Lyme disease

A Guide to Natural Tick Repellents

One of the strongest weapons in the fight against Lyme disease is insect repellent, and there are a number of types to choose from.

The most commonly used repellent is DEET. According to the National Pesticide Information Center, the colorless liquid, which was developed by the Army in 1946 for the protection of soldiers, has been in use by the public since 1957. Additionally, there are two other chemical compounds: Picaridin, developed in Europe, and Permethrin, which is used on clothing only. It doesn’t repel ticks but kills them on contact. (Permethrin is safe for use on dogs, experts say, but can poison cats. For more on the safe use of tick repellents for pets, click here. Check with your vet before using any repellent, whether chemical or natural, on animals.)

But not everyone wants to use a chemical repellent…

And there are several natural alternatives available. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following:
  • Essential oil from leaves and stems of the wild tomato plant, Lycopersicon hirsutum
  • Essential oil from garlic plants
  • Essential oils from rosemary, lemongrass, thyme, and geraniol plants. (Editor’s note: Geraniol plants include the rose geranium, which is more highly fragranced and has deeper leaves than the common geranium, according to the Garden Guides site. It is rose geranium oil that is often used in repellents.)

If you’re interested in using these natural tick repellents, check the label to see how long the product will provide protection in the course of a day. There are noticeable differences between DEET and natural repellents. For example, according to the outdoor equipment company REI, DEET lasts eight to ten hours or more, while synthesized plant oils such as oil of lemon eucalyptus have a duration of up to six hours. And in the land of longevity – Permethrin sprayed on clothing lasts up to six weeks even through a weekly laundering.

Not all natural repellents are registered with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), even though they are for sale. The EPA suggests looking at the product label for an EPA Registration Number.

Examples of ingredients that have not been registered, the EPA says, include citronella oil, cedar oil, geranium oil, peppermint and peppermint oil, and soybean oil. But that doesn’t mean they are unsafe, according to the EPA; they are characterized as “minimum-risk pesticides.”

Like conventional repellents, natural repellents are available in sprays for people and in a number of different forms for pets, including herbal shampoo and conditioner, collars, and topical (applied by hand) products.

No matter what kind of repellent you choose, though, be sure to read the product’s label carefully and follow directions exactly.

Some other points to keep in mind:
  • Remember that Permethrin is used on clothing only
  • Never put any repellent on under clothing
  • Do not put repellent on children’s hands, because they may rub their eyes. (Editor’s note: gloves are an effective method of protection)
  • According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, repellent should never be used on a child younger than two months
  • If you are wearing sunscreen, put it on first and wait thirty minutes, according to the Library of Medicine.
  • Wash the product off after the bug risk is gone

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