Mom Goes Camping

How to Remove a Tick Head Stuck in Your Skin

remove tick head stuck in skin

To properly remove a tick that has bitten you, it is really important that you grasp it by the head and pull straight out with a steady motion.  Otherwise, you risk the tick head getting left in your skin.

Even when you do follow proper tick removal methods, the head can still sometimes get stuck in your skin.  This is what happened to me after a recent camping trip.  The little bugger had bit deep into the soft tissue in my armpit. When my husband went to pull him out, the tick head broke off and was left in my skin.

Here’s how I got the tick head out of my skin (as well as what didn’t work to remove it).

*Pointy tweezers work best for removing ticks.  I’ve even started carrying a mini pair of tweezers in my wallet so I can remove ticks immediately.  Read about tick removal tools here.

TickEase tick removal tool

The pointy tip on these tweezers are ideal for safely removing ticks.  Never use methods like suffocating ticks, covering them with rubbing alcohol or holding a hot match to them: this can cause the tick to REGURGITATE its stomach contents into the wound, thus increasing your chances of getting Lyme disease!


How Do You Know the Tick Head Is Stuck or Out?

Tick heads are tiny.  If the tick head is left in your skin, you will see a little black dot.

You might also have some inflammation around the tick head.  In my case, I was surprised how irritated my skin got.  A stuck tick head can also cause a lot of itching (though it’s also normal for tick bites to itch — here’s why)

The photos below show tick heads stuck in the skin (the first photo is the one stuck in me). See how tiny the little black dots are.

tick head stuck in skin

Tick head stuck in skin


How to Remove a Tick Head Stuck in Your Skin

Method 1: Using an Extractor Pump

insect venom extractor tool

If you go hiking in places where there are a lot of ticks, you might want to carry an extractor tool with you.  These tools are basically suction tubes which draw venom out of your skin. They are mostly marketed towards snake, bee and scorpion bites, but can be used after tick bites too.

Here’s how it works:

  • Use tweezers or other tool to remove the tick (never use an extractor to remove a tick)
  • Put the suction tube over the bite location.
  • Pull upwards on the pump. Theoretically, the suction will remove saliva from the bite. There’s a lot of debate as to whether these actually reduce your chances of getting Lyme disease or not though. I guess it can’t hurt. Note the extractor shouldn’t be used to remove a tick.

If the tick head is stuck in your skin, the extractor tool might be able to pull it out.  This is a big might though.  You’ll have to suction up a good chunk of skin (there will be blood!) to get the tick head out. Plus, by the time this tool reaches you, it will probably be too late to get the stuck tick head out.  But it’s still a good tool to have around for the next time you get bit by a tick.  The Bug Bite Thing tool is by far the most popular option.


Method 2: Removing Tick Head Like a Splinter

On many websites (like here, here, and here), they recommend removing a tick head like you would a splinter: Getting a clean needle and trying to poke/dig it out.

Well, I’m pretty damn good at removing splinters.  So, this is what I first tried to remove the stuck tick head.

It did NOT work.

After I finally got the tick head out (and looked at it under a microscope, because I’m just that nerdy 🙂 ), I had a “Duh” moment and realized why it wouldn’t have worked:

Ticks have jaws like barbed wire.

The part that they stick into your skin is called a hypostome.  You can see in the picture of the tick head magnified to 450x the nasty barbs (below).  Those will NOT slide out like a splinter.

tick head under microscope 450x


**If you still want to try this method, only try it a few times! If it doesn’t come out right away, give up. 

I’m sure some people might have luck with this method, but you’ll really have to dig a trench into your skin. I turned my tick bite site into chop suey and still it didn’t come out.  All I really did was (as mentioned here) set myself up for a potential secondary infection. So, seriously, if the head doesn’t come out right away, give up before you make a nasty wound in your skin!


