I’ve had a lot of ticks bite me over the years. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but it still grosses me out to find a tick embedded in my skin. However, I have gotten better at removing ticks over the years.
The way you remove the tick actually matters. Irritating a tick during removal increase your chances of getting Lyme disease. The wrong method might also cause the tick head getting stuck in your skin, which is an entire different level of grossness.
Here’s what you need to know to remove a tick properly, plus some tips to make it easier.
How to Remove a Tick Safely
1. Grab the Tick Close to the Head.
If you grab the tick by its body, the body will probably rip off from the head. You’ll end up with the tick’s head stuck in your skin. This doesn’t increase your chances of getting Lyme disease, but can cause irritation. Plus, it is gross to have an arachnid head stuck in you! Here’s how to remove a tick head stuck in your skin.
Because the tick’s head is partially inside your skin, it is nearly impossible to grasp it with your fingers. You will need a tool. The CDC recommends using fine-tipped tweezers. See these best tick removal tools for humans.
2. Pull Straight Upwards
Using a gentle motion, pull the tick straight upwards. You don’t want to jerk the tick too hard or the tick head might break off in your skin.
3. Check to See If Any Pieces of the Tick Remain
Carefully inspect the wound site to see if any parts of the tick remain in the wound. Here’s what to do if the tick head got stuck in your skin.
4. Get Rid of the Tick
If you remove the tick properly, it should still be alive when you take it out. You’ll need to kill it by soaking it in alcohol or sealing it in a bag and throwing it away. You should never crush a live tick with your fingers as this could release pathogens. Admittedly, I have killed ticks with tweezers while on hikes, but make sure not to touch the dead tick and then disinfect the tweezers once I’m back in civilization.
If you are really concerned that the tick might contain Lyme disease pathogens, you can take it to your doctor for testing.
5. Clean the Bite Area
Use alcohol, iodine or soap and water to clean the bite area.
6. Monitor for Lyme Disease
It is normal for the tick bite area to be bit red. However, it is not normal for the bite area to get red days or weeks afterwards. This could be a sign of Lyme disease. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for other symptoms of Lyme disease, such as fatigue and fever-like symptoms. See these photos of Lyme disease rashes.
How NOT to Remove a Tick
There are plenty of other ways to remove ticks, and some of them are easier than using tweezers. Yet, virtually all of these tick removal methods are NOT safe.
Anytime you irritate the tick when removing it, the tick can start to salivate. The saliva increases the likelihood that disease-causing pathogens will get into your blood and make you sick. Some methods may also cause the tick to burrow deeper into you, which will make it even harder to get out and increase the likelihood of getting sick.
I’ll go over some of these unsafe tick removal methods below.
Squeezing/Killing the Tick While It Is Still Attached
If you kill the tick by squeezing it while it is still attached, it can push the tick’s stomach contents into the wound. This increases the likelihood of disease transmission. It also might cause the tick head to get stuck in your skin.
Touching a Tick with a Hot Match
This tick removal method irritates the tick, causing it to detach and come out. While it does sometimes work, the tick is more likely to regurgitate saliva into you. The tick might also burst from the heat, which will almost certainly release any pathogens in the tick into your body.
Liquid Soap on a Cotton Ball
Another effective but unsafe tick removal method is to cover it with liquid soap (often put on a cotton ball first). This method suffocates the tick, theoretically causing it to exit your skin as it searches for air. It is unsafe because the irritated tick might regurgitate into your skin as it exits.
Covering a tick with Vaseline works in the same way as the liquid soap method: suffocation. Like with the soap method, it is unsafe because it irritates the tick and increases the chances of disease transmission.
Applying peppermint or other essential oils to a tick can irritate it and cause it to come out on its own. But, like with other unsafe tick removal methods, it increases the chances that disease transmission could occur.
Hydrogen Peroxide, Gasoline, Alcohol or Nail Polish Remover
Like with other unsafe tick removal methods, applying chemicals like rubbing alcohol to a tick can cause it to throw up into the wound and increase the chances of disease transmission. On top of this, multiple studies show the methods aren’t even effective: some ticks will stay attached even after slathered in chemicals for 30+ minutes.
Twisting the Tick Off
One method for removing ticks that is often recommended is to twist it off. The idea is that you can unscrew the tick. Some popular tick removal tools (like O’Tom Tick Twister) are based on this idea. However, evidence shows that twisting is NOT a safe way to remove a tick.
Ticks do not have screw-shaped mouths, so twisting will not unscrew them. Some studies do show that a twisting motion can decrease the amount of force needed to remove a tick. However, more studies show that twisting increases the likelihood that the mouthparts will remain in the skin. Further, experts warn that twisting can cause a tick’s potentially infectious fluids to escape into the wound.
Tips for Removing Ticks
1. Don’t Freak Out
It is very gross to find a tick attached to you, but resist the urge to immediately pull it off with your fingers. It’s often smarter to leave the tick attached until you can get a tool to remove the tick properly.
2. Keep a Tick Removal Tool with You
If you spend a lot of time outdoors in tick areas, then you’ll want to have a tick removal tool with you at all times. There are small ones that you can keep on your keychain. I personally keep a mini pair of pointed tweezers in my wallet (which also come in handy for removing splinters) and have a larger pair of tweezers in my hiking first aid kit.
3. Use Pointy Tweezers for Nymph or Larval Ticks
Nymph ticks are incredibly tiny. They are almost impossible to grasp at the head with normal tweezers or tick tools. A pair of pointy tweezers (aka precision tweezers or ingrown hair tweezers) are the only real way to remove these tiny ticks. I use these tweezers.
4. Gently Spread Out Skin
It is important that you grasp the tick as close down as possible. I’ve found that gently pulling the skin apart on each side of the skin helps push the tick upwards a bit so you can get to the head easier. Just make sure you are very gentle about it – you don’t ever want to do anything that will irritate the tick.
5. Removing Ticks on the Head
Removing ticks on the top of your head is particularly difficult: hair gets in the way, the curve of the scalp makes it hard to get a good grasp with some tools, and the skin is particularly thin so it’s hard to reach the tick at its head. I’ve found that the best way to remove a tick from the head is to use a loop tool. Finely-pointed tweezers also work but you will still probably painfully yank out some hairs in the process.