have rated the product five stars, and some reviewers call it a "lifesaver" (a testimonial I'll wholeheartedly agree with). The gel doesn't just work on mosquito bites, but can also relieve irritation from sunburn, spider bites, poison ivy, oak, and sumac. It's a true multitasker.

A week later, my legs and feet may still have pink spots from my encounter with those thirsty mosquitos, but the pain, itching, and swelling are totally gone. Now, I know that I'll never go another summer without Benadryl's anti-itch gel, or a good mosquito repellent.

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