Method 3: Cut the Tick Head Out

Because of those nasty barbs on the tick’s mouth, you probably won’t be able to just slide it out like a splinter.  Instead, you’ll have to remove all of the skin that the tick’s mouth is embedded into.  Yes, that means cutting a chunk of your skin out.

Obviously, this can create some problems: You could get an infection. The area might get inflamed and irritated.  And it hurts to cut your skin.   So, I don’t recommend this method.

If you do want to cut the tick head out, then use some very sharp, pointy, CLEAN scissors.  The video below shows how it is done. He’s using pliers in the video.  I’d recommend using nail cuticle scissors instead as they are pointier and probably sharper than anything in your tool box.


Method 4: Wait

I am not a patient person.  Nor did I like the idea of having a tick head stuck in my body (gross!).  But the smartest way to remove an embedded tick head stuck in your skin is to simply wait.

Your skin will eventually push the tick head out.


But isn’t it dangerous to leave a tick head in your skin???

As the NY health department says here,

“The mouthparts alone cannot transmit Lyme disease, because the infectious body of the tick is no longer attached. The mouthparts can be left alone.”

In some cases, leaving the tick head in your skin can result in an infection or irritation.  However, this is not common. Thus, major health agencies say to leave the tick head alone and let the area heal on its own. (Sources: 1, 2345)

Since I’m so impatient, I tore off the scab a few times hoping that the tick head would come out with the scab.  It didn’t.  So don’t be impatient like me and try this.


How long will it take for the tick head to come out on its own?

In my case, it took 2 weeks before the tick head came out.  By this point, my skin had pushed it far enough towards the surface that I was able to remove it by scratching the area.

I’ve since talked to a few other people who got tick heads stuck in their skin and it also took about 2 weeks for the head to come out.  However, it could take longer or shorter depending on where the tick bit you (my bite was in the armpit, so the tick was able to get really deep into the skin) and how quickly your skin heals.

looking at tick head under microscope-min

Of course, the first thing I did after getting the tick head out was to use my daughter’s microscope and look at it. God I’m a nerd! 🙂

In this image, you can see just how tiny the tick head is compared to the tip of a pin.


Next Steps

1. Keep the Bite Area Clean

Whether you dig/cut the tick head out or (smartly) wait for it to come out on its own, you will need to keep the area clean.

Treat the bite area as you would any small wound: Clean it thoroughly with soap and water, then apply an antibiotic wound ointment like Bacitracin.  You do have this in your first aid kit, right?  If not, get it here.  Or get a stocked first aid kit here (the one in the link has antibiotic ointment and other vital first aid supplies).


2. Monitor the Site

There’s no need to panic if you got bit by a tick. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease. And, if the tick was removed within 24 hours of biting you, then it wasn’t embedded long enough to transfer Lyme disease (which is why it is so important to check for ticks after going outdoors).

If you are really concerned about Lyme disease — such as you have a compromised immune system or a small child is in question — then you might take the tick body to be tested.

Otherwise, just pay attention to the wound site and how you feel.  If you have any of these symptoms, go to your doctor immediately:

  • A rash around the bite site which gets larger (it isn’t always shaped like a bull’s eye – see picture’s here)
  • Rashes on other places on your body
  • Feeling very tired
  • Achy, stiff joints
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Night sweats or sleep disturbances

*Not everyone with Lyme disease gets a rash.  Further, Lyme isn’t the only disease that ticks can give humans.  So, if you have any symptoms that seem out of the ordinary, see your doctor!


Do you have a tick head stuck in your skin? Let us know your experiences in the comments section below.


By the way, I wrote a book: Disaster Preparedness for Women.

