There's nothing more relaxing than a hike through the woods. Breathing the fresh air while taking in beautiful scenery is sometimes just what the doctor ordered. One thing that can turn this dream into a nightmare is the addition of tiny bloodsuckers. Ticks have been plaguing hikers and wood dwellers for centuries. Not only do they suck their prey's blood, but they also have the potential to leave behind some nasty, disease-causing bacteria. We all want a safe and natural repellent for these nasty critters; but does tea tree oil repel ticks?
There are many home remedies that claim to repel these bugs, and tea tree oil is high on the list. Many people have wondered, does tea tree oil repel ticks? In this article we answer that question. We will also explore various ticks and the damage they can cause. Further, if you feel tea tree oil is the right tick repellant for you, we will give you tips and tricks to using it safely and effectively.
What Is a Tick?
Ticks are small invertebrate creatures that belong to the arachnid family. Also included in this family are spiders, scorpions, daddy longlegs, and mites. They are carnivorous creatures, which means they prey on other animals for their food source. Like the spider, they have four pairs of jointed legs and they have no wings or antennas. Basically, a tick's body has a capitulum (head), the scutum (body), and eight jointed legs.
Where Are Ticks Most Prevalent?
Ticks love to hide in long grass and wooded areas, but there are regions of the country that see more than their fair share of the blood sucking nuisances. Below are a list of species and the areas of the country where they are more prevalent.
American Dog Tick
This type of tick can be found anywhere from the Midwest to the East Coast. These ticks are known to cause Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tularemia, and tick paralysis.
Black Leg Ticks
Also known as deer ticks, these ticks are prevalent in the Midwest and East Coast regions. They have distinctly red to brown bodies with darker legs and black surrounding the outside of the scutum. They carry Anaplasmosis, Babesiosis, and Lyme Disease.
Brown Dog Ticks
Brown Dog Ticks are found anywhere in the continental United States, and they are red and brown with a hexagon-shaped capitulum (head). Unlike most ticks, they can complete their entire life-cycle indoors. They transmit Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
Lone Star Ticks
These ticks live from Central Texas all the way to the East Coast and, recently, as far as Wisconsin and Maine to the north. They are easy to spot with their white "lone star" shape on the back of their dark brown back. These ticks are known to transmit ehrlichiosis, Tularemia, and Southern Tick Associate Rash Illness.
What Are the Most Dangerous Diseases Transmitted by Ticks?
According to the Center For Disease Control, diseases transmitted by ticks have doubled since 2004. As of 2016 there were 36,429 cases of Lyme Disease reported in the Northern United States. William Nicholson, PhD, of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention notes that ticks are the number one vector for diseases in the United States. This means that ticks transmit more diseases to humans than mosquitos, fleas, or other bugs.
The following are two of the most common diseases transmitted from ticks to their human hosts, and these diseases are dangerous enough to make you really beg the question, does tea tree oil repel ticks?
This disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and is recognized by symptoms such as a fever, headaches, fatigue, and a skin rash. The skin rash has the distinct shape of a bull's eye. If left untreated, Lyme Disease can cause problems with the joints, the heart, and even the nervous system.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (Also Rickettsia)
RMSF is a bacterial disease that presents various symptoms such as fever, headaches, nausea, vomiting, stomachaches, a splotchy pink rash, or small pink bumps. This infection can be deadly if not treated with the correct antibiotic in a timely manner. RMSF can also lead to permanent damage and amputations.
What Is Tea Tree Oil?
Also known as Melaleuca, tea tree oil is the oil found in the leaves and bark of the tea tree. It is native to the Australian swampy forests in Queensland. These swampy areas are full of parasites and fungi, and the plants that thrive there have natural biocides to repel insects, parasites, and fungi. This essential oil has natural disinfectant, antiviral, fungicidal, and antibacterial traits that made it crucial to the Aborigines. They used the tea tree oil for minor skin irritants and to keep parasites (like ticks) from the skin and hair.
