Pick up these expert-approved products that can help you avoid growing tick populations this summer.
Summer hasn’t even started, and worries about exploding tick populations and rising rates of Lyme disease have already reached a fever pitch. Luckily, there are things you can do to reduce your risk of picking up those little parasites—and the diseases they carry—whenever you head outdoors.
Health asked Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an entomologist at Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Stalin Vilcarromero, MD, assistant professor of research medicine at Stony Brook University, about the best products you can buy to protect yourself against ticks this summer. Here’s what they recommend.
Insect repellent with DEET
“Insect repellent containing DEET can be effective in keeping both ticks and mosquitoes away from you when you’re spending time outdoors,” says Gangloff-Kaufmann. These formulas are designed to be applied directly to the skin (not to clothing), and many will last for four to five hours.
Dr. Vilcarromero recommends using a formula that contains between 20% and 30% DEET, like Ben's 30% DEET Tick & Insect Repellent, a range that’s been shown to be effective in clinical trials. Those containing less may not last as long or work as well, he says, while those containing more will likely cost more (and may be more likely to irritate sensitive skin) without much added protection.
Permethrin clothing spray or wash
“You can also buy sprays or washes containing permethrin, which you can use to treat your clothing,” says Gangloff-Kaufmann. “It’s usually used while hunting and fishing, but it can be helpful for anyone who’s going to be spending time outdoors where ticks are prevalent. If ticks try to crawl up your pants and they’re treated with permethrin, usually they’ll just fall off.”
Look for a 0.5% permethrin spray formula, says Dr. Vilcarromero, like Sawyer Premium Permethrin Insect Repellent, which should last through about five to six washes. “Be careful with the spray when it’s in liquid form, as it can be dangerous to cats and fish,” he adds. “Once it’s dry, there’s no problem at all.”
Long pants and tall socks
“If you can wear long pants, and if you can tuck those pants into your socks, it really makes it difficult for a tick to get to your bare legs,” says Gangloff-Kaufmann. “Of course, nobody wants to look dorky, but there are ways you can do it discreetly enough that it doesn’t look silly." Opt for light colors, too, she says, like these Alo Airbrush High Waist Leggings in white, "so you can easily spot the ticks as they’re crawling on your clothing.”
If you don’t want to treat your clothing with permethrin yourself, you can buy items that already have the insect repellent in them. Insect Shield’s technology, for example, used in these ExOfficio BugsAway Adventure Crew Socks, binds permethrin to fabric fibers in shirts, pants, socks, hats, bandanas, and more. And while most permethrin-treatment options only last a handful of washes, Insect Shield’s clothing retains its protection through 70 launderings.
Tick tubes like these from Thermacell are small paper tubes stuffed with permethrin-coated cotton. The idea is that mice scavenge the cotton and use them to build their nests, where ticks also live. The permethrin is harmless to the mice but kills the ticks.
But “the jury is still out on whether tick tubes are worth the money,” Gangloff-Kaufmann says, because studies have not been able to link them to a decrease in juvenile tick populations or human tick-borne diseases. “It is a clever idea, though,” she adds. “Mice carry many of the juvenile ticks that transmit Lyme disease bacteria to humans.”
Topical treatment for pets
If you have a pet who spends a lot of time outdoors, talk with your veterinarian about what type of protection you want to provide. “Some treatments will only protect against fleas, and some will protect against fleas and ticks—so look at the label carefully,” says Gangloff-Kaufmann.
A topical treatment like Frontline Plus will kill fleas, ticks, and lice for a full 30 days. (Vets can also prescribe an oral treatment, called Bravecto, that dogs take just once every three months.)
Flea and tick collar
Some people choose not to use topical treatments on their dogs and cats, as the chemical liquid may irritate animals’ skin or rub off on other pets or humans in their household. An alternative is a flea and tick collar, like Seresto, which continuously releases a low concentration of insect-repellent chemicals. “It does guard against fleas and ticks, and it lasts for eight months,” says Gangloff-Kaufmann.
If, despite your preventive efforts, you do end up harboring a tick, you'll want a pair of fine-tipped tweezers handy to remove the tick from your skin. “We say ‘fine-tipped’ because tweezers with flat edges, like the ones used for eyebrows, are not as good," says Gangloff-Kaufmann. "That flat edge can squish the tick, and if you squash the abdomen, you could actually squeeze germs into your blood.” Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, and simply pull it straight out with even pressure.
In addition to your pointy tweezers, add a magnifying glass to your tick-removal kit. "Ticks are really tiny, smaller than you'd expect," says Gangloff-Kaufmann. She also recommends a small hand mirror "for checking hard-to-see places, like behind your ears."
Tick removal device for pets
If you find a tick attached to your dog, it may be difficult to get a good grip on it with tweezers through all that hair.
For furry friends, Gangloff-Kaufmann recommends a device like the Ticked Off Tick Remover. This gadget looks like a measuring spoon, but it has a tiny notch that grabs the tick at skin level and scoops it into the bowl-shaped end for easy disposal.
If you live at the edge of the woods and want to keep your yard as tick-free as possible, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends creating a 3-foot-wide barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn and any wooded areas.
“This can prevent the ticks from migrating into residential areas,” says Dr. Vilcarromero. You may also want to construct high fences to keep out deer—who carry the type of tick that can transmit Lyme disease—or talk to a gardening shop about plants that deer are likely to avoid.