Head lice are a common problem among school going children. Seeing your child scratching head often is not a healthy sign. Parents panic a lot when they find their kids bothered by head lice. Most of the children get head lice at some or the other point of time. Head lice are also a problem for many adults. But how do you get these head lice?
What causes Head Lice?
If you think having head lice means you have dirty hair, it’s not true. Lice doesn’t see if your head is clean or dirty, they just need human blood to survive and they get this from any head- clean or dirty!
Head-to-head contact causes lice. This allows the lice to crawl from the head where they already are to the head that comes in its contact. Usually, children have head to head contact in different environments, for instance, in the school, while playing outdoors with friends, at friends’ home, tuition centre, etc. Mostly, children aged 4 to 13 years are affected by head lice.
Head lice doesn’t cause any disease but lead to extreme itchiness of scalp. Too much itchiness sometimes causes infection of the scalp.
Head lice can create a lot of other troubles, physically and emotionally. As soon as you notice the moving lice or nits in the hair, you should take appropriate steps to remove it immediately. If you wish to get rid of head lice, remember that it is a long term process. It is impossible to get rid of head lice overnight, though, you can find a certain degree of relief from head lice after trying a remedy for even the first time.
Facts about Head Lice and Lice infestation
On what and how long do head lice survive?
They survive on human blood. Without human blood they don’t survive. Even if they fall off the hair, they will find the hair and try to stick to it. However, they don’t survive for more than 2 days without blood.
Head lice is not a disease but lead to discomfort
Head lice are neither a disease nor cause any disease. Head lice can make you feel too itchy, embarrassed and uncomfortable. It creates a lot of discomfort and disturbs you a lot due to itchiness of scalp.
Head lice make the scalp itchy, dry and prone to wounds
Constant scraping and scratching makes the scalp very dry and itchy. This damages the scalp and leads to wounds, flaky scalp, etc. If not treated, this may also cause scalp infection.
Head lice infests even the clean hair
Having head lice doesn’t mean you are dirty. Neither your hygiene is compromised nor is your environment dirty. Head lice may develop even in the cleanest environment. Lice don’t care whether your hair is dirty or clean. So, don’t feel bad about yourself when you notice lice on your kid’s hair!
Head lice and nits
Even though you can eliminate the matured ones, it takes a lot of time to get rid of nits. Matured head lice and baby lice can be removed effectively in a few weeks. However, it is very difficult to get rid of the nits as they get struck to the hair and hair roots.
Head lice have high re-infestation rate
Head lice infest at a rapid pace. It is somewhat difficult to control the infestation quickly. If they fall off the head, they immediately rush for another head or hair for survival. Apart from this, without removing the nits, you cannot totally get rid of the head lice. If you don’t remove the nits, the nits hatch into baby eggs, grow, and breed on hair. It is a cyclic process and unless you kill and remove all the nits, you cannot completely get rid of head lice.
Using Anti-lice Products for Head Lice
When it comes to treating head lice, many people opt for anti-lice haircare products to get rid of the lice quickly. Some of these anti-lice products include,
- Medicated anti-lice shampoos
- Medicated anti-lice oils
- Medicated lotions and cream rinses (cream rinses are not suitable for younger children)
- Hair sprays
These products come handy to remove head lice. You can buy any lotion or spray recommended by the local pharmacist. Remember, you can use a lotion or spray only when you find the living louse. Otherwise, the sprays or medicated oils aren’t really needed. They are not much effective for nits removal.
However, to make it more effective you should use the product precisely, as instructed.
- Use the product once a week or once in 10 days. Since it may contain chemical based ingredients or toxins, you can try it sparingly and on a holiday so that it doesn’t affect other kids negatively.
- After applying the cream or lotion, tie the hair and wrap in a towel. It prevents lice from falling off and finding a new shelter.
- It is recommended to stay away and remain idle until all the lice die and fall off into the wrapped towel. This is strongly recommended in case of severe lice infestation. This might take a few hours. Therefore, it is good to use such anti-lice products at night so that the dead lice may get collected into the wrapped towel and you may clean your child properly in the morning.
- If you or your child doesn’t have nits on hair, you can remove the lice easily in two or three applications of such anti-lice shampoos, oils or other products.
- Keep a watch and check for nits or any living lice after every 3 to 5 days. If there are nits or tiny lice, they may hatch and grow. So, using the OTC lotions may not be helpful to prevent the lice infestation.
General precautions when using OTC anti-lice products for hair
Some general precautions for using the over-the-counter products to remove head lice include the following
- Follow all the instructions provided in the product leaflet, namely, quantity of the lotion, procedure to apply, how long you can stay with the product applied on the head, frequency of usage, etc.
