Cheap-looking bug-bite zapper actually works

Gizmodo's Brent Rose reviews the TheraPik, a $13, ugly, plasticky bug-bite zapper that actually works really well. It heats up your mosquito (and other critter) bites until the venom's proteins break down, and the itching and swelling disappear.

Using It
You put the tip of the Therapik onto your bug bite, then you press and hold down the button. The tip uses light to heat the bite up. You hold it there for as long as you can take it, up to a minute. The burning sensation gets pretty intense after 30 seconds or so.

The Best Part
It actually works! Mosquito bites (the only thing we tested it with) stopped itching within a few seconds of taking it off, and in most cases they never itched again. We are officially stunned.

Therapik Bug Bite Relieving Gadget Review: We Can’t Believe This Actually Works


  1. In my own testing similar things work for poison ivy rashes (well assuming they aren’t blistering open everywhere).  I use a wet wash cloth, zap it in the microwave, and let it cool just to where I can tolerate it.  The itching and pain is pretty intense for the first 10-15 seconds, but after that it goes away for a few hours.  I’m not sure if the healing time is reduced, just not something I deal with more than once or twice a year.

    Notably I don’t get poison ivy very bad or frequently.  My wife however…all she has to do it walk past it and she starts breaking out.

    1. I’ve always treated both poison ivy and chigger bites by getting into the hottest water I can stand (and I take pretty hot showers). I guess maybe that’s why this works. 

      Full disclosure though: I’m not that sensitive to either of these things in the first place. Typically I will not even have symptoms despite having walked through the same areas as everyone else.

      I am REALLY sensitive to mosquitoes though. I wonder if it has to be hotter for them?

      1.  i can’t take water above 85f so I wipe down with coal oil. not the safest thing in the world to do but it wipes out chiggers on contact.

        i do it every time i come in from the back 40 (there’s a quarter-acre of natural growth in the out-back.) and get the larvae before they can create the itch

      2.  I do the same (ever since I spent time in the tropics and got 20+bites a night) and had thought about the explanation that was given, but I had guessed that it would still be too cool for the proteins to break down.

      3. I’m massively, massively allergic to poison ivy. I’ve more than once had 300+ cc’s of fluid drained from my fingers.  I get what’s called a systemic reaction; so fever, joint ache’s and nausea go along with it. And while really hot water  just tends to irritate things, very warm water always tends to relieve the pain. Doesn’t end things any quicker but kills the itch and soothes the aches.

        Chiggers and bug bites though tend to be fine with the hotter water. I remember my grandmother using boiling water mixed with vinegar to drive chiggers out of my skin. 

  2. Hmmm… so you can burn mosquito venom off and if you don’t get it too hot you can do so without burning your own proteins off? I’m intrigued, but afraid of having tons of burn scars AND west nile virus now.

    1.  Mosquitoes don’t have venom. The swelling and itching of the bite are your immune response to the anticoagulent enzymes the mosquito injects to keep itself from being killed by your clotting response. 

      West Nile is no joke. I’m pretty sure I had it a few years ago. Fever, chills, loss of appetite,  vision problems. Was about to go to the doctor, but symptoms faded after three days. I know a dude who went into a coma and had to learn how to walk again after West Nile. And we’re having an outbreak right now as SE Texas has had it’s usual rainy June and July after last year’s drought.

      Scary thing is that its now believed that people who seem to have fought off the virus may have long term health problems from West Nile.

  3. There used to be a simple, low-tech method for this until all those nanny-state liberals made it illegal to put out cigarettes on children.

    1. The trick is NOT applying the cigarette to the child(ren) yourself. 

      Instead, have the kids watch you lightly apply the tip of the cigarette to the mosquito afflicted area on _your own_  flesh as a demonstration. After observing the responsible adults treat their mosquito afflicted flesh with cigarettes, the children know the procedure and with practice, they can use their own damn smokes to effectively treat their mosquito afflicted flesh.

      As the saying goes, practice makes perfect. At first they might have a few blisters and whatnot. But lickity-jiggity-split in no-time-at-all, the kids will learn the proper distance and duration for applying the f*g’s tip to the afflicted area without burning themselves.

    2. I just wrote a response to your post, and inadvertently referred to  a cigarette as a f_*g*_, which caused my post to be flagged for moderation. 

      Should I hang my head in shame? 

      But seriously, it is interesting. When I wrote the word that offended the filter, I wasn’t thinking of its alternate meaning ’cause enough friends, family and etcetera have used the word to refer to cigarettes I didn’t even think about it. Interesting. I’m not an obnoxious Anglophile, or even much of one. It’s just a word I picked up and when  I use it, I don’t even think of the bigoted alternate meaning.

      Anyway, I still like the new system and the automated flags for moderators. 

      I understand that software can stumble with context. I wonder, should machines become advanced enough to achieve self-awareness, does this have the potential to become a cultural difference or barrier?

      Or perhaps, will sapient machines understand ambiguities such as this but pretend not to, as a way of asserting their independence and individuality?

