Tick bites are often harmless and don’t cause any noticeable symptoms. But some tick bites can transmit serious diseases, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever, to humans.

Common symptoms of tick bites include a red spot or rash at the bite site, a full body rash, or a fever. It’s important to seek medical care right away after a tick bite, even if you don’t experience any symptoms.

The best way to avoid infection is to prevent tick bites in the first place. For those who enjoy getting outdoors, tick repellents can help you stay safe. Many types of pesticides and tick repellents are available for purchase, including all-natural repellents and synthetic repellents based on natural ingredients.

Read on to learn about natural tick repellent ingredients that work and products you can find.

If you’re looking for alternatives to conventional repellents like DEET, picaridin, and permethrin, there are a variety of all-natural options. Some can be applied to your clothing, while others can be sprayed onto your lawn. Here’s what the research says on their effectiveness.

Essential oil mixtures

Some mixtures of essential oils are commercially available as tick repellents. Common essential oils used include lemongrass, cedar, peppermint, thyme, and geraniol. An example of an essential oil repellent product is the Ecosmart brand.

A 2012 study found that when applied to clothing, Ecosmart was less effective against two species of tick (deer tick and the lone star tick) after seven days than other repellents, including one containing permethrin.

Another line of repellent products based on essential oils is All Terrain’s Herbal Armor.

Garlic oil

Garlic oil repellents use essential oils derived from garlic plants. A 2015 study suggested that when applied to lawns, multiple applications of garlic oil-based repellents may be necessary.

Shop for garlic oil lawn spray.

Metarhizium brunneum or Metarhizium anisopliae fungus

These species of fungi grow naturally in soil and can repel or kill ticks. They’re commercially available for application on lawns and can be found under the name Met52.

A study of these fungi suggested that they may provide an alternative approach from other insecticides for controlling tick populations. Another study found that application of Met52 is not harmful to populations of non-target bug species.

Nootkatone

The active ingredient for this repellent is found in essential oils of some species of cedar tree, herbs, or fruits. It’s currently not available commercially.

The same 2012 study comparing Ecosmart and other products found that nootkatone applied to clothing was more effective after seven days than other commercial brands that were tested.

Nootkatone can also be applied to lawns in order to repel ticks, but researchers are studying how to optimize formulations to be longer lasting and less toxic to plants.

In addition to all-natural tick repellents, there are several synthetic repellents derived from natural materials:

IR3535

IR3535 is manmade and has a similar structure to a naturally occurring amino acid. According to information submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for review, this active ingredient is effective against deer ticks.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) recommends against using sunscreen-repellent combination products that have IR3535 since the need to reapply sunscreen would promote overexposure to or overuse of the repellent ingredient.

IR3535 can be found in Avon Skin-So-Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE)

This is a chemically synthesized version of lemon eucalyptus oil. In other instances, the naturally occurring oil from the tree is processed to concentrate the repellent component, PMD, which stands for the chemical name para-menthane-3,8-diol.

Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) is not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oils.

OLE may be just as effective against some tick species as DEET. Frequent re-application is needed.

Products available that contain OLE include Off! Botanicals and Repel.

2-undecanone

The active ingredient of this repellent is derived from essential oils found in the leaves and stems of a species of wild tomato called Lycopersicon hirsutum. It can be used both on skin and on clothing and is commercially available under the product name BioUD.

A 2009 study compared BioUD to DEET, IR3535, and OLE applied to cotton cheesecloth and found that BioUD had a greater average repellency than IR3535 for one tick species and a greater average repellency than OLE for another tick species. No significant difference in repellency between BioUD and DEET was observed.

Like PMD, the 2-undecanone in BioUD products is synthetically created.

Along with using tick repellents, you can also follow these tips to protect against tick bites:

Avoid areas where ticks live

If you’re out hiking, try to stay in the center of the marked trail. Don’t hike or walk in areas that are heavily wooded or overgrown with grass and bushes.

Make your yard discouraging to ticks

Keeping your yard mowed can give ticks fewer places to hide. Eliminate areas like woodpiles where small animals such as squirrels or mice can hide. Consider putting up a fence to keep deer out of your yard. Bring in a local pest control company to spray your yard for ticks and other bugs.

Wear clothing that protects against ticks

If you’re going to be outside in an area where ticks are prevalent, wear long sleeves and pants, if possible. Clothing acts as a physical barrier between you and insects like ticks and mosquitos.

Protect your pets

Ticks can also bite your pets and make them sick. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about tick-repelling products for your pet. Some examples of available brands available include K9 Advantix and Frontline.

Shop for K9 Advantix.

Shop for Frontline.

After you’ve been in an area where ticks can be found, thoroughly inspect your clothing and body for any ticks. Tumble-drying clothes on high heat for 10 minutes can kill ticks on your clothing.

Showering within a couple hours of being outside can help to wash off any unattached ticks on your body. It’s also a good way to check over your body for attached ticks.

Remember that ticks are often small and may be attached to your body in hard-to-see places such as behind the knees, behind the ears, or on the scalp. If you find a tick attached to your skin, you should remove it immediately. Do not try to squash, squeeze, or burn the attached tick.

How to remove a tick

Follow the steps below to properly remove a tick:

  • Use fine-point tweezers to carefully grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible.
  • Use a gentle, steady motion to pull the tick straight out of the skin. If the mouthparts of the tick remain in your skin, don’t try to dig them out. They’ll eventually come out on their own.
  • Clean the area thoroughly with soap and warm water. Dab the bite location with rubbing alcohol.

After removing a tick, you should watch for a rash at the site of the bite. If you get a rash or begin to feel flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, or body aches and pains, you should see a doctor.

Since ticks can transmit a variety of diseases to humans, many different types of repellents are available for purchase. Depending on the product, these repellents may be applied to your skin, clothing, or lawn.

Some natural tick repellents are also commercially available. These products are made from naturally occurring plant compounds and are also able to keep ticks away with varying effectiveness. Researchers continue to evaluate and optimize natural tick repellents.

In order to effectively repel ticks, you should use a repellent that’s recommended by organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These recommendations include common repellents like DEET and picaridin, but also include synthetically made OLE, and 2-undecanone, a naturally-derived repellent.