The oil is extracted from the long leaves of the tree using steam distillation. There are over 100 ingredients within the oil, but the most active are the various Terpinenes, the Cineoles, and A-Pinene. Most believe that the strong smell permeating from these ingredients makes the oil an effective repellent for bugs. Still, most want to know, does tea tree oil repel ticks.
Does Tea Tree Oil Repel Ticks?
While there are those that swear by its effectiveness, our research has shown that using tea tree oil to repel ticks is only about 60% successful. The reality is that tea tree oil is not FDA-approved as a tick repellent, and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) does not recommend tea tree oil as an effective treatment for removing a tick or medicating a tick bite. Overall, Consumer Reports has also found that products sold as natural bug repellents do not work nearly as well as products containing DEET.
There are three products that have been proven to repel ticks. DEET is the first, but there has to be a 30% concentration for it to be truly effective. After studying DEET for years, the Environmental Protection Agency has determined DEET to be safe when used as directed. While DEET is the "gold standard" in tick repellent, there are two additional products that have done well in repelling ticks.
The first of these is picardin, which is a synthetic substance that is a derivative of the black pepper plant. When picardin
is included in bug/tick repellents with a concentration of at least 20%, it is recommended by the FDA as an effective repellent. The other natural option is products that include Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), which comes from the gum of the eucalyptus tree. Scientist have found OLE to be most effective when included in products with at least a 30% concentration.
How Do You Make a Tick Repellent From Tea Tree Oil?
Despite the lack of solid evidence or studies completed on tea tree oil's ability to repel ticks, there will be some who prefer to use this natural remedy as opposed to a product containing DEET. Be sure to follow a few guidelines to create the most effective and safe tick repellent.
It is important to remember that tea tree oil, while natural, can be toxic or irritate the skin. Do not apply tea tree oil directly to the skin. If you are putting a drop directly on a bug bite, this should be fine; but for more general uses it needs to be diluted with a skin-friendly oil as your base, like coconut or jojoba oil. To make a rub-on tick repellent add two parts of the base oil of your choice to one part of water. Then add two ounces of tea tree oil to the substance for every liter of liquid.
If you prefer a repellent that will spray well, use 2 cups of vinegar, 1 cup of distilled water, and 10 drops of tea tree oil. This can be added to a spray bottle and used as a natural bug repellent. While some sources will tell you to put a drop of tea tree oil on a tick that is feeding on your skin, never do this. The oil could send the tick into shock and cause it to release bacteria-filled saliva into the wound.
You may not want to rub the oil directly to your skin without diluting, but some people have found it to be useful in repelling ticks if they rub a few drops thinly over their clothing, especially the lower legs of their pants. While tea tree oil, especially if diluted, is fairly safe for the skin, it should never be ingested.
Does Tea Tree Oil Repel Ticks on My Pet?
While the Merch Veterinary Manual lists tea tree oil as an "especially risky" ingredient for dogs, this is mostly because pet parents might not follow the correct application practices. There could be dangers with using tea tree oils on your dogs, yet it can be a safe and natural way to help repel ticks as long as you follow a few guidelines.
The best way to apply tea tree oil to dogs is to put just a few drops on the top of their neck, right where you would apply a traditional flea or tick medication. Make sure it is in a place where your pup can not lick the oil off of their fur. To make a tick repellent collar, mix jojoba or almond oil (2 teaspoons) to one liter of water. Add 5-7 drops of tea tree oil to the mixture and soak a cloth in the mixture. Once the cloth is dry, loosely tie it around your dog's neck.
Another option is to add a few drops of tea tree oil to your dog's shampoo. For this to be effective, leave the shampoo on the dog for 10 minutes. While tea tree oil might help keep pesky ticks off of your dog, never use tea tree oil on cats, as it is toxic to them.
While there is no concrete evidence proving tea tree oil is an effective tick repellent, when you ask the question, does tea tree oil repel ticks, the answer is that it can at least help. Science hasn't proven it, but individual people attest to how well it works. Though most unofficial studies show a success rate of 60%, it might be a safe and natural option for some. There is no argument that products with DEET are the most effective in repelling parasite type bugs, but tea tree oil has been used for this purpose for centuries.