The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimates head lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) infestations affect 6-12 million children every year. Most of them between 3-11 years of age. Head louse is a common problem not just among preschoolers and elementary children, but also among their caretakers, and household contacts.
It spreads through the head to head contact with other children who have lice or through contact with infected hats, pillows, bedding and other material. They can also be transmitted by sharing infected combs, headbands, brushes, barrettes, and clips.
Head lice are wingless insects that require human blood to reproduce.
What are Head Lice?
Before you can tackle the problem of head lice you need to know your enemy. Head lice are wingless insects that require human blood to survive and reproduce. They stick to your scalp and feed on your blood which is why every time they bite, your scalp itches. They reproduce by laying eggs also called nits.
Nits are fine white flakes that stick to the hair shaft and look like sesame seeds. Do not confuse them with dandruff, because while dandruff flakes off, nits don’t.
The life cycle of a louse is about three weeks. The adult female louse lays about 10 eggs a day. Yikes! And each one is glued to the hair shaft close to the scalp. With body heat, the eggs are incubated and hatched in 9 days. The larva or nymphs then grow and develop through various stages to reach adult stage over the next twelve days and then start to lay their own eggs.
Due to their short life cycle head lice can multiply very quickly. For the same reason, you cannot simply leave the nits. Whatever treatment therapy is used, you have to work on removing the nits completely from every strand of hair.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has published a full report on clinical guidelines for schools on how to tackle this problem without causing children to stay at home. However, you may want to try a few home remedies instead of chemical pesticides.
How to Diagnose Head Lice?
Before you do anything, confirm if your child really has head lice and it’s not dandruff or epidermal casts. How? Take a magnifying glass and examine the scalp for lice and nits. Then you use a fine tooth comb and run it through the hair a few times from root to tip. If you catch lice and nits, you’ve got a problem.
In addition, you may find your child scratching her hair too much and on closer inspection, she may have a red scalp.
Treating Head Lice Naturally
Most chemicals only work on the adult stage of head lice as they affect the nervous system of these insects. However, nits and nymphs don’t have a nervous system and hence cannot be eliminated with over the counter chemicals.
1. Wet Comb
This is the step that will accompany every one of the following steps. No matter what method of exterminating head lice is used it must be followed by wet combing. This means that once the hair is washed, it must be combed with a nit comb while wet. This is to eliminate the nits.
2. Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is a natural lice repellant.
Take 5-7 drops of tea tree oil and massage into the scalp. You may need more depending on the volume of hair. Cover with a towel and keep for a minimum of 4 hours. The ovicidal activity on nymphs and eggs has been identified to take about 240 minutes, so after 4 hours you can fine comb the hair for dead lice and nits. Wash with a shampoo and repeat the wet comb process. Repeat for a week and five days after the appearance of the last dead louse.
Mayonnaise affects the mobility of lice.
This works on the anti-motility principle. Mayonnaise prevents the movement of lice and once immobilized they die. Massage a generous amount of mayonnaise, cover with a shower cap and leave overnight. Was off the lice with a shampoo and conditioner and then wet comb for nits. Repeat this every 3 days. Mayonnaise can be messy and does not affect nits so this is not a foolproof treatment.
4. Olive oil
Olive oil prevents the nits from sticking to the hair shaft. This makes it easy to use a nit comb. Apply oil to the hair, cover with a towel and leave overnight. Nit comb in the morning, wash out hair with a shampoo and repeat wet comb a second time. Repeat daily for ten days.
The acetic acid in vinegar loosens the bond that cements the nits to the hair and so is an effective method of killing the nits. Use one part water and one part white vinegar (3-5%) and wet the hair and scalp with this mixture. Soak a towel in white vinegar and wrap around the hair. Leave it on for 30 minutes. Wet comb the hair to remove dead lice and nits. Repeat the wet comb after shampoo. Follow-up with this procedure after a week. If you can’t use white vinegar you can replace it with any other vinegar available. Also remember that vinegar is an acid. Shield your eyes when you apply this to the scalp.
6. Neem Oil
The oil extracted from neem leaves has been proven to block respiration among lice making it a natural pediculicide.
Neem oil has been proven to be effective as a pediculicide because it blocks the aeropyles or respiratory passage of both lice and nits, thus cutting off their oxygen supply.
Mix four drops of neem oil to your shampoo. Apply for ten minutes. Rise off and nit comb to remove dead nits and lice.
Benzyl alcohol (5%) is a pediculicide approved by the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) for use in children above the age of six months of age. It works like neem oil, asphyxiates the lice.
