Head lice is a menace. You often feel helpless when you see your kids scratch their heads relentlessly in order to find some peace with all those lice that make their daily routine a nightmare! If you didn’t know, your child is suffering from Pediculosis capitis, the medical term for an infestation with head lice. Let’s know what are these lice and how to get rid of them?
What is Lice?
Lice is the plural term for ‘Louse’, the head louse! These head lice are parasites, to be precise, they are obligate parasites. Now what does that mean? It means these parasites survive through a human host. If they can’t find a human hosts, they simply can’t survive. Thus, you don’t have to worry about your pets as they cannot get infested with lice. Only your kids are at the risk of suffering from head lice. This is not because lice love to target little human beings but because, they can easily spread in kids due to the reason that children often play and sit or study in close proximity to each other. They can’t be so careful as adults can be and so they become the easy target for lice. Lice only have legs with the help of which they crawl from one head to other head. They can even crawl over other surfaces like clothes etc. to finally get to a head.
Lice feed on human blood. Your kids scratch their head when these lice bite into the skin of their tender scalp. Lice also secrete a substance which helps them block blood clotting. Obviously, if the blood clots then they would not be able to feed on blood!
Why is lice bad?
Because they suck your blood! And because they make you scratch your head now and then. You can’t concentrate on your work. You feel embarrassed in public and always live in a fear of being seen with lice on your head! If it’s on the head of your child, they might get bullied in the school for not being hygienic enough though lice infestation has nothing to do with cleanliness or hygiene. They just travel from one head to another. But once they are on your or your kid’s head, they become an embarrassment for you. Thus, lice are bad because they are a social menace. But this is not the only factor that makes lice bad. There are many other reasons too.
- Lice cause severe itching
- Sometimes, they may cause allergic reactions too
- They may also cause secondary infections, especially in kids who keep scratching their heads
- Although head lice doesn’t cause any disease, they may be awkward and uncomfortable
Why is it so difficult to get rid of head lice?
Lice infestation occurs too quickly. A female louse lays 5-10 nits (lice eggs) every day. This means, in its life span of one month, a female louse can lay 200-300 nits! That’s really a bad news. Moreover, these nits or eggs of lice hatch in about 7 days and within 10-15 days, larva becomes an adult louse, ready to reproduce even more lice! If steps to get rid of head lice are not taken quickly, you cannot even imagine, how big a problem these lice can become for you. But stop, there’s one more hindrance. Head lice is really difficult to get rid of, and you know why? Just have a look at these factors:
- Lice have a firm grip that can be termed astounding! The tiny claws of these microscopic parasites make them able to have a firm grip on your hair strands and this makes it difficult to remove lice.
- They also have high tolerance power. They can withstand such things as chlorinated water, shampoo, high temperatures etc. In fact, they can survive submersion for as long as six hours! So, now you shouldn’t wonder why lice don’t go away when you swim or take shower!
- As if all this was not enough, lice can even block their respiratory passages. This makes them protect themselves against airborne pesticides.
- And, thanks to the rampant usage of anti lice products, these lice have even become resistant to the neurotoxins and chemicals that are used to treat head lice.
Now you know why you can’t get rid of lice by even regularly using all those medicated anti-lice shampoos and other products! The best way to get rid of these hard-to-kill lice is to block a louse’s orifices. This suffocates them. This can be done mechanically as well as physically. Now you know why the traditional method of killing lice by squeezing it between hard surfaces (most often nails!) was so effective. But you can’t expect yourself to just sit and hunt for lice and kill them this way! You have better works to do! So, you can depend upon other ways to kill lice and get rid of them permanently.
What are the ways to get rid of lice?
There are many, in fact
- Over-the-counter medicated shampoos
- Commercial treatments like anti lice medicines and other products (such as oils, dry powders etc.)
- Special combs to get rid of lice (there are electric combs too that claim to kill lice!)
- Burning them with heat like by using hair dryer (lice cannot withstand heat over 110F but you also can’t do so!) Be careful if you think of doing so!
- Suffocation. Fatty substances like coconut oil and olive oil suffocate the lice by blocking their respiratory passages.
- Home remedies for lice. Alternative treatments for lice can take time but sometimes they are more effective than the quick fix solutions.
There are more reasons for not using pesticide laden OTC products to get rid of lice.
Why you should not use commercial anti-lice treatments?
They have neurotoxins in them. These neurotoxins in OTC as well as prescribed anti-lice medicines kill them by attacking their central nervous system. The chemicals used in these anti-lice medicines are commonly used in garden pesticides. Some of these neurotoxins are even banned as pesticides! Obviously, you would not want to expose yourself and your kids to these harmful substances. They may lead to such conditions as:
- Asthma and other breathing problems in children
- Skin rashes.
- Serious side effects like seizures, stiff neck, lethargy, slurred speech etc.
- Some of these chemicals have been linked with breast cancer risk
On top of it, these medicines now do not work effectively as well. Lice have become resistant to these neurotoxins!
