This 2017 photo by Holland Haverkamp shows a browntail moth caterpillar in Maine. Credit: Holland Haverkamp / University of Maine via AP

The painful, itchy rash caused by contact with the hairs from the browntail moth caterpillar can be agonizing, as many Mainers have discovered in recent years as the moths spread across the state. But a new cream from a Maine company with a surprising ingredient might help.

Portland-based skincare company Marin Skincare realized that the rash — a form of contact dermatitis — wasn’t all that different from the eczema their flagship product, the Soothing Hydration Cream, was designed to provide relief from. That cream is infused with a glycoprotein found in lobster blood that helps the animal fight off disease and heal wounds, and which the company says is particularly effective in soothing eczema-prone skin.

Co-founders Patrick Breeding and Amber Boutiette, both graduates of the University of Maine in Orono, quickly got to work creating a cream specifically designed to treat browntail moth itch.

“When we realized it was actually contact dermatitis, it all made sense. Eczema is just another term for dermatitis, and contact dermatitis is a sub type of dermatitis,” Boutiette said in a press release. “This whole time we’ve been helping people with contact dermatitis caused by many things, [like] skin-irritating makeup, excessive hand washing, and now from browntail moth rash. It all made sense.”

The browntail moth product went on the market earlier this month, during the peak of browntail moth caterpillar season in May, when caterpillars began to hatch. The peak is expected to continue through late July, when the caterpillars turn into moths. The cream is available online at marinskincare.com for $34.99.

Home remedies for the itch have become popular in recent years, and pharmacies are concocting their own compounds of items like witch hazel, Benadryl, Calamine, hydrocortisone and lidocaine to sell to patients. Some pharmacies have experienced shortages in some of these products, however, as the caterpillars become more widespread.

“Last week was definitely the peak of what we’ve seen in terms of people coming in looking for a remedy,” said Brian Raymond, retail manager for Northern Light Pharmacy. “At one point it could take up to two days for us to create a compound. It’s since slowed down a little bit.”

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends treating the rash by taking a cool bath with baking soda or oatmeal, or using things like hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion.

Marin Skincare was founded in 2020, after founders Breeding and Boutiette studied under the University of Maine’s top lobster scientist, Bob Bayer, who discovered that lobster glycoprotein might have beneficial properties that could help treat eczema. The three collaborated on the first iteration of the skin cream, and Breeding and Boutiette launched the company a few years later, funded by grants from the Maine Technology Institute, the Libra Future Fund and the Maine Sea Grant’s Buoy Maine pitch competition.

Marin utilizes waste products from Portland seafood distributor Luke’s Lobster in order to isolate the protein for the cream.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.