Head lice are caused by Pediculus humanus capitis a six-legged parasite that lives on the human head. They do not cause any long-term harm, but it causes the sufferer to constantly battle an incessant urge to scratch the scalp non-stop! These organisms are really hard to see, as they are usually the size of a sesame seed. They are extremely hardy in their own way, for example they can survive being submerged under water for almost six hours. According to the CDC, even the chlorine in swimming pools is unable to kill the head lice.
However, head lice cannot jump, hop or fly and usually direct head-to-head contact is necessary for someone to get contaminated. People can also get contaminated with head lice if they use the bedding, clothing, hair-brush etc. that has previously been used by a person infected with head lice.
Anyone can end up suffering from head lice, but it is usually most common among children who are between three to fourteen years of age.
Table of Contents:
Symptoms of Head Lice
Anywhere between six to twelve million children in the United States suffer from head lice every year. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, if your child is displaying any of the following symptoms, it is time to check her head for lice:
- Feeling that something is crawling over the head.
- Itchy scalp accompanied by incessant scratching, causing the scalp to be red and irritated.
- Seeing tiny brown bugs in the hair.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the back of the head
Some even say that one should look for the eggs of lice (known as nits) as well. However, these eggs are the size of a pin-head and are usually yellow, brown or tan in color. That makes them almost impossible to spot, especially if the sufferer has blonde or brown hair.
Home Remedies for Head Lice
Prescription strength head lice treatment can be toxic, whereas OTC treatments tend to provide inconsistent results. You need not worry, as the following home remedies have proven to be highly effective treatments against head lice.
Vinegar is effective in getting rid of head lice because:
- The acetic acid in vinegar is toxic for the lice.
- It also helps dissolve dead nits, the remaining you can pick out with a nit comb.
Mix equal parts of white vinegar with mineral oil (such as baby oil) and apply it on your child’s head. Massage it thoroughly, protect the head with a shower cap and leave it on for the entire night. Shampoo it off the following morning.
Another way you can use vinegar is by diluting it with equal parts of water (1:1 ratio) and by applying it on hair that has been freshly shampooed. Leave the vinegar on for about 10 minutes and then rinse that area off with some fresh water.
If the vinegar treatment is applied three times a week, it will get rid of the head lice in about two months.
- Tea Tree Oil
There have been a few tests performed to check how effective tea tree oil is against head lice. Although the data tends to be in favor of this treatment, the results are still inconclusive, as per scientific standards. However, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence that supports this treatment; hence you can definitely consider using tea tree oil to get rid of head lice.
Another way tea tree oil is helpful is that all the incessant itching may cause some scrapes on the scalp, which can get infected if not treated properly. There aren’t any doubts about tea tree oil’s potency as a topical antiseptic.
There are two ways by which you can use tea tree oil to create an effective treatment for head lice:
- Mix 20 drops of tea tree oil in about 2 oz. of olive oil and mix it thoroughly.
- Mix 20 drops of tea tree oil in 4 oz. of rubbing alcohol and mix it thoroughly.
If mixed with olive oil, apply the treatment with cotton balls, or if mixed with rubbing alcohol, apply it on the scalp using a spray bottle. Irrespective of how you prepare the tea tree oil treatment, ensure that the entire surface area of the scalp has been covered. Cover the hair with a shower cap and leave it overnight.
The following morning you need to undergo the following steps:
- Shampoo the hair at least a couple times. Make sure that the hair is rinsed thoroughly after every application of shampoo.
- Divide the hair into manageable sections.
- Go through every section thoroughly with a nit comb. This should help get rid of the nit.
Head lice should be eliminated after a few applications of the tea tree oil treatment. Tea tree oil should not be used if:
- There are any open wounds on the scalp.
- There is an allergic reaction to tea tree oil. This is characterized by an intense stinging sensation on the application of tea tree oil, with no signs of abating.