If you don’t feel like you are 100% ready for all the bad stuff that can happen in life, then this is for you.  The book covers everything you need to know to be ready for emergencies – from minor first aid incidents to major hurricanes – in a clear, actionable and levelheaded way.  disaster preparedness for women

Check it out here

Image credits:
Tick Bite” (CC BY 2.0) by KitAy
Deer Tick Bite 2” (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by chrismek
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About the author /

Diane Vukovic grew up camping and backpacking in upstate New York. Now, she takes her own daughters on wilderness adventures so they can connect with nature and learn resiliency. With dozens of trips under her belt, Diane is an expert in minimalist camping, going lightweight, planning, and keeping her kids entertained without screens.

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  1. Helen Cornwell

    Thanks Diane! Your advice is spot on. My attempts at trying to remove a tick head from my neck matched yours exactly. I finally gave up (which trust me, was hard to do) and let time and nature do its thing. It took exactly 2 weeks for that sucker to finally come out. Patience is critical.

    • Diane

      Haha, yes, it is hard to give up! Glad the little sucker finally came out. 🙂

  2. Lesley

    Thanks SO much for this informative, easy to read, and almost calming post about tick heads! I freaked out after I accidentally pulled a tick off my Yorkie, but the head, (or mouth) remains still imbedded. Rather than dig the thing out, I will wait patiently. (Even if Daisy does have a crazy bald boo-boo right on top of her head for a while now.) Thanks Again!

    • Diane

      Glad you found it calming. Just be patient: It will come out and I’m sure Daisy will be fine. 🙂

  3. Pat

    I, like you, needed to see this hard-to-remove tick head imbedded in my upper arm. It took a bit of doing (digging), but I was successful. I had to see why it was so hard to remove….I saw it!

  4. Eleanor Larson

    Thanks for all the great info! Your photos and initial self-treatment sounded like mine. Unfortunately, my picking at it with the tweezers created a scab so the doctor couldn’t tell if the head was still present. I got a prophylactic antibiotic and will monitor for a rash.

    • Diane

      Good luck with that! I wouldn’t be surprised if the tick head came out with the scab when it falls off.

  5. Kim

    Thank you for this post. We have been digging on our poor sons (he’s 9) neckline area tonight for a while, before giving up, sending him to bed, and doing more research online. After many, sort of, vague medical sites on this, we found yours here. So VERY practical, real life, and informative, as well as comforting. Thanks so very much! We’ll watch the spot and hope that little dude finds his way out in a few weeks.

    • Diane

      My daughter is also 9. Try not to freak your son out with worry. Approach it more like a science experiment instead. There are lots of lessons to be learned such as “how quickly does skin regrow”, “what’s inflammation (i.e. Why is the spot getting red?), and “animal mouth shapes and their uses.” 😀 Good luck!

  6. Nar

    Hi, thank you for your advice, very helpful in freaking-out-situations. Did your arm hurt at all while having the tick head still in there? Like a general pain in that area, not neccesarily on the bite site.

    • Diane

      Definitely did not hurt. I’d check with a doctor about that one (don’t mean to freak you out).

  7. Tom Terrific

    Stay out of Maine for a month. We have the worst tick,bedbugs,and mosquito plague ever. 7 ticks on right leg and 4 on left. Bedbugs and fleas leaving welts on hands. Like burn bubbles. I empty storage units it’s bad,bad,bad!

    • Diane

      Ugh. That sounds terrible! The scary thing is that tick seasoning is just getting longer and worse 😮

  8. Stacey

    Diane thank you so much for your post! As a very well endowed female, it was almost impossible for me to see and get to the tick that had gotten on my tummy. lol I freaked out and of course, accidentally didn’t remove the head. Your information has calmed me down so much and I’ll just wait it out. But ewwww….a tick head in my tummy for a while!

    • Diane

      I was also totally freaked out by having a tick head in me… until it came out and I saw it under the microscope. Now I’m more fascinated than freaked out. I’m such a dork 😀 Anyway, glad my experience has calmed you down. 🙂

  9. mark sebby

    Article says …”permethrin to repel ticks. It can be sprayed on your body…”. But permethrin should NOT be sprayed on skin, as per label.

    • Diane

      Thanks for catching that. I meant to write “clothes” and not skin. It’s been fixed!

