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A cartoon of a man surrounded by bugs.

You could keep the bugs at bay this summer if you wear long pants, avoid sweet fragrances, and use some bug spray.

Easing summertime skin irritations

By Dennis McKenna

From eNews, June 23, 2005

Sun-filled days and warm nights beckon us to linger over iced coffee, barbeques, and fishing holes. From North Shore trails and sparkling lakes to rose gardens and farmers markets, Minnesota summers are irresistible.

And just as difficult to avoid are minor skin irritations--the consequence of our warm-weather follies. While there are a host of over-the-counter products to relieve itching, swelling, and pain from bug bites and sunburns, there are also inexpensive, natural remedies to treat these common skin ailments.

Bug bites The easiest way to handle mosquito and other bug bites is to prevent them altogether: wear light-colored clothing, long pants, and bug repellent; avoid sweet fragrances; and check for pests on your clothing or the exposed parts of your body after walks in the woods or long grass. When these precautions fail and a bug does get a nip out of you, however, you can alleviate the pain, swelling, and itching by using such natural remedies as ice and lavender or tea tree essential oils. (These natural remedies are available at natural health food or product stores and at some pharmacies.)

* Ice it Wrap an ice pack or cold pack in a towel and place on the irritated skin from 10 to 15 minutes. This remedy can help reduce swelling.

* Oil it Ancient cultures have long used the antiseptic and antibacterial properties of lavender and tea tree oils to reduce skin discomfort. When applied directly to the affected area, these essential oils help wounds heal more quickly. (Lavender oil contains a compound called linalool, which acts as an analgesic and can soothe the sting of a bite or minor wound. Tea tree oil is extracted from the melaleuca tree that's native to Australia, and it has several compounds with fungicide and tissue-healing qualities.) While both these oils are nontoxic, some people may be highly sensitive to them. If you notice redness or develop a skin irritation after using any of these products, discontinue use immediately.

Sunburn Prevention is also your best bet against sunburn; wear protective sunscreen on exposed skin. If you do burn, try to reduce the pain with aloe vera (rip a leaf and smooth the oozing gel directly on the skin) or with a cool 15-minute bath with a few drops of lavender oil and a cup of baking soda.

Cuts and scrapes Tea tree oil can help to heal almost any type of superficial wound. Aloe vera gel is also handy; it can seal wounds, relieve pain, and promote healing.

Rash Poison ivy, poison oak, and sunscreens are among the many culprits that can trigger a rash. Apply tea tree oil and lavender oil or try dried chamomile steeped in water--a soothing wash for a plant-based rash. Finely ground oatmeal in a hot bath can also help to soothe irritated skin.

Dennis McKenna is an ethnopharmacologist, senior lecturer at the University of Minnesota Center for Spirituality and Healing, and author of Botanical Medicines: The Desk Reference for Major Herbal Supplements.

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