The call from your kids’ school saying there’s a lice infestation is something every parent dreads. But with 6 to 12 million cases in 3 to 11 year olds each year, it’s often unavoidable.
Making their way from head to head, these blood-sucking creatures leave kids (and their parents) itching, scratching, and feeling grossed out by the thought of tiny creatures crawling around on their scalp.
And if that wasn’t bad enough, scientists have recently discovered a resistant strain of “super lice.” This makes the task of getting rid of these pesky lice even harder because they can resist over-the-counter treatments.
Nevertheless, knowing what the most effective methods are for getting rid of lice and lice eggs can save you lots of money, time, and itching.
So let’s find out a little bit more about lice, where they come from, and how you can rid yourself of this lice infestation.
Where Do Lice and Lice Eggs Come From?
Lice can only survive away from someone’s head for 24 hours, which means that most infestations are the result of two heads coming into contact. If someone’s got lice, it’s highly likely they’ve shared close contact with a family member, friend, or even stranger who has lice. Infestation can also be facilitated by hats and brushes.
The most common causes of the transferal of lice include:
What do lice look like?
They are very small insects that don’t have wings and don’t hop – they just crawl (which is probably making your skin crawl while you’re reading this, sorry!).
Adult head lice are about 2-3mm long and tend to attach their eggs to the base of your hair, which can make them difficult to see.
The most obvious places to look for them are around the ears and at the nape of the neck. They’re yellow or white in color and won’t budge easily (like dandruff perhaps will).
Each lice egg will typically hatch within 8-9 days, with the most likely to hatch being located less than a quarter of an inch away from your scalp. Any eggs that are further away from your scalp than this may be dead, have already hatched, or be empty.
Therefore, when you’re looking to get rid of a lice infestation, you need to target both the lice and their eggs.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Lice?
If you’re worried you or your children have got lice (or you want to be vigilant just in case), there are a few telltale signs that may indicate a lice infestation. These include:
How Have We Chosen These Methods of Getting Rid of Lice?
To help you get rid of lice once and for all, we’ve looked through a whole host of medical information to find the most effective treatments and remedies available.
From natural remedies you can try at home to the latest types of products on the market, each of the 10 methods below have been researched thoroughly to provide you with the best available treatments for lice:
1. Combing and Nitpicking
Regardless of the treatment you use, you will need to comb your hair thoroughly and remove any lice eggs to ensure you effectively get rid of the lice.
Some parents even find that this process is the easiest, cleanest, and most fuss-free way to get rid of lice. However, it can be a painstaking process, and if you do miss a few eggs, which is easily done, the infestation will remain.
Nevertheless, frequent combing and picking out the nits is essential for each type of treatment. So arm yourself with a specialist comb and a magnifying glass and pick away.
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Taken from chrysanthemums, pyrethrin is a natural extract that’s safe for use on children who are at least 2 years old. It’s an active ingredient in many over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos and is often effective at getting rid of lice but won’t eradicate nits. It shouldn’t be used on someone who’s allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemums.
Pyrethrins work to attack lice’s nervous systems – but as we’ve seen already, some are now resistant to this toxin. In that case, you may need something stronger.
You’ll need to follow the instructions on the product you’re using but in most cases, it’ll need applying to dry hair and leaving for 10 minutes until you wash it off. Combing afterward is a must.
7 to 10 days later, you’ll need to reapply the product (even if you think the lice have gone). This will ensure any of the eggs that remained and have hatched are killed off too.
3. Permethrin Lotion, 1%
- Specifically designed to eliminate super lice, regular lice, and their eggs (nits)
- Comes with NIX lice removal comb
- #1 Pediatrician recommended lice treatment brand
Similar to the above, this is a synthetic version of pyrethrins. However, this one targets lice and their eggs. It also leaves a residue on your hair which helps kill any eggs that hatch after you’ve applied the product. But washing your hair afterward with standard shampoos and conditioners may affect the treatment, so it’s always advisable to reapply after 7-10 days if lice are still present.
This is a safe treatment for children aged 2 months and older but it can also cause allergic reactions so it should be approached with caution.
Apply to damp hair that’s been washed with shampoo but hasn’t been conditioned. Leave for 10 minutes before rinsing and combing.
4. Malathion Lotion, 0.5% (Ovide)
- LOP Lotion is a natural pesticide-free non-toxic head lice treatment - FDA compliant
- 100% effective at killing lice, super lice and nits because they cannot develop resistance
- Conditions hair leaving it shiny and manageable
This is a prescription lotion which may be required if OTC products aren’t working. It tackles live lice and will kill some of the eggs too.
However, Malathion is not suitable for children under the age of 6. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should only use if directed by their doctor.
Simply apply to dry hair, rubbing it all over your hair and into your scalp before leaving for 8 to 12 hours. When rinsing, do so in the sink, not in the shower or tub, and comb thoroughly afterward. If there are still live lice present after 7-9 days, a second treatment may be needed.