      • RS

        I’m so happy I found your article! I was going to have my husband try to get the tick head out this morning but now I know it’s better to be patient. I yanked off my leg without thinking, not knowing what it was. Yuck!

        • Diane

          Glad you found it helpful. I just yanked one off yesterday. Even after the zillionith time, I still find it gross!

  10. Janet

    Is this the same process for getting them out of toddlers to wait because my pediatrician says I have to get it out and it hard with a two year old

    • Diane

      I also have a two year old. I can’t imagine trying to get it out! I’m not sure why your pediatrician would say it needs to come out, but I guess you should listen to him/her. I’d recommend checking with the pediatrician again and asking if you can just monitor the stuck head instead – it should come out on its own in a couple weeks.

  11. Susan McDonald

    Thank you so much for this excellent post! This matches my experience this week. One of the wee b****rs got me right on my right hip. I didn’t realise what it was at first – and I think the body was long gone anyway, as it felt like I’d got a wee thorn in my flesh (I do like gardening, so this is a regular occurrency for me). I tried the needle/splinter extraction thing, and all I have made is a big hole. I managed to dig out a couple of bits of the blighter, but after a couple of days of this, and yet another half-hour spent twisted round to the right (thank you, Yoga!), I reckoned that I was doing more harm than good. So armed with some great antiseptic and some antiseptic cream, I shall keep an eye on it for the next wee while. Your links to the various health agency advice sites are particularly helpful. So thanks again!

    • Diane

      Let us know how long it takes for the head to come out. So far, most people say it takes about 2 weeks. Good luck!

  12. Tiffany Frazzetto

    My daughter was bit 5/20. Since then the area get red and itchy. Forms a scab in the center and gets red from scratching it. She scratches the scab out and then it happens again. Over and over. Any thoughts?

    • Diane

      I’ve heard that some people’s skin reacts badly to the tick head — it is a foreign object stuck in the skin after all. So maybe it’s just that. But it’s been a while since she got bit, so I’d check with a doctor. That’s a long time for a tick bite to irritate the skin :/

      • Cynthia R. Benfield

        I came home after an outing with my buff. We were digging up plants out in the country. Few hours later took off my socks. I about died. 7 or more around my left ankle. Took off my other sock…same. Not to mention the others around my belly. I got them out. But my gosh!! The itch drove me nuts. Maybe heads still in? I dont know. The ones I dug around in stopped itching. I have a few I cant reach or see. I kept the ticks in a bag. Just in case I do get sick. I live in oklahoma. I swear. Tick capital. .
        I appreciate your post. But nobody mentions the itch…

  13. Sally Baker

    Hi Diane, Thanks for this information. I think I have a tic head embedded in my right lateral upper thigh but if so it has been in there for 2 months at least. My husband pulled the tic off of me but did not check for a tic head intact and flushed it down the toilet. The site itches sporadically. It comes to a head after scratching but nothing can be squeezed out. If we were not in the middle of a pandemic I would probably see a doctor. I am going to try hot compresses going forward and track any progress.

    • Diane

      That sucks 🙁 If the head is really annoying you, you could try the extractor tool. It’s the easiest method of getting the chunk of skin where the head is stuck out without hacking up the rest of your skin.

  14. Alexis

    I got one to on my butt

    • Diane

      Brings back memories of me making fun of my sister when she got a splinter on her butt and my dad had to dig it out with a pin. She was not happy! 😀

    • Lynetta M Wiles

      me too…just now!! I guess now I wait for the head to come out on its own. ugh. I am so freaked out right now trying real hard not to be…lol The Lyme Disease scares me some

  15. Angellena willis

    Thanks for the information my daughter was biten 3 times in 3 different spots but , I couldn’t find anything on jusy bites alone ,they all had info on tick with head in and what to do , but my daughter didn’t have any rasied up or openings just the red circle and 3 days later its now a white center and red ring . We used a marker to circle it and watch it but . Ur information gave us clearly she was just bit an nothing else no other systoms . Just 3 red circles . Thanks again

