A warmer-than-usual winter means a higher tick population, suggesting that this year’s tick season is going to be an active one.
Tick-borne diseases are on the rise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. That includes Lyme, which is the most common and spread by deer ticks, as well as also lesser-known but still serious conditions like Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and Powassan virus.
So if you see a tick on you, you want to get it off—fast. But what’s the best way to safely remove a tick?
Here’s what not to do: Sprinkle it with peppermint oil. A video making the rounds on Facebook—viewed by over 33 million people—shows a woman pouring a few drops of peppermint oil on a tick seems to be attached to her skin. After about twenty seconds under the oil, the tick scurries away intact.
Why Peppermint Oil Doesn’t Work For Removing Ticks
It looks painless, easy, and effective. Problem is, it probably won’t do much good if we’re talking about a tick that’s actually full-on attached to your skin, says Tom Mather, Ph.D., director of the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center.
Here’s why: The tick in the video looks male, Mather says. Unlike female ticks, male ticks don’t attach firmly to their host—“their main job is to find a female to mate with.”
And in many cases of tick-borne illness, the ticks need to be firmly attached—and for a significant amount of time—to spread disease. In fact, ticks must be attached for 36 to 48 hours to transmit Lyme disease, the CDC says.
“I’d be shocked if peppermint oil caused a one-day attached deer tick (the kind that transmit Lyme) to back out,” Mather says.
Some experts are speculating that the peppermint oil might not just fail at removing the tick, but it might make the situation even worse. They say the oil may agitate the tick, causing it to salivate more, potentially aiding the transmission of disease-causing bugs.
But while the peppermint oil may feel uncomfortable for the tick, there’s just no data out there to support the regurgitation theory, Mathers says. Scientists still need to perform experiments to see if the peppermint oil is actually causing greater harm.
How You Should Remove a Tick Instead
Still, if we're talking about ticks that are firmly attached, and in prime disease-transmission mode, the peppermint oil likely won’t get the tick off—giving it more time to spread bacteria to its host.
So Mather and his crew at TickEncounter will stick with the tried-and-true method for tick removal instead: tweezing out the little bugger.
First, get a pair of fine-point tweezers—ones like TickEase or Mainely Ticks are designed to grab the ticks as close their attachment point as possible. Sanitize them with rubbing alcohol, and grab the tick as close to your skin as you can. Pull upward slowly until it pops out.