Studies actually have shown that certain essential oils can repel ticks naturally. However, it’s important to be realistic about how effective essential oils are against ticks. This article will delve into whether essential oils really work against ticks, which ones have scientific evidence backing them, safety issues, and how to make your own DIY essential oil tick repellent.
Do Essential Oils Work Against Ticks?
You will hear a lot of people swear by essential oils for preventing ticks naturally. However, when it comes to scientific studies, there is very little evidence proving whether essential oils repel ticks. Even with the essential oils which have been studied and shown effective, the data can be misleading. Here’s why.
In many studies, the essential oil only repelled ticks when applied in large concentrations. Using essential oils at these concentrations could be dangerous: just because something is “natural” doesn’t mean its “safe”.
Wear Off Quickly
Another issue is that essential oil repellents wear off quickly. There aren’t any studies I’m aware of which show how long they last against ticks. However, studies like this one found that essential oils provided less than 20 minutes of protection against mosquitoes. It’s unlikely that they’d last much longer against ticks — especially if you are hiking and sweating a lot.
Practicality and Cost
It’s not very practical to apply large concentrations of essential oils every 20 minutes. Further, you are going to blow through a lot of product. The cost will add up quickly. How much are you willing to pay for a natural tick repellent which isn’t even proven effective?
There’s a Time and Place for Chemical Repellents
I understand the desire to not slather your body with chemicals each time you go outdoors. However, you’ve got to be realistic: Essential oil tick repellents simply aren’t going to provide much (if any) protection.
Lyme is just one of over a dozen diseases that ticks transmit. Both my parents have had Lyme disease and I can tell you it is not fun. Even if you don’t get Lyme, watching the spot of a tick bite to see whether a rash or symptoms develop will give you pretty bad anxiety.
Weigh the risks carefully: In many cases, the risk of tick-borne disease is greater than the potential risk of using chemical repellents.
In high-risk areas, I personally find it worth it to use chemical treatments against ticks. Permethrin is applied to your clothes and not your skin so is safer than DEET and Picardin. It’s also more effective at repelling and killing ticks than DEET and Picardin. Unfortunately, permethrin treatments won’t do you much good against mosquitoes, but there are some safe non-toxic sprays against mosquitoes which will take care of them.
Essential Oil Tick Repellents and Safety
The reason that people want to use essential oil tick repellents is because they sound safer than chemicals like DEET or picardin. However, just because essential oils are “natural,” it doesn’t always mean they are safe. You especially need to be careful applying essential oil tick repellents to children under 2 years old.
Tick repellents made with essential oils can also be very dangerous for pets. They are actually the number one reason for calls to the ASPC’s Animal Poison Control Center for tick-related concerns. Dogs and cats can absorb the essential oils through their skin or ingest them after licking their fur. They then can get problems like gagging, foaming at the mouth, irritated skin, or even liver damage.
Cinnamon and clove oil are particularly problematic for pets yet often found in all-natural essential oil tick repellents for cats and dogs. Cats are even more likely than dogs to have a negative reaction to essential oils. Be extremely cautious before using one of these products on your pet. Always check with a vet first.
List of Plant and Essential Oil Tick Repellents
The following essential oils actually have been scientifically studied and have shown to repel ticks. The first three oils are actually found in products on the EPA’s list registered of skin-applied repellents. To get on the EPA list, the product must be proven safe and effective against ticks. This doesn’t mean that other essential oils aren’t effective against ticks; just that they haven’t met the EPA’s standards for efficacy testing yet.
- Catnip oil
- Oil of lemon eucalyptus (not the same as lemon eucalyptus essential oil)
- Geranium and rose geranium oil
- Oregano oil
- Clove oil
- Thyme oil
- Lily of the valley oil
- Nootkatone oil
- Vetiver oil
- Sandalwood oil
- Cinnamon oil
Of these essential oils, I’d recommend using citronella, geranium, oregano, and clove essential oils on humans. Catnip is apparently effective but it smells really bad.
The following essential oils are often mentioned as tick repellents but lack evidence to their efficacy:
- Tea tree oil
- Cedarwood oil
- Rosemary oil
- Juniper oil
(Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13)
DIY Essential Oil Tick Repellent Recipe:
Here are instructions on how to make your own essential oil tick repellent. This DIY repellent should only be used in conjunction with other tick bite prevention methods. Do tick checks frequently and carry a tick removal tool with you so you can quickly remove ticks before they have time to attach or transmit disease.
Step 1: Make Your Tick-Repellent Blend
You will get better protection against ticks and other pests if you combine several different types of essential oils. Choose at least two of these oils and combine to make your oil blend. These oils are recommended because they appear to be safest and most effective.
*Clove oil is NOT safe for dogs or cats!
I like the Plant Therapy brand of essential oils (get here). They currently don’t have oregano oil though. The NOW brand (get here) is also a good choice and has oregano.
Step 2: Mix with Your Base
You should never apply pure essential oils directly to your skin. They must be diluted in a base or could cause skin irritation. For tick repellent, you are best off with an oil base because it lasts longer. If you don’t like the oily feeling on your skin, you can use a water/alcohol base but you’ll need to reapply the repellent more frequently.
Simply mix the essential oil blend with jojoba oil in a spray bottle. This will give you a concentration of 3.4% essential oils. Store in a cool, dark place when not using. It should last upwards of 3 months.
- 40 drops of your essential oil blend (about 0.07 fl. Oz)
- 5 fl. Oz. Everclear or ethyl alcohol (at least 95%)
- 2 fl. Oz distilled water
Essential oils don’t mix with water, so you’ll first need to mix the oils with grain alcohol (Everclear will work). Some recipes use apple cider vinegar, vodka, or other acids. However, the essential oils won’t completely dissolve in those so it is best to use grain alcohol.
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