There are many “wives” tales or folklore surrounding the correct way to remove a tick that has embedded itself into your (or another animal’s) skin. Living in the south, these at home techniques range from silly too dangerous. Here are just a few I have heard over the years:
Interestingly, in my many years as an entomologist, I’ve never heard the correct method from a non-entomologist or medical professional.
Before we discuss the correct removal technique, let’s take a minute to discuss why the above listed methods are incorrect and in some cases dangerous.
READ MORE on the dangers of tick borne disease
Ticks feed by inserting their mouthparts into your skin. These mouthparts have barbed edges, helping the tick to stay in place when they feed. Some ticks, specifically most hard ticks, produce a sticky glue-like material that helps to hold them in place. As they feed, they inject saliva into your blood stream; this saliva helps to keep the blood flowing and kill pain the animal may feel due to the feeding. During this feeding and injecting of saliva is typically when transmission of pathogens that cause disease are transferred.
The correct method for removing a tick is remarkably simple. You only need a pair of tweezers or forceps and a disinfecting liquid (such as rubbing alcohol).
So now, let’s address the “incorrect” methods and why they are dangerous.
Any disruptive action taken by the remover, such as burning, smothering, smashing, etc. increases the chances of the tick “vomiting” into the host. This means the chance of potential pathogens being introduced to the host increases. This increases the chance of disease development.
Twisting the tick, as mentioned above, can cause the mouthparts to break off, sometimes embedded into the skin. This can lead to infection and irritation.
Covering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish, or other substance is also not effective. Ticks can survive a long time without access to oxygen and “waiting for the tick to die” can take days or even weeks. It is safer and much more effective to use the method listed above.
Overall, it is important to remove a tick as quickly as possible after it is discovered.
Technical Services Manager PCO Product Development