        1. Oh, I know real AIs aren’t currently used even for context sensitive filtering, except experimentally. I was just attempting humour.

  4. For most of us,  just having the self-control not to scratch for 10 minutes is sufficient to eliminate mosquito-bite itch.  I’m skeptical.   And as to poison ivy:  you need a surfactant (detergents) to break the oil free from your skin.  Since the mosquito anticoagulant (not a venom, btw) is subdermic and the poison ivy is topical,  I rather doubt this gadget would do both in the first place.

    1. If it worked for my wife and daughter that would be nice.  Mosquito bites don’t much bug me, but both of them get big uncomfortable welts that take a day or two to go away.

    2. Try tick bites – even if ignored they keep itching with about the same intensity for a few days.

    3. I’m not 100% sold on the idea that it’s just the oil (itself) in poison ivy that causes all the problems.  My wife can come in contact with it, wash that area 10 times and it’ll blister (which is kind of to be expected), but then it’ll start showing up other places a few days and showers later.

      I think for some people it’s more of a systemic reaction to the initial contact with the oil.  Even with it gone the body keeps freaking out.  When I get an outbreak it looks more like a bad rash, hers looks like you poured boiling water on her skin.

      Besides I don’t think this device would work on poison ivy, my reference was to the fact it used heat to help the itching (just in a different way).

      1. Soap & water just spreads it around, gotta be an actual detergent as he says as that oil is pernicious to say the least. Most soaps and body washes are soap and not detergent.

        An yor right, this device would do squat all about poison ivy

        1. Detergent isn’t going to destroy the urushiol any more than soap will… it might be slightly better at solvating it but that too is ‘spreading it around’. If you realize you have poison ivy exposure before actual symptoms develop I would recommend bleach (but not for too long, it’s caustic); the hypochlorite does actually destroy the urushiol by attacking the unsaturated double bonds.
          Very hot water helps the symptoms of poison ivy, so I can readily believe that this device works. But that is far different from believing their claimed mechanism.

    4. When I moved from the UK (where I was used to the mosquito bites and they would disappear in minutes if they showed at all) to Austin, where my immune systems was unused to the mosquitoes, the bites could grow to the size of a fried egg, with a hard core the size of my thumbnail, and they would last about a five days. The outer, raised, and red area itches, but the hard core *burns*, as if you’ve been injected with capsaicin… but unlike capsaicin, it doesn’t fade after a few minutes. A dozen bites and you cannot sleep.

      After a couple of years here, deliberately letting myself get bitten to build my immunity, the bites have shrunk to the size of my thumbtip, and the hard core just rice-grain sized, if it’s there at all. They last perhaps two days.

      With West Nile becoming a problem, though, I’m more leery of being bitten now, so I imagine it will take some time for my immunity to reach the level it was in the UK.

    1. Hah! Physical object DRM :P

      I live in a river town in southern England, and oddly enough we get a lot of mosquitoes, and I suffer pretty badly from the bites. I’m going to make me a DIY one of these, using a small lipo battery and an LED…

      I’ve seen similar products which use piezo-electric devices to shock the bite. I don’t know if they truly work, either – you could make one of those from a cheap lighter.

      1. The whole point of an LED is that they are very efficient at emitting a light – very little energy goes into heat.  An old incandescent flashlight bulb might be a better bet.

        1. Agreed.  I have the original red, and even uglier, Therapik.  Really, it’s just an incandescant bulb, a 9-volt battery, and a switch.

          The heat is what makes it work.  An LED wouldn’t work.

  5. Actually, the heat just causes your histamines in the area to all get bound up at once; there is a refractory period while your receptors reset.  Same effect as taking a super hot shower.  Not what it claims to be, as far as I can tell.

    1. Yes, yes, yes, this this this. The heat doesn’t have fuck all to do with the bug bite proteins –the histamine reaction overwhelms the itch signal. The itch will return. If they are making this protein melting claim the FDA will send a Warning Letter in about 15 minutes.

      1. I doubt they would heed such a warning. The website claims that it’s FDA “cleared” but the FDA does not clear products at all and the term is indicated by the FDA as a warning sign of a false claim to fool the consumer into believing that it is FDA tested, which it probably is not.

        Another surefire mosquito bite temporary fix, popping it with a rubber band really well. FDA CLEARED!

    2.  Finally an answer that is in the ballpark.  The mosquito bite causes histamine release.  As does Poison Ivy.  Scratching it causes relief of the itch but actually leads to MORE histamine release.   This in a few minutes it itches even worse.

      Pain however will stop the histamine release.  That is why people will often scratch bites until it hurts and they bleed.  Because that causes the histamine release to end.  However, and healing scab often will also cause a histamine release, so when the wound that you created by scratching starts to heal, a person can restart the whole cycle.

      Sounds like this device, by causing some pain but without causing a wound can break the histamine cycle. 

  6. Hmmm… I see no danger to exposing your skin cells to intense, localized, protein-denaturing, burning heat multiple times a day, all summer…

    Maybe they can just stick some nice powerful UV rays in there as well?

