Your mom always knows the most bizarre hacks; here’s what science says.
Your mom lost her mind the first time she spotted a tick on your leg. “Don’t tug it off!” she said. “It’s mouth will stay on your skin.”
You didn’t know what that meant, but it sure sounded awful. A disembodied insect mouth stuck on your leg? G-R-O-S-S.
Instead, mom grabbed the nail polish. “This will make the tick fall off naturally,” she said with motherly confidence as she painted over the tick’s body with your favorite neon green polish.
So, science, what’s the deal? Was mom right?
Um, sorry, but health experts have a couple strong words for your sweet mumsy. Here’s the short version: Do *not* try to get rid of a tick using nail polish, petroleum jelly, a lit match, or other hacks. And here are other first aid myths you need to stop believing.
Mom was right that it’s no bueno to leave the tick’s mouth attached to your skin. This can increase your risk of tick-borne infections, such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Removing the entire tick—mouth included—is critical.
The problem with “painting” or “burning” the tick off is that it could take hours for the tick to suffocate and detach itself. These methods may also cause the tick to salivate into your skin, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. The transfer of saliva can actually increase your risk of infection.
How to Remove a Tick
So you don’t want to break off the tick’s mouth, but you don’t want to wait for the tick to attach itself. The recommended method is to manually remove the tick with your tweezers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here’s how to remove a tick safely and effectively:
Use a fine-tipped tweezer to pinch the tick as closely to the surface of your skin as possible. Aim for its head and mouth, not its body.
Pull upward steadily. Avoid twisting or jerking, as this may cause the mouth to break off. (If the mouth does break off, simply remove by grasping with the tweezers again.)
Clean the bite area with soap and water.
Dispose of the tick by flushing in the toilet, or by sealing it in a bag or tape.
Be on the lookout for unusual symptoms, such as rash or fever. If you notice symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
Wanna brush up on your first aid knowledge?
Gammons M, Salam G. Tick removal. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Aug;66(4):643-6.
Symptoms of tickborne illness. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 9, 2022 at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/symptoms.html.)
Tickborne diseases of the United States. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 9, 2022 at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/diseases/index.html.)
Tick removal. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Accessed on February 9, 2022 at https://www.cdc.gov/ticks/removing_a_tick.html.)Tick removal. LymeDisease.org. (Accessed on February 9, 2022 at https://www.lymedisease.org/lyme-basics/ticks/tick-removal/.)