The tea tree oil treatment should get rid of the head lice permanently after two or three applications. Tea tree oil is readily available at your local health food store and is also available over the internet. However, if you are still unable to get hold of tea tree oil or if the sufferer is allergic to it, the following essential oils can be considered to be a worthy substitute:
- Aniseed oil
- Cinnamon leaf oil
- Clove oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Lavender oil
- Neem oil
- Nutmeg oil
- Peppermint oil
- Red thyme oil
- Hot Oil Treatment
Either coconut oil or neem oil can be used for this treatment. Coconut oil can help treat lice because:
- It contains lauric acid, which has anti-microbial properties and can protect the area from secondary infections.
- The saturated fatty acids in coconut oil suffocate the head lice, thus killing them.
- The lubricating nature of the oil makes it easier for the nit to come off from the hair, if the hair is combed with a nit comb.
Neem oil can be used to treat head lice because:
- Neem oil contains azadiractin, which significantly disrupts the life cycle of the lice by destroying the nits.
- The triterpenoids in neem oil acts as a topical anti-septic.
- Lubricates the hair the same way that coconut oil does.
It is really simple to apply the treatment:
- Melt some coconut oil or heat up some neem oil in the microwave. The oil should be hotter than lukewarm, but should not be scalding.
- Massage the hair and scalp with liberal amounts of this heated oil.
- Let the scalp and hair soak up the oil for about thirty minutes.
- Separate the hair in manageable sections and use a nit comb to thoroughly comb through every section of the hair.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar (ACV) can be used the same way that the vinegar treatment was described earlier in this article. The only difference is that ACV has stronger anti-microbial properties when compared with regular white vinegar.
Before using ACV, one needs to determine whether one is allergic to it or not. Simple apply a drop of diluted ACV on a part of the skin. There should be a minor stinging sensation that should disappear after a few seconds. If there is a persistent burning sensation, then the afflicted person is allergic to ACV and this treatment is not appropriate for the said person.
For best results, use organic apple cider vinegar that has the “mother of vinegar” still in it.
- Hair Dryer
In a recent study, it was shown that modern hair dryers kill about 55% of the lice and 98% of the nits. Hence using a hair dryer after shampooing the hair can go a long way towards removing head lice.
Following is how you can use hair dryers to eliminate head lice:
- Separate the hair into manageable sections.
- Use a hair dryer to thoroughly dry the individual sections. Start from the scalp and slowly move towards the tip.
- Do not spend more than 15 – 60 seconds (depending upon the length of the hair) on every section; otherwise the intense heat from the hair dryer can cause some serious damage.
- Hair Gel
There aren’t that many scientific studies providing their stamp of approval for this treatment, however there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that supports this as an effective home remedy. The main theory is that hair gel suffocates the head lice to death.
Following is how you can incorporate styling gel into your head lice treatment regimen:
- Apply liberal amounts of hair gel on the hair, focusing on the roots.
- Cover the hair with a shower cap and leave it overnight.
- Shampoo the hair when you wake up.
- Use a nit comb right after that.
The mayonnaise treatment works on the same principle that the hair gel treatment does, which means that it aims to eliminate head lice by suffocating them. Although mayonnaise is a lot harder to get out of the hair, (especially when compared to hair gel) this treatment is endorsed by the Minnesota Department of Health.
Following is how you can use mayonnaise to get rid of head lice:
- Cover every inch of hair with mayonnaise.
- Cover the area tightly with a shower cap and then wrap a towel around it. This makes the hair air-tight and also prevents the mayonnaise from dripping.
- Leave this on for about six hours.
- Wash the hair with shampoo. Be patient and remove all of the mayonnaise from the hair.
- Dry the hair with a hair dryer.
- Separate the hair into manageable sections and use a nit comb.
This should be done at least twice a week for about two months to completely eliminate head lice.
- Dishwashing Liquid
The dishwashing liquid does not kill the lice, but it will help you free the nit from the hair. It is usually used in conjunction with the mayonnaise or the hair gel treatment, because it helps get rid of the gunk left behind by the same methods; something that shampoo cannot handle adequately.
Onions contain sulfur, which is purported to kill head lice. Following is how you can use onion to get rid of head lice:
- Take six regular sized onions and throw them in the blender to make a smooth paste.
- Put the paste on a sieve and extract the juice.
