Effective & Natural Ways To Kill Head Lice
Every school year, thousands children get head lice. As a parent, I feared ever having to deal with this.
I’d heard the horror stories of putting every non-washable cloth item into plastic garbage bags for three weeks, covering each child’s head with chemicals, and cleaning every horizontal surface in the house.
Ugh!! Well guess what? I dealt with it a few years ago. It was a nightmare. Here are some things that have worked for us that I’d like to share with you so you won’t have to scratch your head wondering what to do – just in case these unwelcome guests decide to show up on your doorstep.
First of all, most people know that head lice can come home on anyone; there’s no rhyme or reason to it.
In fact, it’s said that lice actually prefer clean (non-oily) hair. However, regular combing of your child’s hair in good lighting, and periodically with a lice comb, will help you to more quickly spot these critters.
The earlier they are detected, the easier your job will be!
So…what are Lice and what do they look like?
Lice are blood parasites that carry several blood borne fevers and diseases, some of which can be fatal before they are properly diagnosed. Always tell your doctor if you suspect head louse, or if your child develops a high fever after being around another child who is battling head louse. Because lice are so tiny and are prolific reproducers of nits (eggs), you can get a heavy infestation before you even know what happened. Photo from ladibugsinc.com.
Common Pesticides in Chemical Lice Shampoos
Yikes! If we want to get rid of these buggers as quickly as possible, what’s wrong with chemical based lice shampoos?
The skin including the scalp are porous and most absorbent part of the body. What you put on it directly goes to the blood without being filtered by organs such as liver. Lice shampoos with pesticides contain ingredients which are known are suspected to cause cancer, affect the nervous system and seizures, behavioral changes, attention deficit disorders, brain injury, skin diseases and even death according to National Pediculosis Association’s registry by people who have used chemical treatments to get rid of head lice or scabies. They can trigger asthma or allergic responses. Children are more vulnerable than adults to these chemicals. Immediate symptoms from the pesticides in these lice treatments include headaches and nausea that can last about two weeks. Latent risks, later in life, from exposure to these serious neurotoxins are not yet known.
According to Environmental Health site, the most common pesticides used in lice treatment are permethrin, pyrethrum, and piperyl butoxide. Lindane based shampoos are still approved for use in Canada, and in most provinces are available “behind the counter.” In the US, malathion based shampoos are still common.
Permethrin – A pyrethroid insecticide, permethrin is a synthetic version of an extract from the chrysanthemum. Exposure to pyrethroids has resulted in contact dermatitis and asthma-like reactions. Children with a history of allergies or asthma are particularly sensitive. Permethrin is a suspected human carcinogen and neurotoxin which has been reported to cause temporary nervous disorders in the face and hands. It is also a suspected reproductive toxicant and endocrine toxicant.
Pyrethrum – This is a natural insecticide made from chrysanthemums. Pyrethrum insecticide formulations often contain piperonyl butoxide, a synthetic chemical that increases the potency of pyrethrum. Pyrethrum can trigger allergic responses like skin rashes, hives and asthma. It is a suspected carcinogen, immunotoxicant and reproductive toxicant. Piperonyl butoxide is a suspected carcinogen, neurotoxicant and respiratory toxicant.
Lindane – Lindane was once the lice treatment of choice. It is now recognized as highly toxic, although lindane based lice control products are still approved for use in Canada. Lindane is an organochloride insecticide in the same chemical class as DDT. A nerve poison, lindane is readily absorbed through the skin and is classed as a known cancer-causing chemical in California where it is banned. Documented health effects of exposure to lindane include hormone disruption, dizziness, seizures, nervous system damage, immune system damage and birth defects. Lindane, also an agricultural pesticide, has been found in breast milk and blood samples throughout the world and is banned in at least 14 countries.
Furthermore, lice are becoming increasingly resistant to over-the-counter toxic products: yet another incentive to steer clear of them.
A Better Solution
Fortunately, there are several home remedies that have been clinically studied and proven to kill lice, offering safe and effective options should these non-discriminatory parasites target your family.
Head lice can be eliminated – and they can be eliminated without using toxic chemicals, and without spending lots of money. The main key in almost all remedies is in the comb. A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that finely combing wet hair with a comb specially designed for head lice was four times more effective in getting rid of head lice than Malathion or Permethrin based lice shampoos.
The National Pediculosis (the scientific name for lice) Association agrees. This non-profit group has been working for years to help parents eliminate lice without exposing their children to harmful chemicals.
Natural & Effective Products To Kill Head Lice and Nits
Please note: We are not promoting any of these products – these are simply things that have worked for many of us.
1) NitFree Terminator Comb
This reusable comb, available at Amazon for about $11,
removes lice and nits without damage to the hair.
2) Quit Nits
This product is a non-toxic, scientifically proven, complete head lice kit.
Although it claims that combing isn’t required (since it kills lice and nits,
causing them to naturally come off within a week), it may be prudent to
section off small amounts of hair and comb while in the shower or tub.
Be sure to apply an ample amount of conditioner to soften the hair and
make it slippery for the nits to slide off the hair shaft.
3) Fairy Tales
Fairy Tales “Lice Good-Bye” is a non-toxic mousse designed to help wash away lice and their eggs (nits).