- Close the eyes (or if you are applying on your kid, let the child close the eyes) while applying such anti-lice treatments. You can also place a cloth over the eyes as an additional precaution to prevent the shampoo or lotion from entering into the eyes.
- Make sure to wash or clean your hands properly with a disinfectant after applying anti-lice products to your hair or after removing the nits with hands.
- Most of the head lice topical lotions carry an unpleasant smell. Your hair may retain the odor even after washing. So, you can wash the hair with regular shampoo or conditioner the next day, following the head lice treatment. Washing your hair with regular shampoo may not let the anti lice product work effectively.
Don’t use any topical application to remove head lice in case of,
- Babies under the age of 2 years
- Pregnant women
- People with skin infection, allergy and asthma.
If you aren’t sure about using any head lice product, consult with a dermatologist and get the prescription. In fact, you may think of using home remedies to get rid of head lice as these products are not very effective in dealing with lice and nits.
Why the OTC anti-lice products aren’t really effective to get rid of head lice?
Most of the over the counter medicines as well as prescription hair care products doesn’t work effectively to remove head lice completely. These anti-lice shampoos as well as medicated oils meant for lice treatment give a symptomatic relief only. They can only kill the live lice and cannot damage the nits that become a menace. Although you can get rid of head lice by regularly using the OTC shampoo or prescription product, it is not a permanent solution to get rid of head lice. They cannot prevent the recurrence of lice. These solutions chemically react on the lice, which cannot prevent their infestation too.
In addition, these medicines contain toxic elements and chemicals that may harm your child. It can cause allergic reaction on your scalp and skin. Using the medicines also make the hair extremely dry and prone to infection of scalp.
However, you can try the OTC products to get rid of head lice initially when it is not that severe an issue. You can proceed with home remedies or natural solutions to get rid of head lice when and if you see one or two application of these products are not giving you the desired result of complete recovery. You may, in fact, use home remedies in the very beginning and forgo these chemical products altogether, especially in case of small kids.
The best way to get rid of head lice is using the home treatments and natural remedies.
Natural Remedies to get rid of Head Lice
There are many natural solutions, herbal remedies and simple at-home treatments available to get rid of head lice.
Combing to Get Rid of Head Lice
Combing is the best strategy to get rid of head lice. Combing the hair with fine-toothed comb or a lice comb is an effective solution to remove head lice, at least, when you notice the problem soon, just after lice infestation begins. As soon as you notice the lice infestation, use the lice comb to remove the head lice before it breeds. Instead of buying the plastic combs, you can choose the wooden combs too.
The key to removing the lice through combing involves, removing the hair from tangles and separating the hair into small sections.
- Using a regular comb, detangle the hair and separate the locks into smaller sections.
- Now use the fine toothed comb, preferably special anti-lice combs having very fine teeth. The comb teeth should be spaced tightly to trap the lice.
- Always spread a white towel or paper below the length of the hair so that the falling lice cannot escape as you could easily see the black creatures crawling over the white surface.
- You can comb the hair to remove the head lice in two ways, namely oil combing and wet combing. Moisture in the hair and scalp help reduce the movement of lice. In fact, lice cannot move in a sticky environment. So, removing head lice in wet or oiled hair is an easy process.
Here is how you can oil comb and wet comb the hair to get rid of head lice.
Oil combing is the traditional method used for ages to remove head lice. This is different from regular application of oil to your hair. Oil is applied generously on the hair from root to the tip.
In olden days, people used castor oil or sesame oil for hair. When it comes to removing head lice, you can use any oil that doesn’t have the scented fragrance. For instance, don’t use the oils with aroma like almond oil. Aromatic oil is different from essential oil that has the aroma. Don’t confuse the scented oil with essential oil. You can use coconut oil, sesame oil or castor oil for the best effects. These oils have their natural smell but are not too fragrant.
- Detangle the hair and apply the oil. (Removing the knots helps separating the hair into small sections and comb accordingly)
- Massage the scalp gently as you apply the oil.
- Apply a generous amount of oil. It should look like as if you have soaked the hair in the oil.
- Tie the hair for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Comb the hair with a normal comb to make sure that the hair is free from knots and tangles.
- Separate the hair into two sections, left and right. Split the parted hair into small sections to ease the combing.
- Separate the hair into small sections and comb every part meticulously.
- Take the comb and draw it down, from the top towards the end of the hair. Make sure that the tip of the comb teeth touches the scalp.
- Check the comb for lice and remove them when seen.
- After every stroke, remove the lice from the comb.
- You can remove about 80 % of the head lice using the oil combing method. This includes both matured lice as well as baby lice, except the nits.
- After combing, tie the hair loosely and wash it after 30 minutes using regular shampoo or shikakai. Shikakai is a herb good for cleansing hair.
How to comb?
The process of wet combing is similar to oil combing. However, you should comb the hair after washing it with a shampoo.