    • Diane

      If it’s got a white center and red ring, it sounds like Lyme. It’s normal for the bite site to be reddish right after getting bit, but not start getting red days afterwards. You should go to the doctor. I’m not trying to be an alarmist or panic you, but Lyme can be very serious (I recently got it but started antibiotics immediately and am fine). You can see some Lyme pictures here:

  16. Jane

    Thank you for this information! This is exactly what happened to me: I had a tick bite, the tick came apart when my husband used tweezers, and a needle failed to get the head out. It has been almost two weeks, and I am TRYING to wait patiently for it to come out. Your article is the only one I could find that explains how long that process takes. I’ll be so glad when the Tick Incident is over.

    • Diane

      You poor thing. I know how difficult it is to be patient 🤣. For next time, get some needle-nose tweezers (used for ingrown hair). It’s a lot easier to get the tick out with them than standard tweezers.

  17. Stacy

    Would you recommend taking antibiotics if the tick was in longer than 24 hours?

    • Diane

      That’s a question for your doctor! Though my **not a doctor** input would be to point out that Lyme antibiotics are really hardcore and you have to take them for 2-3 weeks (I had Lyme last summer and got a 3 week treatment). Antibiotics have all sorts of messed up side effects. So, maybe it is better to wait and be vigilant about looking for symptoms. I get ticks on me all the time and only got Lyme once. Your doctor might disagree though, especially if you have some conditions or are in a risk group where Lyme might F you up badly…

  18. Shelby

    My son is 3 and has a head embedded on the top of his head and I want to just dig at it and get it out but I can’t so hopefully it will come out soon

  19. Sharon

    I saw your article after finding a tick on my tummy. I didn’t have a good tweezers, and last time my mother-in-law used tweezers, the guts were squeezed out inside me. Yuck!! I heard my sister-in-law say she got a tick out of their dog successfully using one strand her daughters hair. I tried that with my hair this time. I also used anticeptic ointment. I don’t know what happened. The body is off but not moving. Could be suffocated – hopefully? I’m taking it home to look under the microscope as my eyesight is not good enough to verify the head is still on the body. I dug a little, but stopped after reading your article. Will watch and wait for 2 weeks. Thank you so much for your post!

    Love love love reading of women living, thriving, and enjoying wilderness excursions!

    • Diane

      That’s a cool trick with the strand of hair. I’m about to write a post about removing ticks without tweezers and will have to include that 🙂 You shouldn’t have slathered antiseptic ointment on the tick though – anything that irritates/suffocates the tick while still atttached can cause it to regurgitate into the wound. :/

      Keep watching the wound site for at least 4 weeks to make sure no rash forms. I had Lyme last year and it took 3 weeks for rash to appear. Not trying to scare you (I get tick bites all the time and only had Lyme that once); it’s just good to be cautious.


    I’m 67. Up until this year, I’ve only gotten one tick on me in my whole life. Between gardening, greening-up, and walking I’ve had no less than a dozen so far this season(between ticks and black fly season I’m ready to become a recluse!). They all seem to be attracted to my head? What’s up with that? Anyways, as far as I know, I’ve removed them all without leaving the head behind. A few days ago I discovered one behind my ear and removed it. I’m pretty sure it came away intact as I saw it walking around before flushing down the drain. But the bite site has been itching like crazy for the past few days.

    The weird thing is that I have 2 dogs and haven’t found any on them yet. A big thank you for all your down-to-earth information!!