- Massage the scalp with this juice and protect the area with a shower cap for about two hours.
- Shampoo the hair, dry it with a hair dryer and then use a nit comb as described in all the other treatments.
Use the onion treatment for three consecutive days, then use it once a month for about two months.
- Lemon Juice
The highly acidic nature of lemon juice can be used to treat head lice as well. Following is how you can use it to quickly treat and eliminate head lice:
- Take four large garlic cloves and mash them into a fine paste using a pestle and mortar.
- Add one tablespoon of lemon juice to it and mix the paste thoroughly.
- Massage the scalp using this paste and then leave it covered with a thick towel for about thirty minutes.
- Shampoo the hair and then use a nit comb.
The above treatment can completely eliminate head lice if done for five consecutive days. You can also replace the mashed garlic cloves with crushed almonds for similar results.
Adding lemon juice to the vinegar treatment mentioned earlier can increase its potency as well!
- Rubbing Alcohol
Besides making the tea tree oil treatment more effective, rubbing alcohol (which is 70% solution isopropyl alcohol by volume) is a very powerful disinfectant on its own right that kills head lice. Following is how you can use it:
- Pour a little rubbing alcohol on the scalp and spread it uniformly via a gentle massage.
- Leave it on for a few minutes. It might sting a little bit, especially if the sufferer had violently scratched her head earlier.
- Apply some conditioner on the hair. This will put an end to the burning sensation.
- Use the nit comb to get rid of the dead head lice, along with the nit.
- Shampoo the hair and then use the hair dryer.
Applying this treatment twice a week should permanently get rid of the head lice in about two months.
Things to Mind while Applying the Home Remedies
- Be Patient
It is relatively easy to kill head lice, but their eggs are numerous and miniscule, hence getting rid of those will take some time. No matter how hard you try, there will always be some of the nit that is left over, which will eventually hatch. Just because you still see lice after applying the treatment does not mean that the treatment is not working.
- Be Vigilant
As mentioned earlier, it is highly unlikely that you will be able to get rid of your head lice at the first or even the second attempt. You need to continuously monitor the head of the afflicted person to make sure that there aren’t any further signs of life, which will help you determine whether you need to continue with the chosen treatment regimen or not.
- Wash the Afflicted Person’s Clothing and Bedding
It is a misconception that head lice can jump from one person’s head to another. Sometimes these lice can come off from the afflicted person’s hair and attach itself to pillow cases, clothing, stuffed toys or any other articles her head may have come in contact with. It is best to wash them in hot water and then put them in the dryer for at least ten minutes.
Although head lice cannot survive long without the nourishment that the human scalp provides, they can always attach itself to any other human head that it comes in contact with. This is one of the major reasons how head lice infestation spreads in day care centers and primary schools.
Over the Counter Treatments
Maybe because the infecting head lice is incredibly resilient or the afflicted person keeps getting re-infected, but in rare situations some people may not be able to achieve any tangible benefits from following the aforementioned treatments. Such people may need to resort to the following over the counter (OTC) remedies:
Consult your pharmacist and purchase a potent pediculicide (head lice treatment). Seek clarification whether the treatment you bought just takes care of the lice or whether they kill the nits as well. If it just kills the lice, then you may need to use this product more than once!
While using any of these products, remember to follow the instructions all the way down to the last word. All of these treatments are a mild form of poison; hence they should not be ingested under any circumstance. The treatment should always be applied in a bathroom, far away from any food products. In case of an accident, visit the emergency room immediately!
Also remember that one should not use shampoo while washing away the treatment, as it reduces the potency of the same.
We try to avoid product placement while discussing home remedies, however the complete lice elimination kit manufactured and marketed by Nix is definitely worth mentioning. It consists of a rinse, gel, comb and a spray that comes together as a complete package. They also have comprehensive instructions for those who are using it for the first time!
How Long Does it Take to Get Rid of Lice?
There is no rule of thumb as to how soon you can get rid of head lice. It depends upon your chosen treatment method, the life-cycle of the infecting parasite and it also depends on whether one is getting re-infected after treatment.