Bug Repellents – The More Effective The More Toxic

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Ticks keep not only spreading, but they are also active much longer because the winters are getting shorter. So tick protection is more important than ever. There are natural tick repellents that use essential oils to ward off ticks, and synthetic tick repellents that use chemicals like DEET to protect you from ticks and possibly harmful tick bites.

Do these different repellents really make a difference or do they all work the same on bugs?  Let’s briefly explore the differences between natural vs synthetic tick repellents, including the pros and cons of each type of product and how effective they are at warding off ticks.

What are Natural Tick Repellents?

Natural tick repellents work with plant-based oils like lemon eucalyptus, tea tree oil, cedarwood oil, or geranium to ward off ticks. These so-called essential oils, are mixed into lotions, sprays, soaps, wipes, and shampoos and are applied directly to the skin.

Plant-based tick repellants can be used if you want to avoid chemically synthesized active ingredients. Many consumers prefer natural alternatives because they assume that these products are usually less harmful than synthetic tick repellants.

However, not all essential oils repel ticks effectively, so it’s important for consumers to do their research before purchasing a tick repellent that uses natural ingredients.

Are Natural Tick Repellents Effective?

The effectiveness of natural tick repellents can vary depending on your tick exposure risk. If you are in the woods or another tick-infested environment, it is best to opt for a product with higher concentrations of essential oils.

Natural tick repellants work by evaporating the essential oils they contain. This creates a kind of smelly protection shield around the wearer that can be smelled from afar. Everyone knows how strong the smell of essential oils can be. Even the tiniest amounts of patchouli or eucalyptus can be smelled from afar if someone had contact with it.

Ticks can smell their victims with the help of a special organ on the front legs. This special “tick nose” is called “Haller’s organ”, it consists of receptors with which the ticks can perceive metabolic waste products, pheromones, and body heat of their victims.

Essential oils prevent ticks from smelling us because they disrupt this sense organ, causing the tick not to notice its prey (us) until too late!


  • Don’t contain any harmful chemicals
  • Work very well against ticks in closed environments
  • Safe for your dog and other pets
  • Easy to apply


  • Natural tick repellents can be expensive
  • May be less effective if you’re in a tick-infested environment

What Are Synthetic Tick Repellents?

Synthetic tick repellants are, as the name suggests, substances that do not occur in nature. They are produced artificially using a wide range of chemical processes.

Synthetic tick repellents use chemicals such as DEET, or Permethrin, Fipronil, Flumthrin, etc, to ward off ticks. These synthetic tick repellents have a strong irritating effect on the sensory receptors of ticks (as well as mosquitoes and almost all other bugs) and tend to be much more effective than natural tick repellents.

Some consumers have concerns about using synthetic insect repellents. On the one hand, they could have undesirable side effects or irritate skin or cause other reactions. Also, the chemical substances could also cause unknown long-term damage in nature, as they accumulate and are only slowly degradable

Are Synthetic Tick Repellents Effective?

Synthetic tick repellents contain more effective concentrations of chemicals than natural tick repellents, but some tick repellents don’t offer enough chemical concentration to be truly effective against ticks.

That being said, tick repellents that contain DEET or Permethrin are very effective against ticks.
The chemical concentration in tick repellents is measured through an active ingredient rating which is expressed as a percentage of the total mixture. For example, the product may be labeled with “Contains 40% DEET”. The higher this number, the more effective the product will be at warding off ticks. You may want to choose a tick repellent with a higher tick repellent rating if you live in such a location.


  • More effective than plant-based repellents
  • Repels not only ticks and mosquitos but almost all crawly critters
  • Easy to apply


  • Contains harmful chemicals
  • Can irritate the skin when tick repellent is applied in high concentrations
  • Difficult to degrade in the environment

Are Natural Tick Repellents Better Than Synthetic Tick Repellents?

In deciding which tick repellent to use, weigh the pros and cons of natural tick repellents against synthetic tick repellents. While some people prefer a chemical-free tick deterrent, you may want something more effective if ticks are commonly found in your area or if you spend a lot of time outdoors hiking through tick-infested areas.

If this sounds like you, then opt for a synthetic tick repellent that contains high concentrations of chemicals such as Permethrin or DEET.  Treating clothing or equipment with synthesized permethrin is an additional method that is recommended in areas with a high tick infestation.

On the other hand, those who typically do not come into contact with many ticks can use natural tick repellents without worrying about side effects from harmful chemicals.
Natural tick repellents don’t contain any dangerous chemicals but tend to be less effective than their synthetic counterparts.

Can Tick Repellents Be Used For Pets?

Tick protection is not only important for people who live in tick-infested areas. Protecting your pet is just as important.

If you have a dog, you should consider using an effective tick deterrent on them, too, as they can carry ticks even if they don’t come in direct contact with any.

Just remember that tick repellents for humans are not the same as tick repellents for pets – make sure to use an animal-safe tick repellent on them!

You should avoid using human tick remedies (natural and synthetic) on your pet because they may contain chemicals harmful to animals. Before applying any tick control product to your pet, consult your veterinarian to ensure it is safe and will work effectively.

Some synthetic tick products may be harmful or deadly when applied directly to dogs, so be sure to do your research beforehand!

Benefits and risks of tick repellent

Taking a closer look at natural vs synthetic insect repellents, then you have to admit that synthetic agents are much more effective. When having the choice between natural vs synthetic, you can also consider the likelihood of tick-borne illness in a particular area.

If it’s just a matter of avoiding the bite and there are no dangerous illnesses in the area, then natural remedies are sufficient. However, if it is about to ward off malaria, Lyme disease, etc, an effective synthetic agent is probably the better choice.

Natural tick repellents are good for people who prefer tick control without toxic chemicals and with a reduced risk of unwanted side effects. However, only if there are not too many ticks in the area and also if the risk of tick-borne diseases is not high.

Synthetic tick repellents contain highly effective chemicals that are very effective at repelling ticks. Some consumers fear these can irritate the skin or cause side effects. This is true, in rare cases it may cause skin irritation or side effects. But that can also be the case with natural herbal repellents – this is often overlooked in the belief that everything made from plants is better.

Anyway, synthetic repellents should be used when the tick problem is quite high, i.e. there are many ticks and the risk of disease transmission is high.

No matter what you use, no repellent can offer 100% protection against ticks. Depending on the environment and the occurrence of ticks, it can make sense to combine different natural agents or also in combination with synthetic ones.

In high-risk areas where dangerous diseases are very likely to be transmitted, it is safer to increase preventive measures and use highly effective systemic repellants.



How ticks smell their victims

Plant-Derived Natural Compounds for Tick Pest Control