    • Diane

      Ticks sometimes are up in the trees, so they are probably getting on you from above. Try wearing a light-colored hat when outdoors. You’ll be able to spot them easier and it will delay the time until they can get on your skin (I have recently switched to wearing only light colored hiking clothes for this reason). As for the itching, I just learned a cool thing: ticks have super-advanced saliva which your immune system can’t recognize. But, as you get bit by ticks more often, your body starts to recognize it. That’s why your first few tick bites don’t itch and then suddenly start itching like crazy. More on the science behind that here – And glad you found all this info useful 😀

  21. Janice

    Thank you sooo much for this post!! I just found a tick on my cat’s neck, and after trying to carefully remove it, the head is still embedded. I identified it as a female deer tick (we are in rural Ottawa with lots of deer in the area), but there was no engorging, so I expect it wasn’t on there long. This is a first for me, so I was freaking out a bit until I read this. The area is a little red, so I’m going to just put some antibiotic cream on, cross my fingers, wait patiently and hope for the best!

    It was also really helpful to read the other posts and your replies. 🙂

  22. Kitty

    Thank you for _the_ most informative article out there. I get a tick 2-3x/year in my yard & I am very sensitive to the saliva. Never once have I ever left a head behind. 3 days ago, I felt an itch, 4 hours after being outside, on the back of my knee. With some awkward body twisting I was able to remove everything but the last tick bit, probably the barbed siphon. I went to my health clinic and a PA worked long & hard & could not remove it. She said it would take about a week to come out. The itch was so bad it woke me up in the middle of the night & I put hot compresses, alcohol, & neomycin. Itch finally dissipated after 30 hours. Thanks for the 2 week scenario from everyone so I don’t worry. I send all my ticks to the health dept for testing for peace of mind as I live in high risk area for Lyme. And yes I too have looked at many of them under a microscope to confirm id & see head attached. If I have any symptoms of the bit not leaving, redness, or forming a granuloma I will go to my dermatologist for extraction. I can’t wait for 2 weeks to come! In the meantime I’ll do those full body checks for ticks better in the future. Thanks again!

  23. Ana María Hintermann-Villamil

    Yours is the only page where I found useful information about tick’s head stuck on you. You can say I was going crazy thinking something is going to happen if I leave it in my puppy’s head. She has a bump now. Thank you for calming me! It was quite soothing too! 😜

  24. Emma North

    This is a really useful post thank you. My husband just removed my first tick bite and the head is left in me (black dot & feels irritated). We’ve slathered on antiseptic cream (savlon) and are trying to soak the head out like we would do with a splinter/foreign object in the skin. It is reassuring to know that the process can take 2 weeks and if soaking my skin to quicken the process works I will let you know! UK based.

    • Diane

      That is unfortunate that your first tick bite got stuck. 🙁 Yes, please let us know if soaking the skin helps.

  25. Tabitha

    Suffocate the tick before extraction. I’ve done this twice this year with success. One on my daughter, one on the dog. I soaked a cotton ball with rubbing alcohol and held it on the tick for about a minute. The tick backed out enough I could see the head and then grabbed the head with tweezers.

    • Diane

      Sorry to tell you, but that’s actually a really bad idea. Yes, suffocating a tick will cause it to come out on its own. However, anything you do that pisses off the tick (including doing things like putting a lit match on it, covering it in essential oils, etc.) may cause the tick to REGURGITATE its stomach contents into your skin. This increases the likelihood of Lyme disease. So, the smartest thing to do is get yourself some pointy tweezers, grasp it as close to the head as you can, and gently pull it out. Even if the head may get stuck, at least you aren’t increasing your chances of getting a really terrible disease (I had Lyme last year and it was definitely not fun).

  26. KH

    Ok…but what if the head doesn’t come out. I got a tick bite over a month ago and the head never came out. Tried digging for it.. nothing. Still waiting… it’s mildly irritated looking. No red ring or rash but does not appear to be willing to burst free of me. I have a dermatologist appointment today and will show him the spot… have no idea what to expect.

    • Diane

      Let us know what your dermatologist says. Some might just be embedded particularly deep.

    • Charlotte

      What happened to this as I have the same? Thank you!!!

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