How To Kill Head Lice

Mom checking daughter's hair for lice

Outbreaks of head lice are not all that uncommon, especially in school and daycare settings, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier when it is you or your child who has a case of lice. Getting rid of head lice can be a bit of a headache, and it's important to follow the instructions carefully in order to assure that they are completely gone

Step 1

Know your nits. Live lice may be easy enough to spot, but nits (eggs) are not as easily recognizable. Nits are smooth, oval shaped, and a bit smaller than a sesame seed. They can range in color from off-white to brown and are seen clinging to the hair shaft. Infestations can range from just a few nits to literally hundreds of them.

Step 2

Locate the problem. Live lice and nits can be seen by careful examination of the hair. Very fine tooth specialty combs are readily available at drug stores for just this purpose. Sit in a brightly lit area and be sure to comb through all sections of the hair from root to end, paying special attention to the areas around the ears and near the nape of the neck. Freshly hatched lice may be clear to light beige and mature lice are rust colored.

Step 3

Comb away the lice and their nits. If live lice or nits are found, they can be removed by combing them away with the lice comb. This can be a tedious procedure, but it's important to be thorough -- left alone, nits will hatch within 7-10 days after they were laid. After another 7-10 days, the mature females will be laying eggs of their own. It may be helpful to shampoo the hair using a coconut oil of olive oil based shampoo (or simply applying pure olive oil) and then combing through, removing lice and nits as they are located before rinsing the shampoo or oil from the hair. Using olive oil may make it easier to remove nits, and provides the hair and scalp with a nice moisturizing treatment.

Step 4

Consider treatment options carefully. Many people rush to use prescription or over-the-counter lice treatments, but others worry about the safety of these products, which are essentially pesticides. Some advocate the use of natural lice treatments, such as slathering mayonnaise or petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on the hair, covering the head with a shower cap overnight, and then shampooing the hair thoroughly. While commercial treatments have a high success rate, the at-home lice treatments are often less effective. Typically, the benefit of homemade lice removal methods comes from combing through the gunk that has been applied to the hair, rather than from the products themselves.

Essential oils are favored by some who hope to minimize their families' exposure to chemicals, but the jury is out as to the effectiveness of such products. Those that have shown some promise include lavender oil, tea tree oil, neem oil, and citronella oil. It's wise to check with your doctor before using essential oils, as they are not regulated by the FDA, so their safety has not been assured.

Step 5

Understand how lice spread. While lice cannot live for long (no longer than a day or two) once they're not on a human host, they can be transmitted from person to person if only a short time has passed between when one head has been in contact with an item and another takes its place. Stuffed toys, sofa cushions, pillows, bedding, and other furniture items may serve as temporary hosts for lice, who eagerly seek human hosts as they need the nourishment of human blood for survival.

Hats, hairbrushes, helmets, towels, and hair accessories can aid in the transmission of head lice, too, so kids should be taught not to share these items with others. Obviously, head-to-head contact can result in transference of lice if one of the people currently has an infestation.

Step 6

Clean up! Since lice cannot survive for long without a human host, toys, furniture, or other surfaces should be considered safe after a few days. Nonetheless, most people find it wise to do a thorough cleaning, just to be sure. Vacuuming rugs and stuffed furniture pieces, laundering hats, towels, bedding, and washable stuffed toys (in hot water and drying on high heat), and bagging items that cannot be machine washed is considered sufficient.

Finally, take a deep breath and relax. Having lice doesn't indicate a dirty house or poor personal hygiene. In fact, experts agree that lice actually prefer clean hair because they find it easier to attach themselves to smooth strands than to those that are greasy or oily.


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