Spotting a tick on your body can be borderline terrifying. After all, not only can the insect suck your blood, it can also carry a range of potentially serious diseases like Lyme disease and babesiosis.
Naturally, you’ll want to remove the tick ASAP but sometimes the bug can break, leaving you with the tick’s mouth-parts embedded in your skin. Not only is that gross, it could raise your risk of getting sick. “The more of a tick that’s removed, the less likely it is to be able to spread a pathogen,” says infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Meaning, you really want to try to remove the whole tick—including the head—if you can.
So, how do you remove a tick head after getting a tick bite? Here’s what you need to know.
How do you remove a tick?
According to Prevention, the best way to avoid having to figure out how to remove a tick head is to get the whole tick out in the first place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends doing the following:
- Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grab the tick as close to your skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. (Don’t twist or jerk the tick—that can cause the can cause the head and mouth-parts to break off and stay in your the skin.
- Get rid of the tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag or container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.
How to remove a tick head
For what it’s worth, ticks don’t actually embed their head in your skin—instead, the area they use to break your skin is called their “mouth-parts.” Even when you’re careful, sometimes the tick’s mouth-parts can break off. If that happens, the CDC recommends doing your best to remove it from your skin with tweezers. “If the head isn’t easily removed, it’s not a good idea to dig around in there and try to fish it out,” says Philip Henderson, M.D., an internal medicine physician with Spectrum Health. “You could be pushing more of that organism into your skin.”
Eric Adkins, M.D., an emergency medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, says you can pull the head “out like a splinter” if it’s easily accessible. But, he adds, “you shouldn’t spend a lot of time trying to pull something out that isn’t coming out easily” or you could risk injuring your skin and causing a localized infection.
Dr. Henderson says you can just “leave it alone” if you can’t get everything out, noting that “most of the time, the body pushes it out.”
You’ve probably heard that it’s crucial to remove the tick head if it stays in your skin, but Dr. Adalja says you shouldn’t panic. “If part of the body breaks of when you pull it off, it’s not a very major issue,” he says. He recommends just washing the area with soap and water, or using rubbing alcohol on the site.
Worth noting: The tick will die after its mouth-parts break off, says Nancy Troyano, Ph.D., board-certified entomologist and director of operations education and training for Ehrlich Pest Control. “The tick will die, as it cannot regenerate mouth-parts,” Troyano says.
“A tick will die of starvation, if not from the injury, when the body breaks off from the mouth part,” adds Glen Ramsey, senior technical manager at Orkin.
How to remove a tick head from your pet’s skin
If you happen to spot a tick on your dog, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends taking a similar approach to removing it:
- Spread your dog’s fur, and grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible using fine-point tweezers or tick-removal hook.
- Very gently, pull straight upward, in a slow, steady motion.
- Dispose of the tick.
Removing a tick with Vaseline
There are a lot of different hacks listed online for removing a tick, including one that suggests removing the tick with Vaseline. The idea behind it is that the tick will be irritated by the Vaseline and detach, but the CDC specifically recommends against trying this.
“It’s definitely not the best method,” Dr. Henderson says, pointing out that you really want to remove a tick ASAP and this hack can take a while to work. “When you put Vaseline on the tick, it can take longer than 48 hours for the tick to back out,” he says.
Dr. Adkins agrees. “Tweezers are the answer,” he says.
What to do after removing a tick head
If you’re able to get the tick head out, you’ll want to dispose of it the same way you do the body (i.e. put it in alcohol, place it in a sealed bag or container, wrap it in tape, or flush it down the toilet).
Then, the CDC recommends that you “thoroughly” clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
Once the tick is out of you, Dr. Adkins recommends keeping tabs on your health to see if you develop any symptoms, like feeling tired or unwell. You also want to look out for a fever or rash within a couple of weeks after you were bitten, says Aline M. Holmes, D.N.P., R.N., a clinical associate professor at Rutgers University School of Nursing. If that happens, “see your provider and tell them about the tick bite and where it is,” she says.
If you feel OK and you’ve gotten the tick out, Dr. Adkins says there’s no need to take any additional steps. “Folks should be able to go on with life as usual once they’ve gotten the tick out,” he says.