Apply benzyl alcohol solution to the hair and leave it on for thirty minutes. Clinical trials have shown that it is 100% effective after thirty minute treatment. Rinse hair with a shampoo and nit comb to get rid of dead lice and nits. Repeat weekly for best results and for a week after the last louse appears.
8. Baby Oil
Like most oils, baby oil causes the hair to become slippery and facilitates the nit combing process. Apply baby oil liberally to hair. After thirty minutes nit comb and then wash off with shampoo. Do a wet comb and repeat the baby oil application daily for ten days.
Garlic has a very strong odor that can suffocate lice. Crush 10-15 garlic cloves into a paste. Apply this paste onto the scalp and hair. Leave it on for thirty minutes. Nit comb the hair. Wash off the paste with a shampoo and then repeat the nit comb. Do this every three days until a week after you’ve seen the last louse.
10. Eucalyptus oil
Eucalyptus oil is effective against malathion resitant lice.
Eucalyptus oil like garlic acts as a fumigant. Studies have shown that eucalyptus oil is effective against malathion resistant lice. Eucalyptus oil being potent is usually combined either with coconut oil or olive oil and then applied to the scalp. Leave it covered with a shower cap overnight. In the morning nit comb and rinse off with a shampoo. Wet comb after washing the hair to remove any remaining nits and lice. Repeat weekly.
Salt kills nymphs and adult lice by desiccation.
Salt kills the nymphs and adult lice acting as a dessicant, dehydrating them. Because by itself it doesn’t completely eliminate the problem, it is used in conjunction with vinegar. Use 1/cup salt and 1/cup vinegar to make a solution. Spray or apply this solution to the scalp and hair. Cover it with a shower cap for two hours and then nit comb. Rinse off with a shampoo and do a wet comb. Do this three to four times a week until all the nits are cleared.
12. Petroleum Jelly
This works on the anti-motility principle as well. It suffocates the lice as they are unable to move in the viscous jelly. Apply copious amounts of petroleum jelly to the scalp. Leave covered overnight. In the morning, apply some olive oil to your nit comb so that you can run it through the hair. Nit comb three times and then rinse the hair with shampoo. Do a wet comb and then repeat this two to three times a week.
13. Baking Soda
Baking soda immobilizes lice. Dust the hair with baking soda and use olive oil or coconut oil to prevent lice from climbing or sticking to the roots. Cover overnight and nit comb in the morning. Rinse it off with shampoo and do a wet comb. Repeat process every other day until nit free.
14. CAY Spray
CAY spray contains coconut oil, anise, and ylang-ylang oils. It has been evaluated in two studies where it was found to be effective in killing lice. It works by coating them with an oil film and obstructs the respiratory system thereby suffocating them.
Apply CAY spray to dry hair and scalp. Leave it on for 15-20 minutes. Rinse off with a shampoo and then wet comb the hair. Repeat this process in a week.
15. Combination Therapy
Make your own anti-lice treatment solution or shampoo
You can also combine the above ingredients to create your own mask or solution. Get an oil based or coal tar based shampoo and a conditioner of your choice. Mix half a bottle of shampoo, a quarter of the conditioner, thirty drops of tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil because of their ovicidal and pediculicide properties. Add a cup of vinegar to this solution. Shake well so that the emulsion is fully incorporated. On damp hair, apply this mixture, leave it on for twenty minutes. Rinse hair in the shower and do a wet comb.
A multi-pronged approach seems to work better for those with a full-blown infestation.
Prevention is indeed better than cure when it comes to head lice and one of the things you must do is examine your child’s scalp every week to see if reinfestation has occurred or if he or she has picked it up again from someone else.
- Use a nit comb after every wash to get rid of any nits before it progresses into a full infestation.
- Launder your clothes and bedding in hot water (130℉). Dry them on high heat in a dryer. The CDC reports that lice and their nits are destroyed by exposure to temperatures over 53.5 ℃ or 128. 3℉.
- Seal your clean clothes and bedding for a week.
- Clean brushes and combs, hats and caps by soaking them in hot water (1303℉) for about ten minutes.
- Vacuum clean the floors and upholstery for any nits and lice that have fallen there.
Lice Infestation is common among children and their caretakers, but it can be rooted out with natural remedies, that need to be repeated over the life cycles of the eggs, nymphs, and adult lice. So consistent and repeated care is essential.
Do you have an effective remedy for head lice? If yes, write to us. We’d like to know.