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How to Keep Chiggers from Biting You

One reader shares his secrets on using sulfur powder and granules to keep chiggers from biting when out walking in the woods.
How to Keep Chiggers from Biting You
Close up of sulfur powder texture and background

As summer arrives and outdoor activities become more appealing, many of us would like to avoid itchy bites. Mosquito bites are plenty itchy, of course, and we should avoid them as much as we can. But among the itchiest are chigger bites. Is there a way to keep chiggers from biting you?

How Can You Keep Chiggers from Biting Your Skin?

Q. Chigger bites make me miserable. The most effective prevention I have found is a layer of baby oil around my ankles, behind my knees and around my waist and neck. Then I put sulfur powder in a sock and dust myself with it around my pants legs, socks and boots. For some reason, they can’t seem to get to my skin with the oil on it.

I also keep a towel in the garage, take my clothes off when I come in from outside and vigorously rub down with the towel before taking a soapy shower. And lastly, I apply sulfur granules to my lawn each year. It does take some effort but it’s worth it! You can get sulfur powder and granules at any garden center.

Finding Ways to Keep Chiggers from Biting:

A. Thanks for the tips. Chiggers are the larval stage of certain mites (family Trombiculidae). They hang out in tall grass and brush, waiting for an unsuspecting animal (maybe you) to happen by so they can grab a meal. This tactic might sound familiar, as it is also how ticks line up for a bite. Unlike ticks, chiggers don’t carry or transmit dangerous pathogens.

The best defense in both cases is to stay out of the undergrowth. That might not be practical, though. If you must venture into the woods and fields, wear long pants with the cuffs tucked into the tops of your socks. Your baby oil idea is interesting. We will try it ourselves soon.

Sulfur powder is a long-standing remedy to keep chiggers off the skin. (Another reader recommended it here.) Be careful not to inhale the powder when you apply it. It can irritate the lungs.

If you can’t find powdered sulfur, you may want to use bug repellent containing picaridin for additional protection. Consumer Reports has found that it works well against both chiggers and ticks.

Scrub Them Off!

The idea of rubbing the skin with a dry towel first and showering as soon as possible to wash off unattached or lightly attached chiggers is great. Lee Townsend and Mike Potter, extension entomologist at the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, agree.

 

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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