When I was in high school, I’d participate in a yearly outdoor varsity soccer training camp for two weeks and get eaten alive by mosquitos. After running soccer drills and enduring physical training all day in the summer heat, the last thing I wanted to deal with was a case of itchy bug bites. Thankfully, a teammate introduced me to Tecnu Calagel Anti-Itch Gel (4 for $21, amazon.com)—and 14 years later, it’s still the product I reach for when I get bitten.
My go-to bug bite remedy is a clear, cooling gel that soothes everything from insect bites and stings to sunburn and poison ivy rashes. It’s formulated without hydrocortisone or steroids, which is crucial if either ingredient irritates your skin, and it goes on clear, so you don’t have to worry about being in public with pink calamine lotion spots all over your body (a major perk, if you ask me). Plus, it’s incredibly easy to use: I just squeeze a dime-size amount onto my bug bite or to whatever area needs relief and rub it in with my fingers. The brand recommends cleansing the skin with soap and water before application, but I just slap the gel on.
If you’re skeptical, hear me out: My favorite gel may not cure your bites overnight, but it will halt itchiness and keep you from further scratching and infecting them. “Bug bites are essentially localized skin allergies, as the skin reacts to the bug's saliva or venom that penetrates into the skin,” explains Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. This gel works because it contains an antihistamine called diphenhydramine that blocks the effect of histamine—the messenger that causes the allergic reaction in the skin, he adds. The result is less redness, itching, and swelling. The gel’s cooling sensation comes from menthol, which also helps soothe and reduce itching, but those with sensitivities should take caution using it since it can irritate your skin, notes Dr. Zeichner. As with any product you put directly on your skin, be sure to check the ingredients before application and test a small area before applying in large amounts.
With more than 1,100 reviews on Amazon, Tecnu Calagel Anti-Itch Gel has maintained a 4.6 rating, with nearly 900 shoppers awarding it five stars. Reviewers praise it for being a "diamond in the rough" and swear that it “actually works” and provides “immediate relief." Besides bug bites, customers say it has even worked to stop itching from poison oak and ivy rashes and discomfort from hives. Amazon reviewers also give it brownie points for its clear application — although fair warning that it did flake and peel for some, so maybe don’t slather it on before a job interview.
One reviewer wrote: “God this stuff is like liquid gold. I use for absolutely everything. And it’s amazing. Every time I get a bug bite I use this, and it immediately stops the itch every time. I love so much I have one bottle in my car always.”
“This stuff works miracles on poison oak,” raved another. “I had poison oak literally from head to toe. It was so bad I couldn't sleep at night. A co-worker suggested I tried Technu and what a relief it provides! It was the only thing that worked for me. This will be a staple in our house from now on.”
“Love this product and highly recommend it for an itch from rashes," said another shopper. "Have had a persistent rash on my leg that even a prescription ointment did not relieve the itch. One application of Calagel took care of it."
One last testament to how great this product works? My friend and I were at a bar (pre-COVID) and she kept scratching a bug bite. I gave her the gel (yes, I carry it everywhere) to apply and it provided instant relief so she could enjoy the rest of the night. True story. It’s been more than a decade since I started using Tecnu Calagel Anti-Itch Gel, and I will continue to sing its praises and share my holy grail with loved ones. On that note, I was just bitten again over the weekend (because, summer), so excuse me while I apply this gel all over my legs.
This Story Originally Appeared On Shape.com