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No, liquid soap won’t remove tick – use tweezers instead

Facebook newsfeeds are always chock-full of advice. A recent tip, shared in South Africa, is on the best way to remove a tick. It was flagged as possibly false by Facebook’s fact-checking system.

It shows a close-up of a grey tick perched on human skin. The post quotes “a nurse” who discovered a way to make ticks “automatically withdraw themselves”.

“Apply a glob of liquid soap to a cotton ball. Cover the tick with the soap-soaked cotton ball and swab it for a few seconds (15-20); the tick will come out on its own and be stuck to the cotton ball when you lift it away.”

Is this good advice?


Feeding tick anchored to skin

A review of effective methods for tick removal published on 2 May 2017 found that applying a chemical treatment, such as methylated spirits or petroleum jelly, produced no effect. The researchers instead favoured the mechanical removal of ticks, using forceps, tweezers or a commercial tick removal device.

According to Professor John Frean of the Parasitology Reference Lab at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases, “a feeding tick anchors itself firmly in the skin by two means: a heavily-barbed harpoon-like structure (the hypostome), and an adhesive cement that it secretes around the embedded mouthparts”. 

This means fluids, chemicals or soap won’t cause a tick to detach if it doesn’t want to. Only physical force would remove it, Frean said. 

The right way to do it

So what is the best way to remove a tick?

Using tweezers, firmly grip the tick as close to the skin as possible, Frean advised. The tweezers should be applied parallel (not at right angles) to the surface of the skin.

Next, pull the tick’s mouthparts vertically out of the skin along with the rest of its body. 

It’s important not to pull on the tick’s body because its mouthparts might break off. This could lead to skin irritation and infection.

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