Six to twelve million kids in the U.S. get head lice each year, and just as many tears are shed by cildren and adults, trying to get rid of head lice. Prescription insecticides can be toxic, and over-the-counter treatments may not work. The result? Frustration.
Natural home remedies can get rid of lice, they’re just not as well studied as commercial treatments.
When dealing with head lice, we should keep a several things in mind.
While head lice can spread, they don’t carry disease and they don’t mean that you are in any way “unclean.”
You can combine the combing with some easy home treatments. Nearly all home remedies rely on some method to suffocate the lice. Using home remedies that work is probably preferable to putting harsh chemicals on your child’s head.
Find out what home remedies to try as well as what to avoid.
In a study, hot-air methods proved highly effective in killing nits, but less so in eradicating live lice. An old-fashioned bonnet dryer killed nearly 89% of nits but just 10% of lice, while a blow dryer using direct heat got rid of nearly 98% of nits and 55% of lice. So use a hair dryer on freshly washed hair to increase your chance of eradicating the little buggers. But never use hot air after applying a chemical lice treatment. Some may contain flammable ingredients.
Nitpicking and combing
The gold standard for head lice removal, you’ll need to do this in conjunction with almost all other treatments. First you comb hair section by section with a special comb like the Nit Free Terminator to remove lice and nits.
Years ago Albano-Krosche spent hours extracting nits by hand from her kids’ hair. These days, she wields a fined-toothed metal comb.
Smother the lice
Some experts believe that it’s actually the combing that does the work — the “suffocating” treatments just stun the lice and make them slower and easier to catch on the comb.
To use this technique, first coat the hair with almond oil or olive (Mayonnaise and vaseline are not recommended — they are unnecessarily messy, and both can be difficult to wash out.) Some people suggest coating the comb instead of the hair — re-applying the oil as needed. You may have to try both methods to see which works best for you.
Separate the hair into small sections as you work, and use a hair clip to move them out of the way. Do this under a good light so you can see what you’re doing. Rinse out the comb often under running hot water.
Once you’ve completely combed your hair, wash their hair with their regular shampoo, rinse, and repeat. Then dry their hair.
Make sure you wash all the towels you used and clean out the lice comb. Soak the comb in a 10 percent bleach solution or 2 percent Lysol solution for 30 minutes, and then rinse it very well. As an alternative, you can soak the comb in vinegar for 30 minutes or boil it in water for 10 minutes.
Follow this procedure every day for a week. Then, for the next two weeks, check by combing every night to make sure the lice are gone.
Wet-combing is a traditional way of removing lice from the hair. the method has benefits such as making the lice more visible, distinguishing them from dandruff, and being affordable.
Wet-combing involves spraying conditioner on wet strands of hair, using a fine-toothed comb, and, in some cases, a magnifying glass to clearly examine each strand of hair and remove the individual lice.
Although the wet-combing method can be effective, it’s also time-consuming and requires some patience to complete. If you try it, allow ample time and consider some entertainment options beforehand for your child.
Coconut oil is a common treatment for people with dry skin and hair lice.
Coconut oil is a popular treatment for dry skin and hair.
Study in Brazil explored the effects of several natural head lice remedies and compared the results with those of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments.
Of the tested remedies, the team found that pure coconut oil was the only effective treatment. Within 4 hours of applying the oil, an average of 80% of the head lice were dead.
The two most effective medicated shampoos killed 97.9% and 90.2% of lice in the same period.
People can purchase coconut oil in many health food stores and online.
Benzyl alcohol lotion 5%
This prescription lotion (brand name Ulesfia) hit the market in 2009. It works by stunning a louse’s breathing apparatus, causing asphyxiation (it doesn’t kill nits).
At least two applications are needed. In two clinical trials, 75% and 76.2% of participants were lice-free 14 days after the second treatment. Ulesfia can be prescribed for patients 6 months of age and older. It can cause eye and skin irritation.
Saturate dry hair and scalp with the lotion, wait 10 minutes and rinse out in a sink. It’s okay to shampoo afterward, and using a nit comb will help remove nits and dead lice.
Avoid these products and methods
Here are the things the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you DON’T do when getting rid of lice:
Avoid getting any medication for lice in the eyes. If contact with the eyes occurs, be sure to flush them out.
Don’t use extra amounts of any recommended or prescribed dose of lice medication to try to treat the lice “faster.” Excessive dosages can be dangerous and may cause severe damage.
Don’t use more than one head lice medication at the same time. Using more than one treatment at a time won’t work to kill the lice faster, and it can cause more harm than good.
Don’t repeat the same lice treatment more than two or three times. If you repeat a medication treatment too many times, you or your child may build a resistance to the medication, or an alternative may have to be used.
Avoid using conditioner. Conditioner acts as a barrier for lice medication and stops it from sticking properly to the hair shaft.
Don’t fumigate the house or living area where an individual who has head lice has been. Fumigation isn’t necessary to kill lice and may be toxic to others and to pets.
Don’t use lindane shampoo as a first-line treatment for children.
Dish soap doesn’t kill lice. But it does help remove the bug-suffocating glop—salad oil, mayonnaise, hair styling gel, or Vaseline—that moms slather into kids’ hair.
Dawn dishwashing liquid is said to be good for cutting through the greasy mess left behind. Some dish soaps supposedly help break down the glue-like substance attaching nits to the hair shaft.
Tea tree oil
Tea tree oil is a popular home remedy for many skin conditions because of its antimicrobial properties.
Researchers measured the effects of a tea tree and lavender oil blend on head lice in 42 people. After three treatments at weekly intervals, 41of the participants no longer had head lice. This success rate is comparable to that of many prescription and OTC treatments.
However, other research assessing tea tree oil as a treatment for head lice has found the remedy to be less effective. Also, tea tree oil can sometimes irritate the skin and may cause a rash or itchiness.
Treat the lice with essential oils
Some of essential oils have been shown to be effective, along with combing, in eliminating head lice.
Essential oils are never ingested. In fact, some are toxic. Before you use any essential oil, always dilute them with a carrier oil and put a small drop of the diluted mixture on the back of your child’s hand. If there is no reaction, the essential oil should be safe to use.
Though pretty rare, some people have allergic reactions to these oils — usually tea tree oil. If you are allergic to one, move on to the next oil on the list. The oils that have shown effectiveness are:
tea tree oil
cinnamon leaf oil
red thyme oil
Mix 2 ounces of olive oil with 15 to 20 drops of the essential oil. Apply this mixture to the scalp using cotton balls. Leave it on the scalp and hair overnight — at least 12 hours. Comb out and shampoo, rinse, and repeat.
An alternative approach is to mix the 15 to 20 drops of essential oil in 4 ounces of rubbing alcohol. Place the mixture in a spray bottle and saturate the hair with it. Again, leave it on for at least 12 hours. Once the lice have been eliminated, the alcohol spray can be used as a preventive treatment.
Combing out the hair is absolutely essential to remove the lice and their eggs.
When treating lice, it’s crucial to follow directions carefully and exactly. Failing to follow directions for treatment with medication is one of the leading causes of re-infestation.
Currently, there isn’t enough evidence on home remedies such as mayonnaise or nit-removal facilities as effective lice treatments, so the CDC recommends following your doctor’s instructions for treatment and letting them know if treatment doesn’t appear to be working.