Tick Repellents

For Clothing and Gear

Wearing Permethrin treated clothing is currently the MOST effective way to protect yourself from ticks, as well as mosquitoes and other biting insects. Permethrin kills ticks after only 5 to 30 seconds of exposure. It is both odorless and flame resistant after drying, offering excellent protection for hunters and outdoor workers such as military personnel and wildland firefighters. It is also safe for all ages, and pregnant women.

Karl Ford, PhD., co-author of  the National Park Service publication Tick surveillance and disease prevention on the Appalachian Trail, stated that “Proper clothing treated with Permethrin is the single most important preventive measure a hiker can take”.  As ticks crawl upward in search of a location to attach, keeping shoes, socks or wearing pre-treated gaiters and pants can reduce your potential exposure.

You may buy Permethrin spray to treat your own clothing and gear at home or you may purchase pre-treated clothing, gear and pet protection from a variety of companies. Home treatments are generally effective through 6 washes. Commercially treated gear and clothing are typically good for up to 70 washings. Permethrin should never be applied directly to skin nor to clothing while they are on your body. It is important to follow label instructions carefully for both safety and effectiveness.

Commercially treated clothing and gear are available at many outdoor equipment stores in Colorado as well as online stores. Visit our Community Partners at Sawyer and Insect Shield for Permethrin products.  Additionally, Insect Shield offers savings on products ordered through our affiliate links  as well as a mail-in program for commercial treatment of your own clothing and gear.

For the Skin

The use of repellents applied to the skin can reduce your exposure to tick bites. It is important to keep in mind that insect repellents have varying degrees of effectiveness against ticks. Consumer Reports provides effectiveness ratings for both mosquitoes and deer ticks on a number of repellents that contain Picaridin, DEET and essential oils.  Though DEET containing products have been shown to be the most effective overall insect repellent for deterring mosquitoes, black flies and gnats; it is only effective at repelling ticks for brief time periods after being applied and then must be re-applied. Some commercial products made with Picaridin, IR3525, as well as Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus have shown higher effectiveness against ticks. Visit our Community Partners at Sawyer for many reliable tick repellents.

CDC has evaluated information published in peer-reviewed scientific literature and data available from EPA to identify several types of EPA-registered products that provide repellent activity sufficient to help people reduce the bites of disease-carrying mosquitoes. Products containing the following active ingredients typically provide reasonably long-lasting protection:

  • DEET (chemical name: N,N-diethyl-m-toluamide or N,N-diethyl-3-methyl-benzamide). Products containing DEET include, but are not limited to, Off!, Cutter, Sawyer, and Ultrathon.
  • Picaridin (KBR 3023 [Bayrepel] and icaridin outside the US; chemical name: 2-(2-hydroxyethyl)-1-piperidinecarboxylic acid 1-methylpropyl ester). Products containing picaridin include, but are not limited to, Cutter Advanced, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus, and Autan (outside the US).
  • Oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE) or PMD (chemical name: para-menthane-3,8-diol), the synthesized version of OLE. Products containing OLE and PMD include, but are not limited to, Repel and Off ! Botanicals. This recommendation refers to EPA-registered products containing the active ingredient OLE (or PMD). “Pure” oil of lemon eucalyptus (essential oil not formulated as a repellent) is not recommended; it has not undergone similar, validated testing for safety and efficacy and is not registered with EPA as an insect repellent.
  • IR3535 (chemical name: 3-[N-butyl-N-acetyl]-aminopropionic acid, ethyl ester). Products containing IR3535 include, but are not limited to, Skin So Soft Bug Guard Plus Expedition and SkinSmart.
  • 2-undecanone (chemical name: methyl nonyl ketone). The product BioUD contains 2-undecanone.

EPA characterizes the active ingredients DEET and picaridin as “conventional repellents” and OLE, PMD, IR3535, and 2-undecanone as “biopesticide repellents,” which are either derived from or are synthetic versions of natural materials.

The EPA provides a tool for evaluating the right repellent depending on your needs here.

Children

Many products are not recommended on young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics provides guidelines for repellent use in children are found here.

New developments

Though effective at repelling ticks, many people are reluctant to use synthetic chemicals, especially those containing DEET. The CDC is currently working with a commercial partner, Evolva, to evaluate possible formulations to develop a completely natural insect repellent made from a chemical called Nootkatone. Nootkatone, is a natural ingredient found in Alaskan yellow cedar trees, some herbs, and citrus fruits, and it is responsible for the distinctive smell of grapefruits. Division of Vector-Borne Disease scientists have found Nootkatone to be an effective repellent and insecticide for use against mosquitoes, ticks and other pests.

In addition to Nootkatone, the CDC describes several other natural based repellents here.  Note that products made from these ingredients have not been evaluated by EPA for effectiveness.

The use of repellents can reduce your exposure to ticks, however daily tick checks are still recommended!