Choosing just the right tick repellent for use on one’s skin to prevent getting bitten by a tick is a task not to be taken lightly. Your health, and that of your family members, depends on it. All tick repellents are not created equal; there are very important differences between them. Some are made from organic compounds and contain essential oils, while others are made from synthetic chemicals. Some work for a few hours, while others work for longer periods of time. Whichever repellent you do decide on, you want to be sure it is repelling ticks for the allotted time you have set aside for the outdoor activity.
How Do Tick Repellents Work
Tick repellents applied to exposed skin, whether in liquid, cream or aerosol form, all work pretty much the same way. The skin is the delivery system for the tick repellent. Once the repellent is applied to the skin, the warmth of the skin and the temperature of the air cause the repellent to evaporate. As it evaporates, it releases a vapor close to the skin’s surface that is repulsive to ticks, causing them to want to steer clear of it. A skin repellents does not kill ticks, only repels them. And once it is fully evaporated from your skin, it is no longer effective. So it is essential to know how many hours the repellent is rated to effectively repel ticks before it has to be reapplied. This information should be provided on the product label, and if not, do not purchase it.
Not All Insect Repellents Repel Ticks
There are numerous repellents on the market today that you can buy to put on your skin to repel anything from mosquitoes, to flies, to ticks. Contrary to popular belief, a tick is not an insect like a mosquito or an ant, but an arachnid similar in anatomy to spiders and mites. So what repellents may work to repel insects like mosquitoes will not necessarily work to repel ticks, no matter how much you apply to your skin.
In 2008 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), came out with a list of four ingredients in tick repellents that they determined were effective against ticks. Those ingredients, which they recommended equally, included the three synthetic chemicals DEET, Picaridin, and IR3535 and the organic compound, Lemon Eucalyptus Oil. If any of these ingredients are in your tick repellent, you can feel reasonably confident the repellent will work to repel ticks. To be sure, check the product label, which must state that it repels ticks. If it does not, choose another product that does.
A great source of information on tick repellents is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA publishes a list of mosquito and tick repellents on their website, http://cfpub.epa.gov/oppref/insect/, which repellents they have reviewed for safety and efficacy. The listing breaks the repellents down by product name, hourly protection time, active ingredient, company name, and EPA registration number. Once the EPA has reviewed and signed off on a particular repellent, they will give it a registration number, which is another important piece of information you should look for on the product label. All repellents containing chemicals have to be registered with the EPA and tested for safety and efficacy, but not all repellents containing natural products come under this same requirement. So be careful in picking out the repellent you will be applying to your skin, and always look for that EPA registration number.
What About Homemade Natural Repellents
Using a tick repellent you make yourself from essential plant oils known to repel ticks, while somewhat appealing to the more adventuresome, is an endeavor you have to be very careful about. There is very little published information available on the efficacy of these plant-based oils in repelling ticks, which is one of the reasons the CDC only recommended Lemon Eucalyptus Oil from the many possible plant essential oils. Some of the more common plants and their essential oils known to repel ticks include lavender, rosemary, peppermint, citronella, sage, garlic, cedar, and lemon eucalyptus. So if you are inclined to make your own repellent as some are, you need to ascertain from your own experience with it, how well it repels ticks, and for how many hours, before you put your health and that of your family at risk.
Safety Concerns With Tick Repellents
As with any substances applied to the skin, you have to be careful how you use it. Young children should not be allowed to put tick repellent directly on their skin; a grown-up should apply it. Never put tick repellents on the hands of children so they do not accidentally get it in their eyes or ingest it. Only apply tick repellent to exposed skin and not underneath clothing. A health care provider should be consulted prior to using any type of tick repellent on pregnant women or infants. And if you cannot use a tick repellent when outside, you should try to avoid those areas known to harbor ticks.
Product direction on a repellent’s proper application should be followed without using more than is absolutely called for. Once the outdoor activity is concluded, it is always recommended to thoroughly wash those areas where the repellent was applied. And most importantly, conduct a thorough tick check of your body.
So by all means take advantage of the outdoors, whether it is in enjoying your own backyard, or golfing, hunting, hiking, playing sports, or the like. But be forewarned that where there are ticks, and that seems to be pretty much everywhere these days, there is the very real possibility of getting bitten by a tick, and becoming infected with one or more tick-borne diseases. Any one of these diseases can make you and your family members very sick, and they can be very difficult to treat. Taking precautions like wearing tick repellent on your skin is one of several measures available to you to reduce the chances of getting bitten by a tick.