Safe and natural 'alternative' tick repellants

By Paula Jackson Jones | Apr 14, 2017

No repellent is 100 percent effective and some can be harmful to small children and pets. The good news is that you have choices! Products containing Deet have always been the go-to but we are now learning that Deet can build up and cause toxic health levels in small children. To avoid this, you always want to wash your repellent off every day and before reapplying. There are lots of other repellent options we can to go — both at home and on the shelf.

Products containing Picaridin: Picaridin repels insects, ticks and chiggers. It is a synthetic compound first made in the 1980s. It was made to resemble the natural compound piperine, which is found in the group of plants that are used to produce black pepper. Studies have shown that Picaridin is effective, safe and has fewer unpleasant qualities than DEET. Picaridin is odorless, does not melt plastics, or feel oily on skin and is just as effective as DEET when used at the same strength.

Lemongrass-Eucalyptus Essential Oils: The CDC has reported that the use of products containing lemongrass and eucalyptus essential oils are just as effective as Deet. You can buy products that contain these oils or buy the oils and mix it up yourself with a carrier oil (like jojoba or coconut).

Vinegar: Of course, we can always use things that we have around our house. We could mix up some water and vinegar because the smell of vinegar absolutely repels ticks.

We are beginning to see more and more companies producing safer, more natural and better smelling products that are family-friendly and effective — in the form of sprays, lotions, balms, and herbal salves. The bottom line — you have options! But please read the precautionary statements on the back of every product that you purchase and use as directed.

NOTE: Last week, I wrote about permethrin and I want to reiterate that permethrin is only to be used on clothing and outerwear/outergear. You apply in a safe area away from pets and children and allow to fully dry before handling. There are over 1,400 US registered FDA-approved products that contain permethrin in various forms — and every product containing permethrin has a precautionary statement about the hazards to humans and animals. Please use as directed.

Next week, I will talk about tick checks and habits to form during tick season. Be sure to check back each week as I cover topics on children, pets, yards and how to have a tick-free summer!

Paula Jackson Jones is the President and Co-Founder of Midcoast Lyme Disease Support & Education (MLDSE), the Maine-partner of the national Lyme Disease Association and member of Maine’s CDC Vector-borne Workgroup. You can email her at or visit her website for more information.

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