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Ticks are tiny insects that are members of the arachnid (spider) family. There are hundreds of varieties of ticks. Many carry bacteria and viruses that can cause serious illnesses such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease.

If you love being outside in nature, ticks may be hard to avoid. For those who enjoy beaches, hiking, and parks, tick repellent can help significantly.

Many manufactured tick repellents contain chemicals. If you prefer a natural alternative, there’s a wide range of essential oils you can use to avoid tick bites.

Keep reading to learn which essentials oils may help repel ticks.

While research suggests there are health benefits, the FDA doesn’t monitor or regulate the purity or quality of essential oils. It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional before you begin using essential oils and be sure to research the quality of a brand’s products. Always do a patch test before trying a new essential oil.

Anecdotal evidence and multiple studies indicate that scores of essential oils can help ward off ticks. To compile this list of the most effective tick repellent essential oils, we analyzed studies that prove their effectiveness for people.

Since different studies compared different sets of oils, we can’t definitively verify which oil is the number one most effective. However, we’ve ranked these oils for tick repellent strength, based upon the data available, and collaborating studies wherever possible.

Oregano essential oil comes out on top in multiple studies. It contains cedrol, which was shown in one study to kill 100 percent of the ticks it came into contact with when used at a high dosage. Cedarwood oil also contains cedrol and may be beneficial for warding off ticks.

Another study found that carvacrol, a component of oregano oil, was highly effective at killing Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. This may make it doubly beneficial should a tick bite occur.

For some people, oregano oil can be irritating to the skin. Like all essential oils, oregano oil should be diluted in a carrier oil. Be sure to do a patch test before using it on a large area.

Full-strength oregano oil should not be applied to skin.

How to use oregano oil as a tick repellent

To use oregano oil as a tick repellent, mix 5 to 6 drops for every ounce of carrier oil, and apply to exposed skin with a cotton ball.

You can also spray the oregano oil mixture directly onto clothing such as trousers, socks, jackets, and hats. Ticks often drop down from trees, so protecting your head is imperative.

Don’t use oregano oil on delicate fabrics that may stain.

Never use undiluted oregano oil directly on skin. It must be diluted first.

Oil of citronella is a widely used biopesticide that has been registered as an insect repellent with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) since 1997.

One study that analyzed 11 essential oils found that a combination of thyme and citronella essential oil was the most effective against ticks.

How to use citronella oil as a tick repellent

To apply, add 10 to 15 drops of citronella oil plus 5 drops of thyme oil into water, and spray on skin or clothing. Since oil and water don’t mix effectively, adding a dispersing agent such as solubol may help. Use a 4:1 ratio — 4 drops of solubol for every 1 drop of essential oil — and blend well.

You can also dilute the oil in a carrier oil, and apply to skin.

Be sure to do a patch test on a small area of skin before applying more widely, as some people react to citronella and other essential oils.

Geraniol, an active ingredient in citronella, can also be found in commercially manufactured products, such as EcoSmart.

The same study mentioned above found that clove bud oil is effective at warding off ticks, a finding that has been substantiated in studies from 2006 and 2018.

Clove oil is an ingredient in Nantucket Spider Extra Strength Tick Repellent Spray.

How to use clove oil as a tick repellent

You can make your own tick repellent by adding 10 to 15 drops of clove bud essential oil to 1 ounce of water. You may wish to add solubol to help distribute the oil in water. Use a 4:1 ratio — 4 drops of solubol for every 1 drop of essential oil.

Using the same ration, you can also make a topical oil by mixing clove oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil. Rub liberally onto exposed areas of skin when moist, or apply with a cotton ball.

Red thyme contains carvacrol and has been found effective at repelling ticks when used on skin or on clothing. It’s a highly concentrated, potent oil that’s a natural antiseptic. It’s derived from the first distillation of white thyme oil.

Red thyme oil may be irritating to some people’s skin. Never use it at full strength, and don’t use it on pets.

How to use red thyme oil as a tick repellent

To make tick repellent, add 3 to 5 drops of red thyme oil to 2 cups of a carrier oil such as jojoba and apply to skin.

Lemon eucalyptus is a common ingredient in many insecticides. You can purchase a ready-made eucalyptus oil insect repellent or make your own by adding 15 to 20 drops of oil into 4 ounces of water. You may also want to add solubol to help the oil distribute in water. Use a 4:1 ratio — 4 drops of solubol to every 1 drop of essential oil.