    (Note: it’s perfectly possible that this is perfectly safe. Then again, the FDA would probably have approved a UV ray gun 50 years ago as well.)

  7. I hate to be pedantic, but we should probably be clear too, that mosquitoes don’t have “venom”.  Hot water does definitely seem to help bug bites though, so there might be something to this (though a feel a lighter might make an even cheaper (if a little more dangerous) version of the same thing).

  8. You have to read the study on the site – bees, wasps, hornets, their venom is destroyed by the heat. Not so for Mosquito bites. The heat from the tool will increase blood flow to the bite, and maybe transport the mosquito saliva away, but its not the same action as described with thermally sensitive compounds in the venoms.

    Given that it sounds like it would be great for bee stings.

    1. I laughed at getting attacked by yellow jackets and the stinging sensation was not so bad but then they itched like hell for a week. I might consider trying that.

    1. That’s some incisive and thoughtful commentary there. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion. I must however point out that you’d missed a few crucial points, and am providing these below for your convenience.


  9. Wash poison ivy with Octagon Soap.

    Note: My mom and grandma did it on me when I was a kid. I haven’t tried it in years, because I don’t live near poison ivy any more. 

    1. I was taught on Fels Naptha soap, but can’t really claim any true positive results versus any other soap.  FWIW, there’s a ton of google results vis-a-vis Fels Naptha and poison ivy.  Poison ivy never really got to me much, though, and once I’d caught it once in a season, it’s effects were even more diminished.

    1. Hmm, unpublished unblinded “studies” which report patient perception of itch as the main outcome measure aren’t the most convincing evidence, here.

        1. Clinical study != clinical trial. The latter means it adheres to rigorous standards of design, power, blinding, control, etc. The former means “someone with an MD looked at it.”

  10. witch hazel still rules for me. Bug bites, sun exposure, rashes, mouthwash, more. Mix it with a few drops of tea tree oil extract and it’s kickass. I also have it from a couple of RNs I know here in NYC that witch hazel  is the gold standard in hospitals for both treatment and prevention of both bed sores and hemorrhoids. 

    1. You know what I hate about witch hazel? The smell makes me think about mosquito bites and I get psychosomatic itching.

  11. Seems to me the placebo effect could be pretty powerful here – how would we go about designing a double-blind RCT?

    1. I agree about the placebo effect.  Maybe you could use the same device shell but, instead of heat, it applies a really small pezioelectric shock or just vibrates.

  12. I’m the type of person other people love to take on a trip in the woods because I attract all the mosquitoes to my tender flesh. I came up with a heat method that usually works for me. Warning: It sometimes results in burning flesh if not done just right. Take a butter knife and pass the tip briefly through a flame, and then tap it on the bite. If it is hot enough to sting the itch will go away immediately.  If it is not hot enough to sting try again. Much safer, is applying an ice cube immediately after being bitten. I also keep some witch hazel in a spray bottle to apply to the itch, works well.

  13. My entire family has been using a related technique we picked up circa 1970.  Take _near_ scalding water (most hot tap water is sufficient); and apply it for just a moment to the area that itches. It seems to work even if you do it so fast you don’t notice the heat.  This works on all itching, apparently it stuns the nerves or something.  It works instantly, so if nothing happens try it adjust the temperature/duration.  The effect lasts a few hours.  This was a life saver the time I got caught in a cloud of smoke from burning poison ivy vines.  To be clear if there is _any_ risk of a burn then your doing it wrong.

  14. The mosquito bite is all about histamine release and I’m surprised so few people allude to it in this thread. 

    The mosquito bite causes histamine release.  As does Poison Ivy.  Histamine causes the itch.  Scratching it causes relief of the itch but actually leads to MORE histamine release.   Thus in a few minutes it itches even worse.

    Pain however will stop the histamine release.  That is why people will often scratch bites until it hurts and they bleed.  Because that causes the histamine release to end.  However, a healing scab often will also cause a histamine release, so when the wound that you created by scratching starts to heal, a person can restart the whole cycle.

    Sounds like this device, by causing some pain but without causing a full wound, can break the histamine cycle. But there are many free ways to do that, you just don’t want to damage the area.

  15. After trying the usual store bought remedies &/or just scratching the h*ll out of our mosquito bites…I found an interesting little fix on the internet two years ago.
    Boil some water…dip a teaspoon in…then lightly touch the bite with the tip of the teaspoon…only for a couple of seconds. (Hubby thought more was better once & ended up with a small burn…he learned.)
    We were amazed that it actually works. The itch is gone for about 24 hours & possibly may need one more application the next day…but the bites are itch-free & heal faster, due to the lack of scratching.
    So, same idea…but free!

    1. I react none-too-well to mosquito bites and have been suffering from a handful the last few days, after a trip that involved some hiking. I just tried this technique last night and it worked wonders. I’m at 12 hours now and no itching, no burning, no pain, no nothing.

      As the saying goes, the plural of anecdote is not data, so I don’t pretend this is scientific, but it did work for me.

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