In this post, you'll learn the best tick repellent for humans. We cover 5 options – so you can choose the one that fits you best. If you enjoy being outside, you need to know how to keep the ticks away. Not only are they disgusting – they can make you very sick.
Best Tick Repellent for Humans: 5 Great Options
No matter how much of an eco-friendly nature lover you are, there is just something about the thought of ticks burrowing into your skin that makes the best of us think about using some harsh chemicals, like Deet and Permethrin. These blood-sucking little parasites can have that effect.
In this post, we'll cover the following topics.:
- Mosquitos vs Ticks: Comparison (jump to section)
- Tick Removal (jump to section)
- Best Tick Repellent for Humans: 5 Options (Clothing, Natural, Yard, Chemical (jump to section)
But before you go reaching for some chemical toxic cocktail, let’s discuss ticks, repellents, preventative measures, and where you are likely to come across them.
And the best way to remove them if you should be so lucky as to find one hitchhiking somewhere on your body. And then you'll most likely come across a tick repellent that suits you.
Here are 7 tips to avoid ticks while hiking.
Picture a lovely lush meadow with long grass, a babbling brook nearby and a year round deer population. This is a tick paradise and your chances of encountering a tick is just about 100%.
This may seem like common sense but a lot of people think ‘mosquito’ when heading into the great outdoors, not ‘tick’.
Why is the humble little tick often forgotten? Honestly, there is no answer for that.
Probably because they are quiet, you don’t feel them bite and when mosquitoes bite it is uncomfortable and itchy which keeps our attention on them. So, let's do a comparison.
Mosquitoes vs Ticks: Comparison
Mosquitoes vs. Ticks
- Does it suck blood? Yes – both mosquitoes and ticks
- Can it carry disease? Yes – both mosquitoes and ticks
- Can you get sick from being bitten? Yes – both mosquitoes and ticks
- Does it feed on humans? Yes – both mosquitoes and ticks
- Do you feel it bite? Only mosquito bites can be felt. Ticks almost always bite without their host feeling anything.
As you can see, ticks are every bit as dangerous as mosquitoes. With the only difference being that you don’t realize you have a tick because they release numbing agents when they bite you – so you don’t have buzzing, itching and sharp pain at the bite site to feel it.
This gives the tick more time to gorge itself and feed off of you for days. Yes. Days.
Within that time, it can transmit serious diseases like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever along with many more.
There are more than a dozen tick-borne diseases that can make people very sick and researchers have theories that the increase in Lyme disease in the United States and Canada is at an all-time high.
But don’t freak out just yet, not all ticks carry pathogens harmful to humans so just because you find one doesn’t automatically mean it is infected or that you will get sick. Plus, they need time to infect you, as in days not hours (or seconds like a mosquito), so you have time.
In fact, the CDC states that if you remove a tick within the first 24 to 48 hours it greatly reduces your chances of contracting Lyme disease, so breathe, you have time to remove them.
On that note, let’s discuss tick removal.
If you return from camping or hiking and find a tick, they are very easy to remove.
Just grab a set of pointed tweezers, grip the tick right down where it has borrowed in and gently pull applying a steady pressure. This will remove the tick and you can dispose of it… or place it in a plastic bag to take to the doctors for identification if you are worried.
Try to always use tweezers because if you just pull the tick out with your fingers you don’t get down far enough to grab their heads and you can leave the head borrowed in.
If this happens, try to remove the head with tweezers but if you can’t then disinfect the site and the head should make its way out on its own.
There are some specially made tick removal tools – they aren't expensive and work better than a standard set of tweezers. This one by TickCheck comes with 2 specialty tools and a little pouch.
Done, easy peasy, no muss no fuss. See that wasn’t so bad was it? Yes, it’s gross but removing them is quick, easy and painless.
Now, let’s discuss the different ways to repel ticks so you never have to go through that process.
Having said that, it’s a good idea to buy an extra set of tweezers to go in the camping first aid kit if it doesn’t have any. Or, carry a set in your hiking backpack.
Can you squish a tick? Get the answer, plus 16 more gross tick facts
5 Great Options for Repelling Ticks
All-natural sprays, essential oils, yard treatments, clothing, and chemicals are all good tick deterrents.
At home, in your yard, out on the hiking trails, camping or spending the summer in a cabin by a lake… if you are outdoors then the chances of encountering ticks is there.
Here, we will discuss each tick repelling option for you to make an informed decision about which is best for you and your family.
1. Clothing Tick Repellent
Because ticks spend a lot of time on the ground, or near it, there are precautions you can take when out wandering the wilds.