So, it’s better to stick to natural remedies to get rid of lice. One of many such remedies is tea tree oil. It is in fact, one of the best remedies for lice.
Tea Tree Oil for Lice
Tea tree oil is one of the most powerful essential oils with a lot of healing and curative benefits. It has its origin in Australia. The oil comes from the plant named Melaleuca Alternifolia. The oil is extracted by steaming the leaves of this plant.
Tea tree oil contains antiseptic properties. An important element of tea tree oil is Terpinen. This is a natural and very strong bacteria fighting agent. It can repel head lice and prevents growth of lice.
It also contains anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. All these properties make tea tree oil a powerful (yet, very safe) remedy to kill head lice.
Is Tea Tree Oil Effective for Lice?
The effectiveness of tea tree oil for lice not yet fully established and is under debate. The research community is yet to reach a consensus about removal of head lice using tea tree oil.
While National Institutes of Health says there’s not sufficient evidence about the effectiveness of tea tree oil, many other health experts and researchers have concluded that tea tree oil makes an effective lice treatment. Following are some of the studies that say so.
Mayo Clinic Research
If we go by some early studies conducted by Mayo Clinic, tea tree oil has been found effective in head lice treatment. It can be used alone or can be blended with other products to remove lice. However, the need of well-designed trials has also been expressed before making any strong conclusion.
Langone Medical Center Research
New York University, Langone Medical Center also provided a report stating tea tree oil being more effective for treatment of head lice when combined with lavender essential oil.
BMC Dermatology Study
A study conducted by BMC Dermatol compared the efficacy and safety of three topical pediculicides. Pediculicide is a chemical used to kill lice. The three three topical pediculicides included:
- A pediculicide containing melaleuca oil (tea tree oil) and lavender oil
- A head lice “suffocation” product
- A product containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide
The study established high efficacy of the Tea Tree Oil/Lavender Oil product and the head lice “suffocation” product as an alternative to the pyrethrins-based product. Pyrethrins are insecticidal compounds.
International Journal of Dermatology
The International Journal of Dermatology published a comparative study of synthetic materials and botanical substances in treatment as well as prevention of head lice in school kids. The study compared tea tree oil, peppermint, and lavender oil with synthetic material DEET. The combination of tea tree oil and lavender oil was found to be an effective repellent against lice. However, the study also stated that none of the treatments were effective enough to endorse.
Is tea tree oil effective?
based on all the studies referred above, it can be said that there is no official endorsement from the health institutes for using tea tree oil for head lice. However, most of the studies supported using tea tree oil as an alternative treatment for lice. It is relatively safe to be used for kids as well as adults when compared to using the pesticides and insecticides.
How to Use Tea Tree Oil for Lice
You can use tea tree oil in many ways for head lice treatment. The first thing you should know about tea tree oil is, its strength. It is very strong and you should look for a carrier to use tea tree oil for lice. If you have sensitive skin, you should dilute the oil and use it on scalp and hair. Any oil can be used as a carrier oil such as olive oil, coconut oil etc. You can also use water to dilute tea tree oil.
1. Apply Tea Tree Oil to Scalp and Hair
This is a very simple and straight method.
- Tea tree oil- 4-5 drops
- Water- 1/2 cup
- Add a few drops of tea tree oil to water.
- Apply the mixture on scalp and hair, massage the scalp and hair gently.
- Leave it overnight.
- Place a towel on the pillow when you sleep.
- Comb your hair the next morning to remove the lice.
- Wash hair with shampoo or simply rinse hair with warm water.
- Repeat 1-2 times a week for about 3-4 weeks.
2. Head Oil Massage with Tea Tree Oil
If you regularly apply oil to your hair before hair wash, add a few drops of tea tree oil to your regular hair oil. Sesame oil is highly recommended to be used as a carrier oil. You can also add equal parts of sesame oil and coconut oil for oil massage.
- Sesame oil/ coconut oil- 2-4 tbsp (or as per your hair length)
- Black pepper corns- 3-5
- Tea tree oil- 8-10 drops
- Take equal parts of sesame and coconut oil (or sesame oil as you prefer) and heat it.
- Add 3 to 5 black pepper corns.
- Once the oil is warm, add up to 10 drops of tea tree oil to the warm mixture.
- Mix it well and massage the scalp with the oil mixture.
- Wrap your head with a towel and let it stay for 1 hour.
- Comb the hair after one hour and rinse the hair with mild shampoo.
This simple remedy makes an effective treatment in case of mild lice.
3. Use Tea Tree Oil as a Natural Repellent for Head Lice
Tea tree oil blends well with lavender essential oil. It acts as a natural repellent for head lice.
- Tea tree oil- 2 tsp
- Lavender oil- 1 tsp
- Water- 1/2 -1 cup
- Mix 2 teaspoons of tea tree oil with 1 teaspoon of lavender essential oil (The ratio is 2:1, tea tree oil / lavender essential oil)
- Dilute the solution in water and apply on hair.
