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Q&A

Does shaving help prevent tick bites?

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This one is based on an actual experience - One summer I went on a trail through waist-high grass with a friend. We were both wearing shorts, but my friend had hairy legs, while mine were shaved. After the walk, he discovered probably half a dozen ticks on his legs, while I had none (much to my relief!).

Maybe my smooth legs kept ticks from sticking, maybe it was just a coincidence... I tried to search but just found internet forum discussions - some for and some against, but no studies or official guidance. So I am asking here!

Does shaving help prevent you from getting ticks? An authoritative source would be great.

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I can't say for sure if this site is autoritive or not, but it does say that shaving your legs makes it more difficult for a tick to stick to you:

Shave your legs: Leg hair makes it much easier for a tick to hitch a ride on you.

I also found another source saying shaving helps as well:

One thing that helps is shaving your legs. Not a foolproof way but I would say it reduces them critters by 80%, maybe more. I noticed that when my wife and I were out and she had none, I had around 14 that day.

Another source doesn't say it will help prevent them from sticking to you, but it does say it'll help you feel them sooner, allowing you to get them off of you before they latch on:

Shaving your legs like any good roadie will help your tactile response to feel ticks on your minimally stubby/hairy legs, and you can get them off before they attach.

One last source that also says it helps:

ticks can jump off weeds and grab your leg hair, then make their way around your body until they decide to bite. Smooth legs don’t leave them much to grab onto, so it’s less likely that a tick will stay on your body.

So I would conclude that shaved legs (or other shaved body parts) do help prevent them, and at the very least, it makes it easier to spot them as well.

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It will definitely make them easier to spot and pull off. Obviously they are more visible next to bare skin, but imagine pulling them off in nether regions while worrying about hair. It brings back shudders. Even leg hair gets pulled by yanking ticks off.

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Suggestion

Keep hiking with the friend of yours. It may be that you were not chosen as the host due to him.

Reasoning

There are active and passive host finding strategies when it comes to ticks. While active ticks run to you, the passive ones will cling on vegetation and wait for contact. In theory it may sound plausible that for the passive ones body hair would provide more to grab on but there's no scientific evidence on whether human body hair is easier for a tick to grab on or if the tick would find it easier to grab onto the skin directly. For active species, body hair probably won't make any difference.

A more significant factor is the body odour

Odours are undoubtedly the most important and best studied stimuli. Host-originated odours provide specific information and, when carried on wind currents, also provide directional information.

Among the most important host-originated odourants are carbon dioxide, a component of animal breath and ammonia, common in urine and other animal wastes. CO2 and NH3 attraction bring hungry ticks into close proximity to potential hosts, whereupon other, shorter range stimuli become effective. At shorter ranges, butyric acid and lactic acid become effective.

Tick Feeding - Host Seeking

When a tick has chosen its host, it often locates its feeding area by the smell. This also depends on the species.

Attractive and repellent host odours guide ticks to their respective feeding sites

Host gender and age

Women 40 years or older had a 48% higher risk than men 40 years or older and 42% higher risk than women younger than 40 years of attracting tick bites (0.0188 versus 0.0127 and 0.0188 versus 0.0132 tick bites respectively per hour). Additionally they had a 96% higher risk than men younger than 40 years of attracting tick bites (0.0188 versus 0.0096). The annual incidence rate of EM in women was 506 and in men 423 cases per 100,000 inhabitants (p<0.001). Significant differences in incidence rates occurred in those 40 years or older.

Effect of gender on clinical and epidemiologic features of Lyme borreliosis

Conclusion

The difference between the amount of ticks found on one person over another is likely due to ticks simply preferring the smell of one over another.

Other blood-feeding species -research support the odour-theory

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