Q. When I told my dermatologist that you could cover your chigger bites with clear nail polish to get rid of them he laughed at me and said that was an old wives tale that was nonsensical.

I remember this cure from when I was a child. The idea was that the chigger is alive and burrows and continues to spread and the nail polish kills them by suffocating them. What’s your perspective?

A. Sorry, we side with your dermatologist. Although we have heard about the nail polish trick for years, we have never seen anything to support this notion.

Dermatologists tell us that chiggers (a kind or mite or tiny spider) inject proteins from their saliva into our skin when they suck our blood. The reaction we experience to the bite (itching, redness and sometimes blisters) results when our bodies react allergically to those enzymes or proteins.

The best approach is to prevent the bites in the first place. We generally recommend spraying socks and shoes with insect repellant such as DEET. If you would prefer to avoid DEET, sufulr powder sprinkled on shoes and socks may also repel chiggers.

We have discovered a new product, Chigg Away, that contains sulfur to repel the bugs plus benzocaine to ease the itch. We would apply it around shoes, socks and ankles to keep the chiggers from climbing aboard.

Once you have the bites, though, you may want a strong corticosteroid gel to control the allergy reaction and the itching. A dermatologist can prescribe something that will really do the job. Over-the-counter steroids like hydrocortisone are probably not strong enough to overcome the reaction.

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  1. Chris

    Of course they are going to tell you fingernail polish wont work, they want you to pay for the office visit, and then the prescription. Have always used fingernail polish on chiggers.

  2. Mary
    West Virginia

    Been using nail polish on myself for chigger bites since I was a child always worked no side effects!

  3. Adam Turner

    I have to agree with these commenters. Nail polish worked when literally everything else failed for me. I’ve had a really bad case of chiggers because I didn’t know what they were when I received them. So now, as a rationalist I’m stuck here, because I know that chiggers eat skin cells, but the question remains — why does nail polish work? Rubbing alcohol, and Neem seem to help, but these things failed to control the problem much less treat it. Even the drug ChiggerEx only seemed partially useful in helping to remedy the problem, and after a few days my chigger problem became much worse. Eventually, I listened to my mother, and nail polish did the trick.

  4. g

    Oh and one more thing…don’t carry fallen wood in a short sleeve shirt…that’s how they got ahold of me.

  5. g

    Well ive had chiggers for a couple days and my mom kept telling me to put finger nail polish on them. I didn’t listen due to all this technical nonsense on the internet. But after I finally listened to her the red welts have gone down…so I disagree with ur dermatologist… And all doctors for tht matter.

  6. Lee

    I have a yard with lots of chiggers. About 4 years ago I tried the nail polish with good results, if used at first itch. However the results also depend on the formulation of the polish. Some or all nail polish has been reformulated recently. Some formulations now contain the same chemical as flame retardant used in furniture cushions, etc. I believe this is the cause of large ugly blisters I have any place I’ve put the nail polish on my skin. The blisters remain for several weeks/months. In my opinion flame retardant chemicals have no place in any product with human contact. I recommend not using current formulation nail polish for anything.

  7. Queenbee

    Have chigger bites right now. Over 70 on my legs. Most are hardened blisters but itch like mad. First I tried Neem oil and it worked all day but Neem oil can be toxic if you use too much and 70 bites just might be too much.

    I took a bath and immediately the itching came back. I had already seen a pharmacist who recommended clear nail polish. I applied some about 5 minutes ago. So far, the itching has stopped.

    Maybe the open stylstome reacts to the air and sealing the opening prevents further irritation?

  8. Matt

    After about 4 days of chigger bites relentlessly itching like mad, my wife put nail polish on them last night and this morning I had absolutely no irritation from them. I had tried antiseptic wash, tea tree shampoo, and vicks vaporub on them with no success. It’s anecdotal and not scientific, but nail polish worked flawlessly for me.

    • Casey
      South Carolina

      It would seem like it… Just like applying toothpaste, etc to a burn

      • Lisa

        I disagree about the toothpaste. Honey is the best household product to put on a burn. Honey has antibiotic, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties and it is better than butter or toothpaste for stopping pain, imho.

  9. Jim
    Austin, TX

    After getting some particularly bad chigger bites one year I took this advice and put nail polish on. It was, without a doubt, the WORST advice I have been given in my life! And I don’t mean that lightly. The bites developed into massive quarter-size fluid filled blisters that, even after they drained, itched unbearably for weeks and left visible scars afterwards. My doctor told me that the nail polish had interfered with the normal healing process. I was able to give myself some relief on weekends by taking benadryl but I couldn’t afford to do that during the work week because it puts me in a fog.

    If nail polish has worked for you in the past, God bless you. But if you’ve never done it before I STRONGLY suggest you try one little spot first and see how it affects you.

    From now on – DEET to keep the nasties off, and if I get bitten, go straight to the doctor for something prescription strength. No more folk remedies for me with this one!

  10. Peggysue

    In 1970 I attended a family reunion on a farm so far back in the hills you had to walk the last half mile to get to the log cabin. You guessed it, I sat down on an old log and by the time the sun went down I was itching like crazy. My mother told me to put clear nail polish over the itchy skin. Worked like a charm. Never had chiggers again, I learned my lesson, “DON’T SIT ON OLD LOGS WILE WEARING SHORTS.”

    • Jean

      Maybe its the chemicals in nail polish, but it has always worked for me. During the summer, I get chiggers about once a week working out in the country. I put the nail polish on, and the terrible itching is immediately relieved. I prefer this to dousing myself in DEET, personally.

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