Q. I have always been told that you could cover your chigger bites with clear nail polish over the bite to get rid of them. The idea is that the chigger is alive and burrows and continues to spread and the nail polish kills them.
I remember this cure from when I was a child.
A. You aren’t the only person who believes this folk tale. We have heard from many readers that clear nail polish is the answer to chigger bites. Here are just a few reader stories:
“Chiggers are little bugs that crawl into the skin. The trick to dealing with the bites is to kill the little critters. Suffocate them by painting with clear nail polish!”
“I have recently had chigger bites. Chiggers nest in pine trees. A remedy for getting rid of chigger bites is clear nail polish. It does suffocate the bite. I thought it was poison ivy at first then I asked my mom if we could go to the store and pick up clear nail polish. Turns out it was chiggers. The bites went away by the end of 3 days! :)”
Dermatologists tell us (actually insist) that chiggers do NOT burrow into the skin. Rather, they bite us and inject proteins (enzymes) that can cause a highly allergic skin reaction in some people. Chiggers (Trombiculidae) are also known as red bugs or berry bugs. (People often get badly bitten while picking berries.) The bites are incredibly itchy. Those individuals that are especially sensitive can end up with nasty blisters.
Trying to deal with chigger bites after the fact is like trying to put out a fire after it has burned the house down. Strong (prescription-strength) steroid creams are often necessary.
Prevention is the key to success. Here is one person’s approach:
“I am extremely sensitive to chigger bites. Since I live in the south, I get bitten every time I work in my yard or garden.
“Over the years, I have tried nail polish, alcohol, Clorox, hot water, ice water, calamine, plus other things. Every bite would last for two weeks, keeping me awake at night.
“I don’t like to spray on DEET so I take an old sock, put several spoons of sulfur powder in it & secure it with a rubber band. Every time I go out to work in the yard, I pat the sock all around my shoes & socks, ankles, & waist. If I apply it carefully enough, I get no bites. If I get a couple of bites, the only thing that works for me is to take Benadryl tablets and apply hydrocortisone cream 3 times a day for two days & the itch is gone!!
Chiggers hate sulfur. If you can’t find sulfur powder (it is not always easy to find in pharmacies or garden stores), here is another option. Chigg Away is a liquid that contains sulfur which can be applied around shoes, socks, feet and ankles. It is far better to avoid chiggers than to try to ease the itch once they have bitten you.