Blends of citronella, eucalyptus, sandalwood and other natural ingredients may work just as well as DEET.
With the number of Lyme-Disease-carrying ticks on the rise this summer, and other tick-borne diseases spreading, those of us who love spending time in the Great Outdoors are looking for the best ways to keep ticks off our skin and in the trees, where they belong.
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Though many in the medical community urge us to use DEET and picaridin insect repellents to keep ticks at bay, some of us are as worried about potential side effects (especially in children who have respiratory problems) of these chemicals as we are about contracting Lyme disease.
But there is hope! Even the Centers for Disease Control has weighed in on the effectiveness of several natural remedies like 2-undecanone, garlic oil, and mixed essential oils — all plant-based products we can apply liberally to lawns (garlic oil) and to our our skin, clothes, and gear.
How it works
The studies have shown the real goal of repelling ticks seems to be simply masking human scent, according to Matthew Amsden, cofounder & CEO of ProofPilot, a research company.
For instance, there’s a study that shows “Victoria’s Secret Bombshell perfume worked as well in some cases as DEET-based products,” says Amsden. “The reality is that this simply could be that the perfume entirely masked the scent of a human hand in a small plastic compartment.”
(Though perfume may not be the natural solution many of us are looking for, it’s good to know!)
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But when it comes to actual natural products fending off ticks, Amsden says, “It makes sense that many plant-based botanicals would repel insects. It’s part of their natural defenses.”
Even still, Amsden cautions that these tests are performed in labs — not necessarily real life — and thus, he isn’t certain how well they pan out when we sweat or wear fabrics that compete with the tick-repelling odors.
How it works IRL
Thank goodness for real-life experts like Carrie Wincentsen, a Chicago-transplant who now lives, works, and raises her family in tick-filled northwoods of Wisconsin.
Though Wincensten admits to “never” using natural remedies for much of her life, after spending what felt like days removing ticks from her three kids and two dogs after their frequent camping trips, she knew she had to do something other than blast through three cans of leading “deep woods” DEET spray just to enjoy their time outdoors.
“It was toxic and synthetic — and didn’t do the job anyway,” she said.
So she explored essential oils, specifically, a blend of citronella, eucalyptus, sandalwood and cedar wood (“which all have amazing repellant properties and a nice woodsy scent as well!”) and another blend of citronella oil, as well as melaleuca and fir and a blend of two more citrus oils.
Wincensten found that mixing these two blends and adding a bit of lemongrass oil for its “anti-insect and parasitic properties” into a tiny 6-oz spray bottle has been “a natural lifesaver for us in the Wisconsin outdoors!”
“After my family enjoyed so many bug-free camping trips, I actaully started to use this spray blend on our dogs,” Wincensten says. “Guess what? No ticks!”
But of course, to know you have no ticks means you’ve checked for ticks. And that, according to all the experts, is the best thing you can do. So, after every walk through the woods or any tick-infested area, do a body check of yourself, your kids, and your dogs.
While Wincensten prefers to use oil blends, which you can purchase from various essential oil companies, you can find many recipes online such as this one: