TICKS – Everything you will read about avoiding or repelling ticks will have the word DEET in it. From the CDC to the EPA, they all recommend using DEET to protect yourself and those you love from blood-sucking ticks. Instead, I'd like to discuss Natural Tick Repellents, tick control, and tips to avoid getting bit. We also include recipes for tick repellent for humans and dogs made with essential oils, and how to remove a tick safely.
Why I Don't Use DEET
In attempt to live a more natural lifestyle and work diligently to remove synthetic and toxic chemicals from our lives, I always look for an organic approach and alternatives to conventional methods. Even though DEET is recommended by everyone and everything that doesn’t mean it is safe for my family. It is up to us to make informed and educated decisions and decide whether or not we trust their advertising.
DEET is a registered pesticide. DEET is short for N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide (also known as N,N-diethyl-3-methylbenzamide). It is a member of the toluene chemical family. Toluene is an organic solvent used in rubber and plastic cements and paint removers. DEET is absorbed through the skin and passes into the blood.
The Medical Sciences Bulletin, published by Pharmaceutical Information Associates Ltd. reports, “Up to 56% of DEET applied topically penetrates intact human skin and 17% is absorbed into the bloodstream.” Blood concentrations of about 3 mg per liter have been reported several hours after DEET repellent was applied to skin in the prescribed fashion. DEET is also absorbed by the gut.
The most serious concerns about DEET are its effects on the central nervous system. Dr. Mohammed Abou-Donia of Duke University studied lab animals' performance of neuro-behavioral tasks requiring muscle coordination. He found that lab animals exposed to the equivalent of average human doses of DEET performed far worse than untreated animals. Abou-Donia also found that combined exposure to DEET and permethrin, a mosquito spray ingredient, can lead to motor deficits and learning and memory dysfunction.
See “The Hazards of DEET” for more information.
Alternatives to DEET
So if you don’t use DEET, what do you use?
Well, I have a safe, natural tick repellent alternative that is just as effective as DEET – continue reading to find out what it is!
Before we explore natural ways to repel and avoid ticks, we need to learn more about them, as follows:
- Tick behavior
- Diseases spread by ticks
- What ticks look like
What are Ticks?
Ticks are small, blood-sucking arachnids (eight legged bugs related to spiders). They can range in size from as small as a pin’s head to as large as a pencil eraser. The different kinds of ticks can range in color from shades of brown to reddish brown and black.
As they take in more blood, ticks become larger and larger. At their biggest, ticks can be about the size of a marble. After a tick has been feeding on its host for several days or weeks, they become engorged and can turn a greenish blue color. When done feeding, they usually fall off to breed, lay eggs and start the cycle again.
Types of Ticks
There are many different types of ticks, but only the Blacklegged Ticks (Deer Ticks) carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. According to the CDC, Lone Star Ticks, American Dog Ticks, the Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, and the Dog Tick do not transmit the Lyme disease.
Tick Borne Diseases
Aside from Lyme disease, other tickborne diseases are: Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness (STARI), Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), Ehrlichiosis, Babesiosis, Anaplasmosis, Tularemia and now Powassan Virus.
Although tickborne diseases can have mild symptoms that may be treated at home, some symptoms can be severe (even cause death) and require hospitalization. If you have been bit by a tick, please seek the advice of a medical professional immediately. See Tick Bites: Symptoms and Treatments for more information.
How Do Ticks Get on You?
You may have seen images with ticks standing on a blade of grass with their front legs outstretched, waiting to hitch a ride on their next victim. The article How Do Ticks Get on You? explains what's going:
In 1881, a scientist named G. Haller published the first description of these structures, although he misunderstood their purpose. Haller believed these structures were auditory sensors (ears), when in fact they proved to be olfactory sensors (noses). So when a tick sits on a blade of grass with its front legs extended, it is effectively sniffing the air for your scent.
What’s remarkable, however, is just how well the tick can smell you, and sense even your slightest movement. The Haller’s organ can detect the carbon dioxide you exhale with each breath, and the ammonia in your sweat. With legs outstretched, the tiny tick can pick up on all the foul odors people produce, from bad breath to belches, and it can even smell your farts.