- Wash the hair with a regular shampoo or medicated shampoo. You don’t need any separate lotion or spray for wet combing.
- Apply a lot of conditioner to keep the hair free from tangles.
- Squeeze out the excess water, but make sure that hair is fully wet.
- Wet hair controls the movement of lice; they can’t move freely and stick to the hair.
- Comb the hair as mentioned in the steps for oil combing.
- You can easily get rid of most of the matured lice from the head his way.
Repeat the oil combing or wet combing process once in every three days to clear the lice as they hatch periodically. However, removing the nits from the head is essential to get rid of head lice completely and to prevent the re-infestation of head lice too.
How long you should comb is determined by the type of the hair, length and extent of lice infestation. Those who suffer from severe infestation may not be able to remove even 50 percent of head lice in a single application.
Is combing sufficient to get rid of head lice?
As long as you don’t see the lice hatching the nits, you can get rid of head lice just by regularly combing the hair using the lice comb.
Home Remedies to Control the Infestation of Lice and Nits
To get rid of head lice, first you should remove the matured lice and baby lice. If you don’t have nits, you can try the natural remedies frequently to control the growth of lice. If you have nits, you should kill the nits and remove them completely. Remember, even one or two lice on your head can lead to re-infestation of lice. Following natural remedies, you can control the lice and prevent infestation.
1. Neem – Most powerful remedy to get rid of head lice
Neem or the Indian Lilac, sometimes also called margosa, is the best remedy to get rid of lice. It kills both lice and nits. Neem leaves contain a lot of medicinal properties. Topical application of neem leaves paste destroys the lice and you can remove it using comb with ease. Even if you have nits, using neem leaves is helpful. However, you have to remove the nits using a wooden nit comb. To get rid of lice, controls infestation and kill the nits by using neem in the following way.
How to apply neem for head lice removal?
Neem paste is more effective than neem oil. It retains most of the medicinal values and removes the lice and also kills the nits.
- Gather fresh neem leaves. (choose the matured neem leaves; they are more effective than the baby leaves)
- Grind the neem leaves into a fine paste by adding a few drops of water.
- Alternatively, you can boil the neem leaves and then make a paste
- The paste should be fluffy and soft. Coarse or uneven paste makes it difficult to apply.
- Make sure the hair is free from tangles
- Apply the neem paste.
- Ensure that the neem paste covers all the hair properly, including the length of the hair.
- Tie the hair and wrap in a thin towel.
- Let it stay for 2-3 hours.
- Rinse the hair and wash the hair with mild shampoo.
- You can also use shikakai to clean the hair
- In a single wash, you can remove most of the matured and baby lice.
- Apply neem paste at least 2-3 times a week until all the lice are removed
- If you can tolerate the aroma of the neem oil, you can buy the neem oil from the stores.
- You can also make neem oil by boiling dried neem leaves in mustard oil or coconut oil.
- Apply neem oil to hair and scalp
- Wear a head cover or wrap the head at night and go to bed.
- The oil should stay for a minimum of 4 hours.
- Wash the hair
- Wet comb the hair and remove the lice.
2. Sweet Flag for Lice and Nits
Sweet flag, also called Calamus is one of the staples used in many homes. Sweet flag has been a boon to the infants and toddlers. Sweet flag has also been used as an immune booster which prevents the infants from falling sick. Sweet flag is one of the effective natural remedies for head lice and nits.
Sweet flag appears like a thin, light and dry rhizome. It has a unique aroma. Sweet flag is a non-toxic remedy for head lice and you can use it for your child without any hesitation. In addition, it also aids in healthy hair growth. Sweet flag not only kills the lice, but also the nits.
Using sweet flag once or twice a week provides you healthy, black and lustrous hair with no traces of lice and dandruff.
How to use sweet flag for head lice?
Sweet flag is available in many stores selling Ayurvedic and natural medicines. It can be used in two ways, sweet flag paste and sweet flag smoked powder.
Sweet flag paste:
- Soak the dry rhizome in milk for 5 minutes.
- Rub the rhizome on a stone and extract the paste.
- Apply the paste on the scalp and hair.
- Tie the hair and wash it off after 2 hours.
Sweet flag smoked powder:
This is one of the time-tested remedies for head lice and healthy hair.
- Burn the dry rhizome by directly placing the stick on the fire. You can use candle or gas stove flame. ( Additional tip: Inhaling the smoke of the sweet flag clears the sinus block and enhances the respiratory function)
- Once it is fully burned, you can easily break the rhizome into small pieces and crush them into soft powder. When it could be done easily, you know you have burned it to the right degree. Make a fine powder out of it.
- Alternatively, you can also grind the smoked rhizome into fine soft powder.
