There is nothing like hearing of a lice breakout to put fear in the hearts of parents. One mother I know, normally vigilant in an all-natural lifestyle, sprays pesticides all over her house if she finds out a child who visited her house had lice. There is unfortunately a lot of misinformation about lice. For example, did you know that lice can’t live long once it they have dropped out of someone’s hair? No need to worry about them colonizing in your carpet or furniture. Did you know that not only are lice killed effectively naturally, but that some natural methods are even much more effective then the typical pesticide treatment? Plus, did you know that there is an easy way to prevent an outbreak?
Other important facts I learned about lice include their life cycle. If you kill or comb out all of the adults, and more hatch, they won’t lay eggs until they are 10 days old. And they are unlikely to migrate to someone else’s head until they are laying eggs. If you treat once a week by suffocating them or killing the adults with essential oils for three weeks, you can completely treat without even using a lice comb (though I still recommend that you use one to make sure your system of treatment is effective). There is no need to scrub the house down from top to bottom (though I admit I did). One study that used a suffocation method simply had parents throw all bedclothes and pillows in the dryer on treatment day for 20 minutes. That’s all — and it was highly effective. Lice doesn’t have to take over your life, but you should plan on treating once a week for three weeks, just to make sure you got them all.
Some parents (often even with their doctor’s approval) resort to pesticides not approved for use on humans, let alone children — like animal flea shampoo. This is so unfortunate as there are much better ways to combat this problem. Lice are becoming tolerant of many pesticides, making them harder to treat with conventional methods, which is yet another reason to choose a natural alternative.
I speak from experience as my daughter played with some friends who had lice and they “shared” them with her, and she "shared" them with us. It can be embarrassing to tell others that you had a lice outbreak, so we didn't know about her exposure until we found lice in her hair. Yuck! But let me be an example to you; be kind to others if you have exposed them to lice accidentally. Email them and let them know. After all, I just announced to the world that we got it. *Smile*
And we defeated those little buggers too! I learned a lot about lice through our experience, and what we tried worked!!!
Basically there are three methods you can use. (There are some other methods too, but they aren’t necessarily proven.)
1. Comb comb comb
2. Kill with pesticides (both typical and natural forms)
Combing with a lice comb
While it takes time and patience, a lice comb can remove both adult lice and eggs. (Photo: Gilles San Martin/Flickr)
Let's take these one by one. A very thorough combing can remove not only the adults but also the eggs. However it is very important that you use a good comb. As you will see in the prevention strategy below, it is important that everyone have a comb anyway. I used several different combs borrowed from others and by far my favorite was this comb, Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb (it's also used by professional "nit pickers"). When I went to Amazon to buy my own and read the reviews I realized that I wasn't the only parent who thought it was superior to the typical grocery store comb.
Look up some videos on how to properly and effectively comb for lice, use a good comb, and use conditioner in the hair while you do it. Not only will it help you comb through the hair without tangles, but it will also stun the lice for about 20 minutes.
Positive: All natural and can be effective Negative: You have to be thorough. Expect to spend at least an hour on a full head of hair. If you miss anything, you will have another outbreak. Comb thoroughly once a week for three weeks.
Kill with pesticides
Thankfully, there are natural “pesticide” options. Tea tree oil beat conventional pesticides in one study. Only 25 percent of children were lice-free after using a conventional method, while almost all of the children who were treated with tea tree oil and lavender were lice-free. I’ll take the essential oils, thanks.
In our own experience, tea tree oil is key when using essential oils. I used all of the other oils that were supposed to be effective against lice in my daughter's hair, but not tea tree oil because I couldn’t find it. A couple of lice survived on her hair when I combed it out several hours later. My husband found the tea tree oil for me, and so I added it to my mix, and not only were all of the ones I combed out of my hair dead (we found three), it actually seemed like there were bits and pieces of lice that had sort of disintegrated from the tea tree oil! (I left mine in two hours — probably overkill, I just wanted to make sure).
But I should mention that not all essential oils are the same. Many of the cheap essential oils you see sold in the store are more of an "aromatherapy" essential oil. Tea tree oil is also often adulterated. I personally use Young Living essential oils (why is a separate post). Cheaper brands might work too, but it only took so many drops of tea tree oil to kill lice of our therapeutic grade.
Two warnings: On some forums I was horrified to hear of people pouring whole bottles over their own or their children’s heads. One child had a terrible reaction to this, but besides that, it’s unnecessary. I used 10-15 drops in about a fourth cup of oil or shampoo for my daughter. Secondly, some people are allergic to tea tree oil. Make sure that they don’t react to it before you let it sit on their scalp for 20 minutes to 1 hour. I seemed to have an intolerance to tea tree oil myself after my two-hour treatment, and for my follow up treatment, my whole head felt like it was on fire! An unusual reaction, but something to be aware of. Most people, including children, are perfectly fine with tea tree oil, just please don’t use a whole bottle for treatment.
Another natural, proven lice remedy is neem oil. Several studies have found it effective in both repelling insects and in killing lice. We didn't personally use this method, but it seems like a very nontoxic and effective method to use.
The other method we used (besides the tea tree oil) for my husband, and then for me when I reacted to the tea tree oil, is suffocating it with — get this — face wash. The Nuvo method was developed by a doctor because lice were building resistance to conventional pesticides. Basically you cover the hair with a certain face wash, comb out the excess, and then blow-dry it completely. This creates a coating over the adult lice that eventually kills them by suffocation. Lice can actually hold their breathe for eight hours. That’s why mayo on the head for an hour to suffocate them is not adequate. Do this before bed, wash in the morning, throw your sheet and pillows in the dryer for 20 minutes, and the treatment is done. Repeat twice, once a week, and you are done. This is a painless, inexpensive way to treat lice that was proven to be 97 percent effective and doesn’t depend on using a nit comb. We didn’t use this with our 5-year-old as she is afraid of the blow-dryer, but I think most kids would handle it quite well.
Prevention is actually simple. Keep a nit comb (the one I recommend is above) and once a week comb out your (or your child’s) hair with the comb with conditioner is in the hair. Not only will this catch things early, but it can actually stop an infestation before it starts. Others also find that a dilution of tea tree oil spray on the hair daily acts as a deterrent to lice.
These are all proven, natural ways to combat lice, so think twice before using potentially ineffective and perhaps dangerous pesticides.