The People's Perspective on Medicine

The Right Clothes Can Protect You from Ticks

When venturing out into tick territory, wear the right clothes: long sleeves and long pants coated with permethrin. This can deter ticks and reduce the risk of bites.
Hiking woman with rucksack and her bernese mountain dog on a trail

Avoiding tick-borne diseases starts with preventing tick bites to the extent possible. Outdoor enthusiasts are turning to a new tactic: the right clothes, which are those coated with permethrin.

Testing the Right Clothes:

A recent study in the Journal of Medical Entomology shows that permethrin incapacitates ticks quickly (Journal of Medical Entomology, May 24, 2018). This compound is related to extracts from chrysanthemums. When researchers tested blacklegged tick nymphs on permethrin-impregnated cloth, they died in less than a minute. Larger ticks and other species of ticks may be more resistant, but even they became inactive when exposed to permethrin. As a result, they find it difficult or impossible to bite.

Are the Right Clothes Safe?

According to the EPA, permethrin factory-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any significant hazard to people who wear it. On the contrary, it seems to provide significant protection from a number of serious illnesses. (Some brands to look for include InsectShield, Bugsaway and NosiLife. You can also buy 0.5% permethrin and coat your own clothing.)

It may be a bit cumbersome to don long pants and long sleeves on hot days, but sensible tick protection includes covering as much skin as possible with clothing, and using an effective repellent on exposed skin. The CDC recommends DEET, picaridin, IR3535, Oil of Lemon Eucalyptus (OLE), para-menthane-diol (PMD), or 2-undecanone to deter ticks.

Other Advice on Avoiding Ticks:

The CDC also recommends staying in the center of hiking trails. That should keep you away from tall grasses, leaf litter or brushy areas where ticks like to hang out. When you come inside, take off your clothing and toss it in the dryer for 10 minutes to kill the ticks. While you are undressed, check your body for ticks and remove any that you find. The CDC also recommends that you shower within two hours of coming in, which also makes the tick check a bit more convenient. Be sure to check your groin, underarms, bellybutton, hair and ears, since ticks often hide there and might be missed.

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    About the Author
    Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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    My wife bought permethrin impregnated clothing to work in the garden about 10 years ago. Had heavy mosquitos in late afternoon.

    Within a few hours, my wife was covered in hives. Took several days to clear up.

    If you buy permethrin impregnated clothing, it might be good idea to scratch test a small area of skin prior to use, especially if planning to use away from home or medical facilities for a few days … like back packing or camping.

    Have not ever heard of anyone else having this reaction.

    Stay safe.

    What about protecting against fire ants and chiggers?

    I’ve been a fan of cutter spray for years! This year, the deer flies have been awful so I went looking for a better deterrent for my dog.

    I found NEEM Protect and it’s available online just about everywhere.
    I spray on his ears and nary a deer fly is biting him now. Yes, I must respray, but the smell is the same as those bug repellent bracelets. I spray my visor with it now.

    Does the use of permethrin give an increased risk of Parkinson’s Disease?

    Is there a Permethrin spray for animals that is considered safe to use on dogs, cats, horses?

    Where is permethrin sold?

    I work outdoors and use permethrin treated clothing all the time. The number of ticks I find on me has dropped. It is important to know that while people and dogs seem to handle exposure to this chemical with no ill effects, cat do not. I do not know about other animals but it may not be safe for aquatic life if you fish or wade in the water. At home, I keep clothing I am not wearing in a sealed plastic box or in my car away from my cats. I also change out of when i get home and wash this clothing only with other permethrin clothing and not my everyday other clothes. It has not been approved for use in Europe.

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^