Ticked off: Repelling Ticks Naturally

Crossing the line from NJ to NY.  Past the halfway mark to completion of the Appalachian Trail.

Crossing the line from NJ to NY. Past the halfway mark to completion of the Appalachian Trail.

My son Shad is an avid hiker of Pine Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail. He began hiking the Appalachian Trail when he was a freshman in college and has now section-hiked from Georgia all the way to New York State. This spring he and several veteran hikers will be crossing into Connecticut as he is determined to complete the entire AT before he retires. On this hike, he will be traveling into a region with one of the highest incidences of Lyme disease and has searched to find a non-toxic alternative to harsh chemicals that may repel ticks, but also cause adverse reactions. Ticked off:  Repelling Ticks Naturally was written for and inspired by my son.

As warmer weather brings us out to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, and the great outdoors, with every brush with nature we expose ourselves to hungry blood-sucking ticks that have been active and waiting for the opportunity to feast on us and spread bacterial diseases.

Both the blacklegged "deer" tick & the western blacklegged tick transmit Lyme disease

Both the blacklegged “deer” tick & the western blacklegged tick transmit Lyme disease

Ticks come in many different varieties and are abundant across the U.S.  Lyme Disease was first identified in Lyme, Connecticut in 1975 and is listed as a reportable disease to the Centers for Disease Control.  CDC reports 300,000 people a year are treated for Lyme disease, yet only about 30,000 are actually reported. The highest incidences of Lyme disease in the U.S. in 2012 (the latest statistics published) were in the following States:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont

It takes about 36 hours from the time a tick becomes attached to the body to transmit Lyme disease to their unsuspecting host. One visible tale-tale sign of Lyme disease is a distinctive “bulls eye” rash at the site of the bite which can become very large.  It is important to note that this rash does not occur in up to 40-50% of those who actually have Lyme disease.

A distinctive rash at the site of the tick bite associated with Lyme disease.

A distinctive rash at the site of the tick bite associated with Lyme disease.

Chemical Repellents:   The synthetic

Permethrin is a synthetic chemical belonging to the family of synthetic chemicals called pyrethroids and is used as an insecticide and insect repellent. Pyrethroids are similar to the natural pyrethrins produced by the flowers of pyrethrum (plants of the genus Chrysanthemum). This natural insecticide is made from the dried flower heads. The dried flowers are actually crushed, the active components (pyrethrins) removed, and applied as a powder or mixed as a suspension with water or oil in a pyrethrum spray.

Chemical companies often extract from the natural components and mix them with the synthetic to “enhance” potency just as they do with prescription drugs. Permethrin then, is not the natural, but the synthetic chemical. It is listed as a “restricted use” substance by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to its toxicity to aquatic life. It is also highly toxic to cats.

Essential Oils:  The Natural Repellents

There are a variety of natural “recipes” for insect repellents and different insects are repelled by different essential oils.  Therefore a more effective repellent will depend on which insects you want to repel. If your goal is repelling ticks naturally, you might try this recipe.

Rose geranium essential oil is the most frequently cited essential oil for use as a tick repellent.

Tick Repellant

  • 10 drops of rose geranium essential oil
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops of Cedarwood
  • 1 cup water (I use distilled) if applying via a spray nozzle


  • 1 cup of carrier oil (e.g. fractionated coconut oil, sunflower oil, grapeseed oil or light olive oil for sensitive skin) if applying topically without a spray nozzle.

Note:  Cedar wood is yet another essential oil that can be added to the natural recipe for repelling ticks. Known for promoting healthy skin and clear breathing, Cedar wood has a warm, woody, balsamic fragrance that relaxes the mind and body.  Perfect for hikers and  those who love being outdoors.

Directions: Mix essential oils together in a spray bottle and apply as needed. Rub or spray the natural repellent onto skin or clothing, using care to avoid the sensitive eye areas. Reapply periodically throughout the length of the exposure. Store unused natural repellent is a dark bottle away from heat or direct sunlight.

Other important studies

A study published in the 2007 issue of “Parasitology Research” shows that a 10 percent solution of Origanum minutiflorum (Oregano oil) killed all ticks within 120 minutes.

Note: Oregano is a “hot” oil

A study published in the 2007 issue “Journal of Economic Entomology” shows that Alaskan yellow cedar (a wood-based oil) is the best at killing tick nymphs; eastern red cedar is best at killing larval ticks; and incense cedar from juniper trees is best at killing all ticks.

Skin and Clothing

To avoid becoming a human smorgasbord for ticks, be sure to dress in a long sleeved shirt and long pants when you’re in areas with lots of ticks. You can pretreat your clothing by applying drops of the natural essential oils repellents also.

Be sure to inspect your clothing and skin frequently when you’re outdoors and when you come back indoors. Ticks can cling to clothing initially; don’t give them time to attach to bare skin, your scalp or skin crevices. (Parents, inspect your children!) The chances of getting Lyme disease are reduced if the tick is removed within the first 24 hours.   After tick removal, apply an antimicrobial blend   To repel ticks naturally, be sure to take your natural essential oil repellents with you when you go hiking or spend time outdoors.

Not all essential oils are created equally!  Make sure the essential oils you use are tested for purity and potency.

To find out how this blend of essential oils actually worked when field-tested on the Appalachian Trail between New York and Connecticut in May 2014 read my follow up article:

A Natural Repellent for Black Flies

If you enjoyed this article, watch for my upcoming article

“Lyme Disease:  The Culprits and the Natural Alternative Treatment”

Here’s to your natural, drug-free good health,

Pam Baker, RN


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