You’ll want to be cautious with kids: Stick to using repellents with a max of 30% DEET for children, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, and avoid using DEET-based products on children under two months old. (Anything that contains more than 30% DEET isn’t significantly more effective anyway, experts say, so it’s a good rule of thumb for yourself, too.2)
5. Try picaridin if your skin can’t stand DEET.
Picaridin, a synthetic compound that mimics piperine, a natural compound in black pepper, is another solid ingredient that can help ward off ticks. It’s “less studied than DEET in ticks,” Dr. Yancey says, but it’s often recommended as a good alternative because it performs just as well against mosquitoes in similar concentrations (so look for 20% picaridin in a repellent for max protection).3
The CDC also lists four other insect-repellent ingredients that may help prevent tick bites, although experts say we don’t have as much data on their efficacy: IR3535, oil of lemon eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), and 2-undecanone.
Dr. Yancey notes that IR3535 is hard to come by—you’d have to seek it out specifically, whereas DEET and picaridin are widely available. The same goes for 2-undecanone, which comes from wild tomato plants and seems to have some promise as a tick repellent, but limited research suggests it may only be effective for about two hours.4
PMD is a chemical that’s made from the Australian lemon-scented gum tree,5 and OLE actually contains PMD but is registered separately with the EPA. Lemon eucalyptus essential oil is not the same as OLE, so you shouldn’t rely on it as a repellent because its effectiveness against ticks has not been thoroughly tested.
6. Carefully check yourself for ticks when you get home.
Don’t skip this step! If you happen to have a tick on you, you’ll want to find it and get it off your body ASAP. (It typically takes between 36 and 48 hours for an infected tick to transmit Lyme disease after it sinks into your skin, although other diseases, like Powassan virus, can be transferred more quickly.)
First, scan your clothing and check any gear you brought in with you, like a backpack. If you’ve been in an area where ticks are usually widespread, throw your clothes in the washer on high heat, which will help kill any you didn’t see, the CDC recommends. If your clothes don’t need a full wash, consider at least throwing them in the dryer on high heat for 10 to 15 minutes.
Then give your body a once over, Dr. Yancey says; look at your skin closely and run your hands over your arms, legs, and wherever else you’re inspecting. A bathroom mirror can help you examine spots that might be hard to see, like your back. No area is too small for ticks to hide in: Check your armpits, in and around the ears, your belly button and waist, the back of your knees, between your legs, and around your groin. Take a pass in and around your hair, too.