Ask Curology: Insect repellent and skincare

Can you use bug spray on acne-prone skin? Here’s what the experts have to say.

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C
Jun 29, 2021 · 4 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Welcome to Ask Curology, penned by one of our in-house medical providers in response to your questions about all things skincare. This week: bug spray and your skin. No one likes an itchy bug bite, but do insect repellents cause breakouts? This is what we know about having bug-bite-free and breakout-free skin.

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Dear Curology, 

I live for those long summer nights, but I just can’t stand the bugs that come along with them—particularly mosquitos. So just apply bug spray, right? Well, the problem is that I’m prone to breakouts (face and body). Every time I use insect repellent, I feel like my skin gets worse. 

Help me! It’s summer, and I’m gonna have bumps on bumps if I can’t figure out this whole bug bite/acne stuff. What’s your advice?

Signed,

No Mo ’Squitos 

Dear ’Squitos,

I have many childhood memories of fun summer nights followed by itchy, welty mornings. Major bummer! I also understand how frustrating body breakouts can be, especially in warmer weather when you tend to show more skin. 

Do I really need insect repellent? 

I’ll cut to the chase, ’Squito: protecting yourself from bug bites won’t just stave off the itch. While most bug bites are harmless, some can spread diseases like Lyme disease, Zika virus, and malaria. So proper protection from insects can help you avoid pesky bites and stings as well as insect-borne diseases.

The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using bug sprays with 20 to 30 percent DEET on exposed skin and clothing. In addition to DEET, there are other active insect repellents registered and approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). You can read the full list here if you’d like.  

Some of the insect repellents registered by the EPA are naturally derived essential plant oils or their active compounds. These ingredients include lemon oil, eucalyptus, and citronella oil. DEET is still considered the most effective and commonly used insect repellent, but it’s nice to know about alternatives if you prefer to go a more “natural” route!

No matter which bug spray you use, it’s very important to follow the instructions on the bottle and reapply as needed. 

Insect repellent for acne-prone skin

Typically, we’re able to recommend a number of good products for acne-prone skin, but bug spray is more challenging. In most circumstances, brands won’t release the full ingredient lists of their insect repellents, making it almost impossible to confirm whether or not they’re potentially pore-clogging or irritating. But if you’re in search of a non-comedogenic bug spray for acne-prone skin, we found that Coleman Botanicals Insect Repellent fits the bill! 

The EPA actually has a handy-dandy tool called “Find the repellent that is right for you.” You just answer some questions, including how much time you’ll be outdoors, what kinds of bugs you need protection from (mosquitoes and/or ticks), and what active ingredients you’d like. Then, the tool will spit out a list of insect repellents that meet your requirements. Is that cool or what!?

If you apply a bug spray without knowing the full ingredient list, I suggest rinsing it off as soon as you’re back indoors. If you’re prone to body breakouts, you might want to use a cleanser like the Curology acne body wash to help prevent acne from popping up.

How to treat an itchy bug bite 

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, bug bites happen. But there are a few steps you can take to soothe bug-bitten skin. If you’re itchy, try using a cold compress, applying an anti-itch cream, or taking an oral antihistamine. If your bite is painful, you might consider taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. 

It’s time to see an in-person medical provider when your bite gets worse or you experience any sign of infection, such as increased swelling, warmth, redness, fever, or chills.

So that’s what I know as your friendly local expert. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to your Curology provider. If you’re not already a Curology member, you can get your first month of custom prescription skincare for free (just pay $4.95 to cover shipping and handling). Until next time…!

All my best,

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

Empowering you with knowledge is our top priority. Our reviews of other brands’ products in this post are not paid endorsements—but they do meet our medically fact-checked standards for ingredients (at the time of publication).

Nicole Hangsterfer Avatar

Nicole Hangsterfer, PA-C

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