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. Brandon H
    Talpa Texas

    I’m 58 and grew up on the farm and ranching. Mowing the yards and fishing camping and hunting I’ve had thousands of chiggers. Some places I want mention. I’m pretty hairy so I use a razor and look like a dog with mainge the I Apply the fingernail polish and it’s all good then. Little burn at first but goes away then the itch is gone to.

    I use sulfur in a sock today and beat it on my pants at the boot real good but that don’t get all of them. You just put that sock in a good zip lock and your ready for later

  2. Curt
    Wildwood, MO

    I don’t care what the so-called professionals say about clear fingernail polish. IT WORKS! It stops the confounded itching and takes away the red spot, although it just replaces it with a dark spot that goes away in a few days to a week. Grandma was right again!

  3. Rachel
    Winterville, NC

    I read this discussion and decided to directly compare clear fingernail polish to prescription anti-inflammatory that works very well for poison ivy (mometasone furoate 0.1%). I had 7 bites on the left torso and 8 on the right side, so I put fingernail polish on my left and ointment on the right. The fingernail polish provided faster relief, and I put in on two days in a row. The ointment, I had to put on about 6 times over 2 days to control the itching. I had no bad reaction to the fingernail polish, and it works slightly better than the mometasone furoate ointment. Rachel R

  4. Jon

    Sorry guys. But I’ve lived in the country my entire life. I just applied fingernail polish to 70-80 chigger bites that were making me miserable. Now they don’t itch. I can even run a bite, and it doesn’t itch. Even if it doesn’t heal it, it sure puts a protective coating over them for relief.

  5. chris
    parkston sd

    I have been doing clear finger nail polish for years as well, it dries it up and stops the itch. At first you will get a burn feeling and with a little blowing the burn goes away. I have 3 boys and after camping and playing in the trees I have to use every summer.

  6. Scott
    Skiatook Oklahoma

    The clear nail polish is what grandma used on all of us and it works. She is 93 and I am 49, we still use it here in N.E. Oklahoma.
    A dermatologist said it doesn’t work and the only thing that does, is a prescription only medication…imagine that. Lol
    Pay the doctor and pharmaceutical….. we buy our amoxicillin at the local ag store too.
    Did I mention grandma is close to a 100 with home remedies?

  7. Becky McClure

    Always used nail polish and it works. My son is using it right now.

  8. 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.

  9. Mary
    West Virginia

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

  10. 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.

  11. g

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

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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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