- Add sesame oil or virgin coconut oil to the powder. One part powder can be mixed with two parts oil.
- The smoked powder will dissolve in the oil and the color of the oil will become turbo black.
- You can use it as regular hair oil or apply the oil before you take bath.
- The oil kills the lice and nits. It protects the hair against lice infestation.
Still, you should use a nit comb to remove the nits from the hair.
3. Use Hair Dryer to Kill the Nits
While wet hair methods can kill the lice, hot air methods can kill the nits. You can use hair dryer and expose your hair to the hot air to kill the nits.
Dry your hair using hair dryer after washing hair with shampoo. However, don’t use the hot air treatment or hair dryer after you apply any hair lice product or chemical lice treatment. Most of the lotions, creams and sprays may contain flammable ingredients that may react when exposed to heat. So, avoid using hair dryer after getting a lice treatment using some OTC product.
4. Tea tree oil to get rid of head lice
Tea tree oil has antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiseptic properties. It is a natural insecticide. The terpinen in the tea tree oil is a natural anti bacterial agent. It also helps kill lice effectively. Not only lice, it can also destroy the eggs. Not only this, it can soothe and heal the irritated scalp that has become itchy due to lice infestation. Here are some ways to use tea tree oil to get rid of head lice.
- Before you go to bed, add 3-4 drops of tea tree oil to 2 tbsp water or some oil and apply this to your scalp and hair. Next morning, comb the hair to remove the dead lice and wash your hair.
- Take 3 tbsp coconut oil or olive oil. Mix 1 tsp of tea tree oil to this. Add the oil mixture to some shampoo and rub this to your scalp and hair. Wrap your head with towel or a plastic cap. After half an hour, wash off your hair with warm water. Wet comb your hair to remove the dead lice.
- Add a few drops of tea tree oil to the shampoo or hair oil that you use and apply to your hair and scalp.
5. Vinegar for Head Lice Treatment
Vinegar is also an effective treatment for head lice but it doesn’t kill adult head lice. However, the acidic properties of vinegar are enough to kill the nymphs, the young lice that did not mature yet to lay eggs. Vinegar is also quite effective against the nits. The germ killing properties of the acid of vinegar dissolves the exoskeleton or the protective shell of nits. This makes them incapable of sticking to the hair. Once the nits lose their hold, you can easily comb them away with a nit comb. These are some of the ways by which you can get rid of head lice using vinegar.
- Apply pure vinegar to the hair, close to the scalp.
- Then, wait for a few minutes.
- Wet the hair using either water or water and vinegar solution (take equal amounts of water and vinegar).
- Now use a nit comb to remove the nits that will get loosened due to vinegar acid.
- Repeat daily till you completely get rid of head lice nits and the nymphs.
6. Get rid of lice nits with a wooden nit comb
Most of the remedies for head lice do not work on nits. Nits won’t fall off your hair like lice. When you have nits, combing with regular or fine toothed comb is not enough to get rid of the nits. You should use special nit combs to remove the nits stuck on the hair. This is a very painful process. Removing the nits from the hair is a very tedious and painful process. It may also damage the hair since the hair is pulled tightly from the scalp when you try to remove the nits using the comb. However, this is the only solution available to get rid of nits and to prevent further lice infestation.
If you killed the nits and find no traces of lice, you can cut short the hair to get rid of the dead nits. This is yet another way to get rid of the menace.
Head lice Prevention
Prevention is better than cure! When it comes to head lice, this is so true. Whether or not your child is exposed to the environment prone to head lice, you can stay cautious to avoid head lice.
Homemade Anti-Lice Oil
Here is a simple anti-lice oil recipe. Using the oil prevents the head lice infestation and helps you get rid of lice quickly.
Things you need:
- Neem leaves – 1/2 cup
- Unrefined sesame oil – 3 cups
- Dried neem flowers – 1 cup (if you don’t get neem flowers, you can use dried neem seeds)
- Dried tulsi leaves – ½ cup
- Calamus stick powder (1/4 cup)
- Add all the ingredients to the oil and bring it to a boil.
- Let it cool down and extract the oil after a few hours using a cloth or sieve.
- Apply this hair oil regularly (1-2 times a week)
- Wash the hair after at least 1-2 hours.
How to make it:
Regardless of the lice treatment you try (natural or any chemical treatment), make sure to wash the clothes and towels separately, that you or your child wore during the treatment.
Keep the hair clean and wash it at least twice a week. However, it is no guarantee for prevention of head lice. If the hair is clean, you can easily remove the lice and delay the infestation.
Don’t share the comb. Use separate comb for every single member in the family.
Regardless of the treatment you try to get rid of head lice and nits, you should regularly comb the hair daily to remove any of it that might have infested your hair. Also, killing and removal of nits from the hair prevents further infestation of head lice.