Lemon eucalyptus essential oil may be irritating to some people’s skin, so it’s important to dilute it in a carrier oil before applying to the skin. Be sure to do a patch test on a small area of skin before applying more widely.

Neem seed oil has been shown to kill tick larvae in cattle. Strong anecdotal evidence indicates that it repels ticks and, when applied to ticks, can also help dislodge them from skin.

How to use neem oil as a tick repellent

To use as a tick repellent, add equal parts neem oil to a carrier oil and apply to skin.

To remove a tick from skin, apply full-strength neem to the tick.

The lists of essential oils that may have some benefit for repelling ticks and insects such as mosquitoes are almost endless. Most are substantiated primarily via anecdotal evidence. Some, such as lily of the valley, have little evidence to back them up.

Other essential oils you may wish to try, either alone or in combination with those mentioned above, include:

If you see a tick on your skin and it hasn’t bitten you, remove it quickly with a tweezer or a gloved hand. If it’s on your clothing, shake it off.

If the tick is already embedded in your skin, use a fine-tipped tweezer to grab the tick, as close to your skin’s surface as possible.

Aim to extract the tick by its head rather than by its body, so that its mouthparts are removed. Pull it upward in a swift motion with steady, even pressure.

Use an antibacterial ointment on the area of the bite.

If you suspect that the tick has been in your skin for several hours or longer, see a doctor after the tick is removed for a blood test. This is especially important if you notice redness, swelling, or a rash, such as the bull’s-eye rash associated with Lyme disease.

If you wish to keep the tick to show to a medical professional, place it in a lidded jar.

Dangers of Lyme disease

The nymphal tick is the tick most likely to cause Lyme disease. Most experts believe that a tick needs to be embedded in the skin for at least 24 hours before Lyme disease is transmitted from ticks to humans.

Lyme disease can cause many debilitating symptoms, including:

  • joint pain
  • swelling of the large joints, such as knees and elbows
  • extreme fatigue
  • fever
  • short-term memory deficits
  • speech problems
  • muscle pain

Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you have any of these symptoms.

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Dangers of Rocky Mountain spotted fever

Rocky Mountain spotted fever (RMSF) is a bacterial infection spread by a bite from an infected tick. Symptoms include vomiting and high fever as well as muscle aches and abdominal pain.

If you contract RMSF, you may see a rash with small red spots on your hands and feet within 5 days. You may also see a second, purple-red rash, which indicates that the disease is progressing.

RMSF is a serious illness that can cause serious damage to the internal organs or death when left untreated. Contact a healthcare provider immediately if you suspect you have RMSF.

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Ticks can be found in wooded or grassy areas or on beaches. They live in leaf piles, tall grass, trees, and shrubs. Their active season varies from location to location, but in general, it’s possible to get a tick bite whenever the ground isn’t frozen or covered with snow.

In some areas, young ticks are most active from May to August. Adult ticks are most active from March to May and from August to November.

In addition to wearing repellent, there are a few strategies to help you avoid ticks and the illnesses they carry:

  • Cover as much of your skin and head as possible. Tuck your pants into socks, wear a brimmed hat, and fasten a long-sleeved shirt or jacket at the wrist with buttons or elastic.
  • Treat exposed skin with the repellent of your choice.
  • Check your skin and scalp for ticks when you return home from your outing, as ticks can be as tiny as sesame seeds and are dark in color. Have a friend look at areas of skin you can’t readily see, such as your back. Make sure to check between your toes, fingers, and behind your ears.
  • Wash your clothing in hot water and dry on a hot setting.

Pets can get tick bites, just like humans. The best way to avoid ticks on your pet is by using a tick medication recommended by your veterinarian. Some of these are applied topically, and others are given orally.

In addition to using tick repellent, always check your dog’s coat thoroughly for ticks after being outside.

Don’t use essential oils on pets

Veterinarians recommend against using essential oils on cats. Many essential oils are also not recommended for dogs. Always check with your veterinarian before using an essential oil, no matter which type, on any animal.

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Essential oils have been found in studies to be effective for repelling ticks.

There are many essential oils that may provide you with some degree of protection. Some of the most effective, as determined in studies, are oregano oil, thyme and citronella, and clove bud oils.