- Alternatively, you can wet the hair and apply this solution on scalp.
- Wrap your hair and let it stay for 30 minutes.
- Rinse hair.
It won’t take much of your time and you can do it easily. You can use this whenever you wash your hair.
4. Tea Tree Oil with Olive Oil for Lice Treatment
Olive oil suffocates lice and kills them, just like coconut oil. If you haven’t used olive oil for your hair, consider using it at least once a week. Adding tea tree oil to olive oil makes an effective solution for removal of head lice.
- Olive oil- 2-3 tsp
- Tea tree oil- 4-5 drops
- Add a few drops of tea tree oil to two or three teaspoons of olive oil.
- Apply it on scalp and hair. (Increase or reduce the quantity proportionally, if required)
- Let the oil stay on scalp for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Wash your hair with mild shampoo.
- Comb the hair for removal of dead lice.
Olive oil suits all types of hair. It is neutral oil and soaking your hair in olive oil and tea tree oil mixture won’t cause cold or flu.
5. Tea Tree Oil Shampoo for Head Lice
Although there are many shampoos available with tea tree oil as one of the major ingredients, mixing tea tree oil with your shampoo yourself makes it more effective.
- Add 4-5 drops of tea tree oil to the shampoo when you wash hair, every time.
- You can also mix tea tree oil to your regular shampoo. You may empty a tea tree oil container (about 5 ml or 10 ml) into 100 ml shampoo container and mix it well. Use the shampoo after 3 days to wash your hair.
You can also mix the tea tree oil to the hair conditioner you use.
6. Alcohol and Tea Tree Oil for Lice
This is one of the lesser known remedies for head lice and nits. Alcohol prevents lice from sucking the blood and makes it dozy (yeah, just as humans turn drowsy after alcohol consumption). Adding tea tree oil to alcohol kills nits and enables easy removal of lice.
- Alcohol- 2 oz (about 1/2 cup)
- Tea tree oil- 10-20 drops
- Add the tea tree oil to alcohol.
- Mix the solution and fill this in a spray bottle.
- Spray the mixture all over your scalp and leave it overnight. (If you don’t have a spray bottle handy, soak a cotton ball and apply on scalp)
- Rinse the hair with water the next morning.
Remember, using alcohol can dry out your scalp and hair. Make sure to drink a lots of water or fluids and apply oil to the hair after using alcohol.
Warning: Pregnant women, breast feeding mothers and women who are planning for pregnancy should not use tea tree oil.
Tea tree oil may cause hormonal disturbances in young male and lead to growth of breasts. Although it is not proven, better avoid using tea tree oil for boys.
Tea tree oil is meant only for topical application and it should not be ingested in any case. Also, rinse the hair thoroughly. Repeat using tea tree oil (any solution given above) for a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks, once or twice a week.
Tea Tree Oil for Nits
Removal of lice won’t prevent re-infestation or nits hatching into baby lice. It is not an easy thing to remove the nits stuck into hair. Tea tree oil is powerful enough to kill the nits. However, it cannot remove the nits from the hair. You should use a tight-teeth comb or the special nit comb to remove the nits. You can use tea tree oil in any method mentioned about to kill nits along with lice.
How much tea tree oil you should use for head lice removal
While you consider using tea tree oil for lice treatment, you may wonder about the right quantity to be used. Tea tree oil is one of the very strong essential oils and thus, you should use it with utmost caution. Use no more than 5 to 10 drops (diluted with carrier). In addition, if you mix tea tree oil with shampoo or oil, the ratio should be 1: 5 (1 part tea tree oil to 5 parts of oil or shampoo).
If you never used tea tree oil before, do a patch test before using it for lice treatment. Apply a dab of tea tree oil or dilute the oil with water before applying this to your wrist and watch for any allergic reaction for few hours. If you don’t develop any allergic reaction, proceed with using tea tree oil for lice treatment. It is recommended to wait for 24 hours after doing patch test.
Tea Tree Oil for Lice Prevention
Tea tree oil cannot only kill but also prevent lice. Make a tea tree oil spray to be used everyday so that lice do not infest your head (or your kid’s head!)
How to make Tea Tree Oil Lice Prevention Spray?
- Water- as per requirement
- Tea tree oil- 2-3 drops per ounce of water
- Spray bottle
- Fill your spray bottle with water leaving some space at the top.
- Now add tea tree oil to this water. Add 2-3 drops for every ounce of water. 1 ounce is roughly 1/4 cup. So, if you use 1/2 cup water, add 4-6 drops of tea tree oil.
- Cover the bottle with lid and shake well.
- Every day, when you comb your hair or your kid’s hair after bathing, shake the bottle well and spray this solution on hair.
Some more tips to prevent lice
- Avoid head-to-head contact.
- If you have long hair, keep your hair in a tight ponytail or braid.
- Don’t share combs, brushes, hats, scarves, pillows etc.
- Add 2-3 drops of tea tree oil to your hair products to avoid lice infestation.