Ticks have an incredible sense of smell and can detect you coming, some even seek you out. The way that herbs work at repelling mosquitoes, spiders, ticks and other biting insects is that they provide you with sensory camouflage. They mask your natural scent and odors that the biting species find attractive.
Tick Repelling Herbs – Which Herbs Keep Ticks Away?
Tick repelling herbs include:
- Rose Geranium (Pelargonium capitatumx raden)
- Sweetgrass – New research finds that sweetgrass, a meadow grass native to northern climates, contains chemicals that work as well as DEET in fending off the blood-sucking insects.
Planting any of the above herbs, as well as Beauty Berry Bush and Mountain Mint, will act as a natural tick repellent for your yard.
Natural Tick Repellents
Now more than ever it is important to explore all of the constituents, properties, and applications for herbs because bacteria, parasites, viruses, and pathogens have become resistant to the current chemical and medical protocols. In many cases doctors and scientist have no plan B. They are working diligently at finding alternatives but time is running out. We need to arm ourselves with an herbal warfare apothecary against these invaders to protect us when all else fails (or be our first course of action).
The article Ticks: Natural Prevention and Care warns about the need for new plant based tick controls:
A team of scientists from the Scottish Agricultural College believes that the long term outlook for insect and parasite control may not be so rosy. Project leader Dr. Jos Houdijk states that it is now time to look for alternatives to the veterinary drugs which farmers in industrialized countries have come to rely on. “When these drugs were introduced in the west in the 1960s we thought they would solve all our problems but we couldn’t have been more wrong. Nowadays the parasites are becoming resistant and the consumer is becoming more aware about having products that have a minimum use of drugs. Alternative medicines are coming into fashion again.
The long term solution to tick -borne disease prevention lies in the power of plants and herbs. These plant-based treatments, along with some knowledge of ticks and tick-borne diseases may be your best bet at staying healthy in the ensuing summer months.
The top two natural tick repellents listed in this post (Rose Geranium and Sweetgrass) are two of these plant-based treatments.
See: Mosquito-repelling chemicals identified in traditional sweetgrass and Bioactivity-guided investigation of geranium essential oils as natural tick repellents for more on studies demonstrating their effectiveness.
Which Essential Oils Keep Ticks Away?
Any combination of the above herbs will work at repelling ticks, but the best essential oils for keeping ticks away are Rose Geranium and Sweetgrass. You can use whatever essential oils you have on hand from the list above, but make sure you use Rose Geranium and Sweetgrass as your primary tick repellent essential oils.
Natural Tick Repellent Recipe
This is a safe, natural tick repellent for humans made with essential oils. A simpler tick repellent for dogs is listed below.
- 20 Drops of Rose Geranium Essential Oil
- 10 Dopes of Sweetgrass Essential Oil – Click here to order sweetgrass oil online
- 5 Drops of Lavender Essential Oil
- 5 Drops of Citronella or Lemon Essential Oil
- 4oz of Rubbing Alcohol, Witch hazel, Vodka, Apple Cider Vinegar or Distilled Water
- Glass Spray Bottle
Directions for Use
Add all of the ingredients into the spray bottle and spray on clothes before going outside. Shake before using.
Note: While you can use water, the other options are better for keeping the oils in solution. Regular tap water may contain contaminants, so distilled water is preferred.
Other Recommended Tick Repellent and Removal Options
- All Natural Insect Repellent with Essential Oils
- The Original Ticked Off Tick Remover
- Tick Twister Tick Remover Set with Small and Large Tick Twister
- Insect Repellent for Dogs – Pure Natural, No Deet – Fleas, Ticks Gone
- Dr. Harvey's Herbal Protection Spray Bottle for Dogs
Tick Protection from the Inside Out
There are many herbs you can use to repel ticks externally, but you may also be able to make yourself less appealing as a tick meal from the inside out by:
- Taking Bitters – Herbalists have found that taking Gentian Bitters helps protect you from getting bit by ticks.
