Ticks are no laughing matter. Ask anyone who has acquired Lyme Disease, and they can give you a first-hand account on how such a tiny tick can inject humans with illness.
We all love the warmer weather. It gives us a chance to spend quality time with your friends and family outdoors, and pursue hobbies like hiking and camping. Unfortunately, warmer weather periods are also when ticks are the most active, creating a higher risk of getting bitten. Not only are tick bites very annoying, but they can also be extremely dangerous to our health. Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and the emerging Powassan virus are just a few of the diseases that can be transmitted through tick bites. An investment in some tick repellent is money well spent!
There are so many tick repellents available to choose from figuring out which will be the best for you can be a daunting task. Some are going to be the same repellents you would use for mosquitoes (DEET works on ticks, too), while others are made just for ticks. To make things easier, we’ve researched and analyzed several of them and put together the list of the best products on the market below.
The overall recommendation? Don’t mess around with experiments or “maybe” repellents. Go straight for the proven stuff, below.
OFF! Deep Woods Insect Repellent 6 ounce
This tick repellent has 25% DEET and will give you basic protection against both ticks and other insects such as mosquitoes, black flies, fleas, sand flies, gnats, chiggers, and many other ‘no-see-ums’. It doesn’t last for a very long time and according to the manual it’s highly recommended to reapply every few hours. You can apply it on bare skin as well as fabrics such as nylon, cotton, or wool. For enhanced tick protection, the manufacturer advises to also spray your socks, cuffs, and other areas around your outer clothing’s openings that bugs might sneak in.
This aerosol spray is easy to use and its advise for the best spread to apply it in a continuous sweeping motion. We like it because of the multi-purpose nature of it. The only thing we would note is that if you are in a uniquely heavy tick area, you may want to go for the permethrin instead. This product is really meant for use in average areas, not the deep woods or grass where you are going to be especially exposed to ticks. Find here.
Repel Sportsmen Max Insect Repellent 40-Percent DEET
This one has more DEET in it (40%) and is one of the best sellers in the tick repellent category. Once applied, it is effective for about 8 hours and besides ticks, it keeps fleas, mosquitoes, chiggers, gnats, and biting flies far away from you, your family and friends. It’s highly recommended you apply this product only on body parts that are uncovered, not areas that are covered. Of course, you can also spray it on fabric. Another thing to keep in mind is not to use it right after you’ve showered; wait a little while until you apply it in order to avoid irritation.
The 40% solution (versus the 20-25% that is common) of DEET simply means that it will last longer, providing protection for a longer period of time. Find it here.
If you need a little extra boost, we also like Repel 100, a similar product but with a higher concentration of DEET.
Sawyer Products Permethrin for Clothing and Gear
Sawyer Products makes perhaps our favorite spray for serious tick areas, using permethrin which is a highly-effective tick repellent. It also works on mosquitoes, so you get a bonus. We recommend this if you are going into an area known to be infested with deer ticks, because in those areas you do not want to cut any corners — protect yourself from the ticks. The main thing to know about the permethrin solutions is that they are not intended to be used to skin. Spray them on your boots, clothing, and gear, but we advise keeping your skin free of the chemical. DEET is better for skin.
Sawyer also makes a 24 ounce pump spray bottle, with the same permethrin chemical, which is a little large to carry along on a hike, but great to keep in your vehicle if you find yourself in tick areas on regular occasion.
We think this is an essential spray to have along if you are headed to ground zero of Lyme Disease country. Use it on your boots, pantleg, and other gear. Find here.
Permethrin vs. DEET?
Permethrin and DEET are both effective in repelling ticks, but for different reasons and with different uses.
Permethrin (not to be confused with the common mosquito repellent, picaridin) is a strong insecticide that can repel, damage, or even kill small bugs. Humans can break down the chemical much easier, which is why we can use it but it is so effective on bugs. Still, it is not recommended you use permethrin on skin. That is why permethrin is best for applying to footwear, clothing, or gear to repel ticks.
DEET, on the other hand, is best known for use against mosquitoes. DEET is gentler, so to speak, because it never kills or really hurts insects. Rather, it confuses their sense of smell so they have a hard time locating us. DEET is OK to use on the skin.
We recommend using both permethrin and DEET in tick-heavy areas. Permethrin on clothes and footwear, DEET on exposed skin.
Using tick repellents wisely
First things first, let’s take a look at what makes these products work. Ingredient-wise, DEET and Permethrin are the approved active substances found in most tick repellents. They are both efficient in keeping insects away without damaging your health. However, If you want to go for a more natural repellent, organic ingredients such as geranium, catnip, lemon eucalyptus, and citronella oils have been shown to keep ticks away to lesser but still effective extent. When in doubt, we would go straight for the DEET or Permethrin, though.
You need more DEET to keep ticks away than for typical mosquito protection. Keep that in mind.
Permethrin seems to be more effective at keeping ticks away, but it is not meant for skin. Use on your boots, shoes, socks, and pants for best results.
When choosing the tick repellent for you and your dear ones, you must consider the concentration of the active ingredient found in the products. You’ll find various repellents have different concentrations of DEET, for example: from as little as 10% to as much as 98%. These numbers don’t actually indicate the protection’s effectiveness; they indicate the amount of time until you need to reapply the product. Products with low percentages are effective for perhaps a couple of hours, while others with higher percentages can keep ticks away for up to 12 hours. However, some studies have shown that you want to use at least 25% DEET solutions for the best results against ticks. Mosquitoes are a different story — they can be kept at bay with small amounts of DEET.
For the majority of adults, a percentage of 25% to 40% of DEET offers suitable protection. Of course, it depends on how much an individual sweats, if he’s been out in the rain, swimming in a pool, and so on. So, there are several factors to consider. In order to apply your repellent efficiently, follow the instructions written on the repellent’s package. For most children, the recommended percentage is usually 30%. Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend using any type of repellent on infants who are younger than 2 months.
Keeping ticks away is definitely not a mission impossible. With a great tick repellent and following the recommendations we discussed above, you’ll be able to fully enjoy the warm weather and the outdoors without earning any nasty tick bites.