Can firing a tiny ‘gun’ at an insect bite really stop a maddening itch? We review a selection of new gadgets said to ease pain and swelling from stings

Bites and stings can ruin any summer outing or holiday — but an array of products claims to ease 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 assess commonly available products. We then rated them.

Bug Bite thing


Bug Bite thing

Bug Bite thing

Claim: This plastic suction device is said to remove insect saliva or venom left in the skin from 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 upwards, creating suction in the skin. This pulls the poison into the tube and ‘instantly alleviates the stinging, itching and swelling’, the maker says.

Expert verdict: ‘This seems easy to use and sounds logical but I could see only anecdotal evidence, rather than scientific evidence, that it works,’ says Ben Merriman. 

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

‘This is the drawback of this device, as you need to use it as soon as possible after a bite, but sometimes you’re only aware of a bite hours later. Also, even though it claims to be suitable for children, their skin is delicate. I’d suggest a small amount of suction at first to ensure that it doesn’t do any damage.’ 


Skincalm bite and sting relief cream

10g, £1.20,

Claim: This contains 1 per cent 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 the face.

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

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

‘But as a mild steroid, it must only be used for a maximum of seven days, especially in children, as it can thin the skin.

‘Before you use it, place a credit card against the skin next to the stinger (this works better than tweezers) and, applying pressure, scrape it across to dislodge the stinger. Clean the area with an antiseptic wipe, then apply the hydrocortisone cream.’


Beurer insect bite healer BR90


Claim: This pen-sized, battery-powered gadget has a ceramic hot plate at its tip that heats up to 50c at the press of a button. Held directly against the sting site for up to six seconds, it can ‘accelerate healing’ by relieving ‘itching and swelling’, the maker says.

Expert verdict: ‘The general advice for bites and stings is to apply something cold, such as a wet flannel, rather than heat,’ says Robert Bradshaw.

‘But a study from Germany in 2014 found that applying heat from a similar device to people who had been stung by wasps, bees and mosquitoes got rid of their symptoms — particularly pain — in just ten minutes.

‘However, 50c might feel uncomfortably hot, even though this product is certified as safe. I would be cautious about recommending it until I had seen clearer evidence of its effectiveness.’


Incognito Zap Ease Instant Bite Relief


Claim: This tiny gun-shaped device stops itching and swelling by firing a small electrical impulse on to the bite or sting, which is said to ‘prevent the urge to scratch’. The maker says a small electrical pulse is sent to the brain, which stops the release of histamine, the chemical that causes swelling following a bite, and also stimulates the release of endorphins — natural painkillers.

Expert verdict: ‘When we suffer a bite or sting, our body’s natural defences release histamine, which activates the immune system to deal with the insect toxin, bacteria or virus, to prevent any infection,’ says Robert Bradshaw.

‘This device works in a similar way to a TENS machine, which women in labour sometimes use to reduce pain by sending electrical signals to the brain that override the pain messages.

‘This device would also reduce pain and inflammation in the same way, but it needs to be used within minutes to be effective.

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


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 cool and soothe bites while also greatly reducing redness’.

EXPERT VERDICT: ‘A roll-on applicator seems a practical way to apply a soothing solution to bites — you can put it on the face more easily than with a spray,’ says Robert Bradshaw. ‘It contains alcohol, which has a cooling effect on the skin, reduces redness and may stop you scratching, which can cause an infection.

‘The other ingredients are natural products that act as mild antiseptics, which won’t ease the symptoms but may stop any infection from the bite getting any 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, or anyone with a sensitivity to ammonia.

Expert verdict: ‘Ammonia works by over-stimulating the nerve endings in the affected area so the body temporarily ignores the symptoms from a bite or sting, giving relief from pain and discomfort,’ says Ben Merriman. ‘Although it is an irritant on the skin, it’s not as bad as a bite.

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


Jungle Formula Bite & Sting Patches

30 patches, £6.49,

Jungle Formula Bite & Sting Patches

Jungle Formula Bite & Sting Patches

Claim: These transparent patches provide ‘instant relief’ with calendula (derived from daisy-like plants) and zanthoxylum (derived 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 reportedly eases itching,’ says Robert Bradshaw.

‘More research is needed to verify their health benefits but both are pretty harmless.

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

‘I would prefer not to cover a bite but instead treat it with some hydrocortisone cream and keep an eye on it as it heals to make sure it is not infected.’ 


Scented bracelet to prevent bites 

Tanness Mosquito Bracelet, pack of 12


Claim: These scented, stretchy bracelets can be worn around the wrists or ankles to deter mosquitoes. They are said to offer up to 250 hours of effective repellent through scents such as citronella, lemongrass oil, lemon oil and geranium oil.

Expert verdict: ‘These bracelets contain a variety of essential oils, for which there is some evidence that they act as repellents,’ says pharmacist Ben Merriman.

‘The packaging says they are also free of the chemical DEET (diethyltoluamide), which is actually regarded as the gold standard for insect repellents [it disrupts receptors on mosquitoes’ antennae when they are seeking their prey]. There have been concerns about possible side-effects from excess exposure to DEET, though a 2014 study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found it was safe as long as it was used in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions and for less than a month.

‘I would not be happy relying on these wristbands as my sole protection in an area where malaria — which is spread by mosquito bites — is prevalent.’ 


Tanness Mosquito Bracelet

Tanness Mosquito Bracelet



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