- Eating Garlic – Garlic capsules were found to reduce the risk of tick bites by 21%
Natural Tick Control – Livestock, Animals, Insects and More!
Animals, insects and even fungi play an important role at keeping nature in balance. It is our job to help implement these natural alternatives when we see an infestation or an issue for concern, to protect the health of our family.
Some amazing species that can provide your family, homestead or farm with natural tick-controlling benefits are:
- Guinea Fowl – Guinea Fowl have been used to help reduce tick population and unlike chickens, they don’t damage the garden.
- Chickens – Our protein-loving feathered friends are huge fans of consuming ticks and any other insect they can scratch for.
- Ducks – Chickens, ducks, turkeys and guinea fowl are not only entertaining and beautiful, but they can supply fresh eggs daily, and offer effective bug and slug control
- Opossum – Opossums can kill about 5,000 ticks in one season.
- Fire Ants – Fire Ants can clear a field of ticks (and most other creatures) quite effectively.We finally found a benefit to having fire ants!
- Nematodes and Fungi – Several kinds of parasitic nematodes and fungi infect ticks and can cause their demise. These have been investigated as potential means to reduce risk of ticks and tick-borne infections.
Tips to Avoid Getting Bit by Ticks
The first defense to avoid getting bit by ticks is to know where ticks like to live. Ticks like to live in tall grasses and wooded areas with a moist and humid environment. Limiting your exposure to this type of environment will also limit your tick exposure.
To avoid getting bitten, use the following tips:
- Wear panty hose under pants
- Don’t walk in high grassy areas
- Keep your grass cut
- Don’t sit on logs – If you sit on a log for only five minutes in a tick infested area, you have a 30% chance of getting a tick on you.
- Wear hats when walking in the woods and tight (not loose) braids, pony tails or buns
- Wear clothing that covers the skin and has elastic on the wrist and ankles, with boots or shoes tightened at the ankles
- Tuck your pants into your socks
- Always walk in the center of trails when taking nature walks
- Shower within two hours of coming indoors
- Inspect your clothes and body, especially: Under the arms, around the ears, inside the belly button, back of knees and in your hair.
Safe Tick Removal
If you notice a tick on your skin or in your hair it is important you know how to remove it safely to get the entire bug. Here are the current recommendations for how to remove a tick safely from the CDC. Image and text courtesy of Tick Removal: How to Remove a Tick at cdc.gov.
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
Avoid folklore remedies such as “painting” the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–not waiting for it to detach.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Note: The longer the tick stays attached, the more opportunity there is for disease transmission.
Natural Tick Repellents for Dogs
Dogs seem to be the biggest domesticated victim of ticks, due to their proximity to the ground and their desire to roam the great outdoors. Although dogs can fall prey to tickborne disease, they can also bring ticks into the home, which can then bite your family members.
To make a safe tick repellent for dogs, combine:
- About 20 drops of Rose Geranium and Pennyroyal (Tickweed) essential oil
- two tablespoons almond oil
(You can use vegetable oil, but almond oil contains sulfur, which is also a natural tick repellent.) Mix these ingredients together and place a few drops on your dog or on his collar. These tick repellent oils are not meant to be used with cats or pregnant animals.
Related Posts on the Site
- Natural Mosquito Repellents that Work
- Deer Fly Control and Deterrent Tips to Keep Biting Flies Away
- Natural Spider Repellents – 8 Ways to Get Rid of Spiders
- How to Get Rid of Ants Naturally & Why You Should Protect Outside Ants
This is a guest post by Amber Bradshaw of My Homestead Life. Amber is a environmentalist, homesteader, garden and outdoor enthusiast. She is a wife, mother of three. Amber owns a contracting business with her husband, was President of the local Herb Society for the last three years, a 4-H Leader, Blogger and runs a CSA. Amber strives to get back into nature with a more sustainable and self-reliant lifestyle that fits a busy schedule and a tight budget. She lives on the east coast with her family on a little over 1/4 acre and encourages others to do big things with small spaces.
Originally published in 2016, updated in 2018.
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