Most parents dread the news that there is an outbreak of head lice at their children’s school. Even worse, is if the teachers tell you that your child has head lice. It is not just parents who feel embarrassed, it can also be distressing for children.
Head lice are teeny tiny parasites that live on the scalp and hair shafts where they dine on blood. Nearly ten million school children are diagnosed with lice each year. Lice can be contracted by coming in contact with an infected person through play, sports, school or wearing clothing of someone who has the parasite. You can even get head lice by lying on bedding that an infected person was lying on.
It is thought that poor hygiene precipitates a lice infestation which can quickly spread, especially in school and camp situations.
Head lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) are only found in the hair and feed on blood from the scalp. Head lice are generally only spread by head-to-head contact, but because they can spread very quickly, it is essential to get rid of them as soon as possible. The good news is that head lice aren’t a sign of being dirty because they like clean hair as much as dirty hair.
Head lice are usually about the size of a sesame seed, but their eggs (nits) can be very difficult to get rid of. The eggs hatch about 1 week after they have been laid, meaning that even if you get rid of all lice from hair, your child could still have another outbreak. Therefore, any effective natural treatment for head lice should also enable you to get rid of the eggs as well.
In general, all lice can live for around 30 days but can only survive away from the host for 1 to 2 days.
What are the Symptoms of Lice?
One of the most common symptoms of any kind of lice is itching. You may also see red bumps on the scalp and around the neck and shoulders. Lice also prefer the dark, so a person with lice could be more restless during night time.
there are also nontoxic, home remedies that are equally as effective and don’t leave a chemical residue. Here are some you can try:
1. Comb comb comb
2. Kill with pesticides (both typical and natural forms)
1. Combing with a lice comb
Let’s take these one by one. A very thorough combing can remove not only the adults but also the eggs. However it is very important that you use a good comb. As you will see in the prevention strategy below, it is important that everyone have a comb anyway. I used several different combs borrowed from others and by far my favorite was this comb, Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb (it’s also used by professional “nit pickers”). When I went to Amazon to buy my own and read the reviews I realized that I wasn’t the only parent who thought it was superior to the typical grocery store comb.
Look up some videos on how to properly and effectively comb for lice, use a good comb, and use conditioner in the hair while you do it. Not only will it help you comb through the hair without tangles, but it will also stun the lice for about 20 minutes.
Positive: All natural and can be effective
Negative: You have to be thorough. Expect to spend at least an hour on a full head of hair. If you miss anything, you will have another outbreak. Comb thoroughly once a week for three weeks.
2. Kill with pesticides
As mentioned above, typical pesticides are becoming less effective. Many medical practices know this, and many parents find traditional pesticides are ineffective in treatment. Many, many of those who choose to go with conventional lice treatments have had terrible experiences with it not working. And truthfully, I am really concerned with both the older “cover your child’s hair with poison” methods, and am a bit horrified to find that a new lice “drug” makes your child’s blood a pesticide to the lice (it kills them when they bite your scalp). How in the world does that seem like a good idea?
Thankfully, there are natural “pesticide” options. Tea tree oil beat conventional pesticides in one study. Only 25 percent of children were lice-free after using a conventional method, while almost all of the children who were treated with tea tree oil and lavender were lice-free. I’ll take the essential oils, thanks.
But I should mention that not all essential oils are the same. Many of the cheap essential oils you see sold in the store are more of an “aromatherapy” essential oil. Tea tree oil is also often adulterated. I personally use Young Living essential oils (why is a separate post). Cheaper brands might work too, but it only took so many drops of tea tree oil to kill lice of our therapeutic grade.
Two warnings: On some forums I was horrified to hear of people pouring whole bottles over their own or their children’s heads. One child had a terrible reaction to this, but besides that, it’s unnecessary. I used 10-15 drops in about a fourth cup of oil or shampoo for my daughter. Secondly, some people are allergic to tea tree oil. Make sure that they don’t react to it before you let it sit on their scalp for 20 minutes to 1 hour. I seemed to have an intolerance to tea tree oil myself after my two-hour treatment, and for my follow up treatment, my whole head felt like it was on fire! An unusual reaction, but something to be aware of. Most people, including children, are perfectly fine with tea tree oil, just please don’t use a whole bottle for treatment.
Another natural, proven lice remedy is neem oil. Several studies have found it effective in both repelling insects and in killing lice. We didn’t personally use this method, but it seems like a very nontoxic and effective method to use.
The other method we used (besides the tea tree oil) for my husband, and then for me when I reacted to the tea tree oil, is suffocating it with — get this — face wash. The Nuvo method was developed by a doctor because lice were building resistance to conventional pesticides. Basically you cover the hair with a certain face wash, comb out the excess, and then blow-dry it completely. This creates a coating over the adult lice that eventually kills them by suffocation. Lice can actually hold their breathe for eight hours. That’s why mayo on the head for an hour to suffocate them is not adequate. Do this before bed, wash in the morning, throw your sheet and pillows in the dryer for 20 minutes, and the treatment is done. Repeat twice, once a week, and you are done. This is a painless, inexpensive way to treat lice that was proven to be 97 percent effective and doesn’t depend on using a nit comb. We didn’t use this with our 5-year-old as she is afraid of the blow-dryer, but I think most kids would handle it quite well. The Nuvo site also has a lot of great information on lice too.
Prevention is actually simple. Keep a nit comb (the one I recommend is above) and once a week comb out your (or your child’s) hair with the comb with conditioner is in the hair. Not only will this catch things early, but it can actually stop an infestation before it starts. Others also find that a dilution of tea tree oil spray on the hair daily acts as a deterrent to lice.
These are all proven, natural ways to combat lice, so think twice before using potentially ineffective and perhaps dangerous pesticides.