However, it’s important to note that you should avoid exposing your hair to any heat sources, including hairdryers. This is an extremely flammable product that does carry some side effects of second-degree burns and stinging, which is why instructions and doctors’ advice should be followed.
5. Ivermectin Lotion (Sklice)
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This product came onto the market in 2012 and contains bacteria that originate in the soil. It’s suitable for children 6 months and older and works to paralyze and kill live lice as well as their eggs.
According to the clinical trials of this product, approximately 75% of patients were rid of their infestation within two weeks after using a single application (and without even having to comb for nits). Less than 1% of these patients experienced side effects such as skin and eye irritation.
Ivermectin is applied to dry hair before being rinsed off after 10 minutes. This is also a prescription medication.
6. Spinosad Topical Suspension, 0.9% (Natroba)
- [LICEMD HEAD LICE TREATMENT KIT] Clinically proven formula eliminates 100% of lice and their eggs in 10 minutes
- [NON-TOXIC, PESTICIDE AND FRAGRANCE FREE] Pediatrician tested, non-toxic formula super conditions hair
- [LICE COMB] Eliminates 100% of lice eggs
Spinosad is another prescription medication made from bacteria (a natural insecticide) found in the soil. It’s applied to dry hair and the scalp before being rinsed off after 10 minutes with water. It only requires one treatment and doesn’t necessitate the need for nit combing.
In 2011, it was approved for those aged 4 and over, coming with similar side effects to other treatments, e.g. skin and eye irritation.
Clinical trials highlighted just how effective this treatment was (especially when compared to OTC treatments like permethrin). After 14 days, over 84% of patients were lice-free (compared to just over 40% with permethrin).
7. Benzyl Alcohol Lotion, 5% (Ulesfia)
While not safe for children under 6 months, it is safe for women who are breastfeeding or pregnant. It works by causing asphyxiation by disrupting the breathing of the lice – however, it doesn’t kill their eggs.
It also requires at least two applications, with clinical trials demonstrating that over 75% of patients were lice-free two weeks after they’d applied their second treatment.
To use, apply the lotion to your hair and scalp before leaving for 10 minutes, ensuring it is completely saturated. Then rinse thoroughly before combing. Using another shampoo afterward won’t affect the treatment.
8. Lindane Shampoo, 1%
While this shampoo is highly effective at killing lice and their eggs, it is not recommended for many people. It should only be used as a last resort if all else fails (and only if it’s prescribed by your doctor).
As a suspected carcinogen, misusing or overusing this product can cause life-threatening side effects such as seizures and even death. Seizures can even be caused in people who use it correctly, which is why it’s not prescribed to children, premature infants, the elderly, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, those with HIV, or people who weigh 110 pounds or less. The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer recommends this lice treatment for children, either.
It is applied to dry hair and the scalp before being left for 4 minutes. Then, add water to create a lather before rinsing thoroughly. Retreatments are not recommended.
9. Use Essential Oils
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If you’d rather have a go at killing off the lice using natural products, there are a few essential oils that are believed to work.
According to some clinical trials, some natural oils can be toxic to lice and their eggs. These essential oils include tea tree oil, ylang-ylang oil, anise oil, and Nerolidol (found in many plant oils). Eucalyptus and lavender oils are also thought to be effective.
For example, one research project found that a topical lotion which contained 1% lavender oil and 10% tea tree oil was successful at eliminating 97.6% of lice when the course of treatment was over. So while the products often need using them on a more regular basis, they do offer effective results – and without many of the adverse side effects mentioned above.
Equally, coconut oil is also beneficial as one study highlighted how, when used with anise spray, it was an effective alternative to the commonly prescribed permethrin lotion. 82% of patients using the coconut anise product enjoyed success compared to 42% of permethrin users.
These essential oils are also a less messy, less smelly alternative to age-old “smothering” techniques which use products like mayonnaise and butter to suffocate the lice.
Although getting lice doesn’t have anything to do with the cleanliness of your home, there are a few simple steps you can take to prevent the spread.
First, make sure all of the combs you’re using are sanitized by washing them in hot water with soap or by using rubbing alcohol. It’s a good idea to add all of your family’s hairbrushes, combs, hairbands, and so on into the wash just to be sure.
You should also wash any items that have come into contact with the person who has lice, including bedding, towels, blankets, stuffed toys, clothes, and so on. A hot wash is recommended and so is a hot dry (if possible). And if there is anything you can’t wash, you can place these in an airtight bag/container and leave for 2 weeks before vacuuming or shaking thoroughly outside.
Finally, even though lice don’t hop around and can’t survive for longer than a day away from your head, it is a good idea to vacuum your house thoroughly and regularly – especially if hair has fallen from the infected person’s head onto the furniture.
Getting Rid of Lice for Good
As you can see, there are plenty of products and solutions available if a lice infestation has hit your home.
However, always approach OTC and prescribed medications with caution, seeking the expert advice of your doctor before proceeding.
And remember – lice aren’t embarrassing and they aren’t a sign that you, your child, or your home are dirty. It happens to the best of us, and with the right treatment, they’ll soon be a thing of the past.
Featured Image via Pixabay.com