One great option is wearing long pants. There are lightweight, breathable hiking pants for men and women designed to make your hike comfortable. These, along with good ankle high hiking boots provide a layer of defense against ticks.
A tick finds a host by a process called ‘questing’. This is where a tick uses its two pairs of rear legs to hang onto a long blade of grass or some other vegetation and wait for a suitable host to come along.
Generally, a warm blooded animal like a deer, some cattle, or person. Yes, they are waiting for you.
They sense you are near by picking up chemicals in the air from breath, body odor and temperature variations changing their immediate environment and just grab on as you brush past. Usually, adults (larger ticks) are found higher up on the vegetation hoping for a larger animal to grab onto.
So, if you are wearing long pants, then they can’t get to your skin and if you have treated those long pants with a tick repellent they will drop off straight away and you both go about your lives.
There are three ways you can have tick repellent clothes:
- Spray your pants with the same spray you have taken along for mosquitoes, as most chemical sprays will affect and deter ticks as well as a host of other creepy crawlies, not just mosquitoes
- Apply a specialized clothing insect repellent like Permethrin that is effective against ticks, mosquitoes, mites and other creepy crawlies you don’t want up your pants leg. These sprays usually last quite a while and don’t harm or degrade your clothes in any way. They are also odorless so it doesn’t taint that fresh air you are enjoying. Sawyer Products has one that lasts 6 weeks and or 6 washes.
- Buy clothes with specially designed built in tick repellent. A lot of avid campers and outdoors people have anti tick socks as part of their gear. Seeing as ticks are found low to ground it’s a good idea to pay special attention to the part of you at tick height, like your socks just in case they crawl up your boots when you stop for a rest. Realtree makes a moisture wicking socks with built in insect repellent specially designed to repel ticks.
There are also bracelets for the kids making tick and mosquito repellent more fun on their next camping adventure, which they could wear as an anklet to further enhance the chances of repelling ticks.
2. All-Natural Tick Repellents
Natural, environmentally friendly and non-harmful insect repellent alternatives are gaining popularity by the day with more and more people steering away from toxic chemical brands and opting for a more natural substitute.
After researching the toxins our bodies absorb easily through the skin, many people do not hesitate to change to something more natural, especially with the treatments they used on children, pets and babies.
Toddlers and babies alongside many adults with skin conditions have very sensitive skin which means natural products are generally their best option.
So, here we will discuss the different types of natural repellents alongside a special section for toddlers and babies in the essential oils section.
Watch on YouTube
Natural Sprays: All natural sprays using essential oils, botanical extracts and essences are easily made yourself or purchased.
Usually with a big DEET FREE stamped across it, the natural insect repellents are not only popular but happy to advertise they are 100% natural, environmentally friendly, great for sensitive skin, cruelty free (no animal testing) and non-harmful to most skin types. Great news for all of those with sensitive skin.
Nature has some absolute powerhouses of insect repellent in the form of citrus-like lemon, lemongrass, citronella, alongside eucalyptus, lavender and cedar which are great for repelling ticks along with mosquitoes and other biting insects.
Best of all, these are generally gentle enough for those adults with sensitive skin.
Organic, Deet Free and offering seven hours of protection, it’s fresh lemon vanilla scent is a delight.
Many natural sprays can be used for people as well as our four legged friends. 100% natural, plant based and specially designed against ticks this can be applied to dogs before a day’s hike as well.
3. Essential Oil Tick Repellent
Essential Oils are the botanical powerhouse of the plant world and to a majority of insect’s certain fragrances are best left alone.
Of course, some are more potent than others like basically everything in the citrus family, cedar, eucalyptus and lavender just to name a few.
The good thing is – adding these essential oils to a safe base oil like almond oil means you can make your own tick and insect repellent at home and the best part is, you can make it with the fragrances you prefer. A lovely lemongrass and rosemary perhaps or a lavender and geranium.
It is entirely up to you the scent you prefer.
The bad thing is that you have to buy all of the ingredients and then do a little research as to how powerful the essential oil of your choosing is, so it can get expensive and quite time consuming mixing up your insect repellents.
More reading: Campers Guide to Essential Oil Bug Repellent
Luckily there are pre-made oils available especially crafted and blended to deter ticks and biting insects. Or you can buy the oil already blended and dilute it yourself rather than buy bottles of every type of oil.
Plant Guru’s Shoo Fly has taken all the fuss out of making your own tick repellent. This versatile oil blend can be used in a diffuser or oil burner at home, added into candles, blended in a base oil like almond oil to make your own repellent or applied to your clothes to deter ticks.
Which means that one bottle is enough to protect your home, family and is even gentle enough when blended for babies and toddlers.
Babies and Toddlers: Because babies and toddlers have such soft and sensitive skin it is recommended that natural insect repellents are the safest to use.
Chemicals are absorbed through the skin so any toxins can be harmful to young ones as their immune system is still building.
Check our Parents Guide to the Best Insect Repellent for Babies. A mild blend of oils is the best deterrent. You also have portable insect repellents that you can add to the top of your baby carrier or outdoor play pen but just remember to keep them out of reach so nothing goes into that little mouth.
4. Yard Treatments for Tick Repellent
All natural yard treatments that kill the adult, larvae and the eggs of ticks while not harming other beneficial insects like bees are a great way to go.
Not only do they protect your backyard from those nasties you don’t want to come in, they enable the beneficial insects free access to pollinate your rose garden and veggie patch so the kids can enjoy their time outside while you are gardening. It’s a win win.
Not just for the yard, because they are natural they can be used for the areas close to your home like patios and garden beds. Cedar Oil is a terrific tick deterrent safe for kids and pets.
Disrupting the life cycle of harmful insects ensures they don’t have time to infest your outdoor areas. As they say ‘Just spray and play!’
Wondercide all natural tick repellent eco-friendly and 100% biodegradable compounds are perfect for deterring all manner of other harmful insects as well like spiders, scorpions and it even deters snakes making your yard a lot safer for the kids to play.
As a chemical option, Permethrin is the only insecticide recommended by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to treat clothes, camping equipment and to protect your backyard from ticks, mosquitoes and other biting insects.
In fact, the US Military uses it to protect their soldiers by treating their uniforms with it as it bonds readily with fabric.
It is pet safe once it has dried so is safe to use as a spray in your backyard to prevent all manner of creepy crawlies and ticks from invading your yard.
As with all chemical sprays, please be sure to read the instructions carefully and lock your fur babies away before application to ensure your loved ones are safe during and after the application process.
Insecticide treatments high in Permethrin (36.8%) are very effective against all manner of creepy crawlies and biting insects like Tengard.
5. Chemical Tick Repellent
Many people are concerned about using harsh chemicals near their family and especially children. There are some that have less impact on the environment, break down readily and are seemingly harmless after a while but the problem is that when you apply them to your skin it is absorbed into your body.
But for hard core outdoors person, hunters and people spending days if not weeks in the great outdoors sometimes they need that little extra protection.
The two main insect and tick repellent chemicals you will find are Deet and Picaridin. These active ingredients are the ones that ticks hate.
Deet and Picaridin: The main thing to remember is that the percentage doesn’t equal how effective it is. Instead, the higher the percentage equals the length of time it will last.
So, say you have a bug spray that is 20% it just means it may only last 6 hours, compared to a 98% which may last 2 days. All labels will show you the strength of the active ingredient so you can choose for yourself.
Deet vs Picaridin
More and more people are steering away from Deet after Picaridin was proven to be just as effective without as many harmful effects on your skin, body and internal organs after long term use.
Picardin’s popularity has grown vastly in the US and is the main ingredient preferred in Europe. Both are chemicals that should not be applied to or near aggravated skin, abrasions, wounds or your face.
Sawyer Products have a 20% Picaridin insect repellent effective for 12 hours which you can use to spray your clothes and yourself as protection against parasitic insects like mosquitoes, ticks and biting flies.
For the most hard core insect repellent out there Sawyer Products have a 98% Deet formula made for those spending time in areas heavily infested with ticks and mosquitoes.
There are also other great preventative measures available in the form of jewelry, wipes, sunscreens, candles and coils because no-one likes the thought of finding a little surprise visitor when they get home.
Websites like My Repellent Finder created by Oregon State University are also a good resource to have a quick look at. Having done all the research for you, they list a range of options mentioned above, not just your traditional bug spray.
Just remember, if you do happen to meet a tick and he wants to go home with you, it is easy to say no, just grab those tweezers! A nightly tick check at shower time will make sure you don’t return home with a new little friend.
- They love areas with thinner skin in warm protected places with the most popular being groin, armpits, buttocks and the hollow of the knee.
- In children they love hiding in their hair so don’t forget to check behind their ears as well.
How will you avoid the plague of ticks? What methods do you plan on using? Have a tips to share? Let us know in the comments!
Bryan Haines is a co-founder and blogger on GudGear – and is working to make it the best resource for outside gear. He is a travel blogger at Storyteller.Travel and photographer at Click Like This. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.