It has been clinically proven to dissolve “nit glue” allowing easy removal of lice.
4) Tea Tree Oil Shampoo and Rosemary Mint Shampoo
Purchasing a natural shampoo containing either of the above ingredients is also highly effective. In all cases, manual removal done diligently for a couple of weeks is also recommended. Many have had good success with ClearLice products, which use table salt along with plant extracts such as Tea tree oil and mint.
Money-Saving Home Made Remedies:
While we’ve each had success with the various products listed above, you may have items in your home right now that can be just as effective, and even if you need to buy some of the items, you’ll likely still save money. However, we do highly recommend purchasing a metal lice comb if you don’t already have one.
You can make your own preventative shampoo by adding a few drops of Neem, Tea Tree,
and/or Mint oil to the regular shampoo your family uses. Because the first two mentioned are antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, I personally would want to include at least one of them if you have a current infestation. Wash in (comfortably) hot water.
Follow with the lice comb while hair is wet, one section at a time, dipping the comb in hot water after pulling through the hair each time. Carefully wipe down or wash the comb between sections of hair.
This can take up to an hour.
2) Leave-in Oils:
After shampooing and combing out hair with a lice comb, try massaging the following oil mixture into the hair and scalp, then place the hair in a shower cap – ideally overnight. Rinse and dry hair in the morning. (Drying instructions below)
- 1/3 cup Olive Oil
- 1/3 cup Coconut Oil (warmed just until liquid)
- 12 drops Tea Tree Oil
Alternatively, applying a skin lotion safe for kids, then drying with a hair-dryer and leaving on overnight has also been shown to be effective.
3) Hair Dryer:
Utilizing a hand-held hair dryer to dry out sections of hair after applying any of these treatments desiccates eggs and lice, killing most of the eggs and some hatched lice as well, and making for easier removal.
The Technique: In tests, a normal hair dryer aimed at the base of hair, divided into 20 large sections, killed 55.3% of hatched lice and 97.9% of lice eggs after a 30 minutes blow drying session – or longer if not completely dry. Even temperature is key. (Chemical products tested, had a lower kill rate of 60% for lice eggs.)** After shampooing and combing with a metal lice comb, drying with a hair dryer is a good complimentary practice to shorten the duration of the infestation. There is also a very effective commercial dryer available called the LouseBuster which some salons use.
4) Coconut oil: Researchers compared the effectiveness of a coconut oil and anise spray versus the commonly prescribed permethrin lotion for the treatment of head lice. According to authors: “the coconut and anise spray can be a significantly more effective alternative treatment.”
Methods to Kill Lice and Nits in the Home:
Once you have treated yourself and kids (or during if you have someone to help you) it’s time to strip down the beds and clean any fabric covered items in the home and car, including carpets. You will also want to wash any clothing, such as jackets, that have been worn in the last two weeks, as well as used towels. It’s also a good idea to wipe down non-fabric seats and couches.
How to Clean:
- Wash ALL hairbrushes and combs and put them into the HOT dishwasher.
- Wash items that can go in your washing machine in HOT water. Dry on high. Caroline likes to add a little of this wonderful mix of essential oils in the wash with every cycle:
- 8 oz of Witch Hazel
- ¼ oz cinnamon,
- ¼ oz Anis,
- ¼ oz Ylang Ylang
- ¼ oz Eucalyptus Lemon
- Dry clean comforters, or Dry in the dryer on high for 20 minutes. Do the same with decorative pillows and stuffed animals. (Warning: Be careful not to place too many in the dryer at once, and keep a close eye on them to prevent burning pillows or large plush toys which may stay pressed against the heating element. I recommend skipping this step with down pillows and simply bagging them.) Afterwards, vacuum seal the items in trash bags (or simply tie closed tightly) and keep them stored in the bags for at least 2 weeks, until your home is lice-free. (The incubation period for the eggs to hatch is approximately 10 days.)
- For items you do not wish to or are unable to wash, bag them, sealing tightly, for two weeks.
- Mist the mattress with diluted essential oils mentioned above and allow to air out.
- Spray the Witch Hazel Essential Oil mixture above to other fabrics in the house beyond the comforter and mattresses, such as the upholstery and drapes. Since it is has a very earthy smell, you might want to spray right before you leave the house to allow the scent to settle down.
- Vacuuming: Sprinkle plain table salt or Epsom salts around the edges of the sofa, car carpeting, or other areas of possible contamination. Vacuum up the salt after two hours. Warning: salts may leave a residue
- on some hard wood floors. Test a small area prior to use.
Here are some tips to help keep lice at bay:
- Call the school nurse and inform them. In addition to being required by the school district, this will reduce the risk of starting the cycle all over again once they return to class.
- Call any friend’s parents that your child has been with recently. They will appreciate your thoughtfulness, and again this will stop the cycle.
- Check hair frequently.
- Add a few drops of Neem oil, or your favorite preventative essential oil mix, to your regular shampoo.
- Continue with the high heat blow-drying weekly.
- Continue with the high heat in the clothes dryer, especially during reported outbreaks at school.
- Every now and then throw brushes and combs into the hot dishwasher.
- Use essential oil spray or hairspray each morning to repel the lice.
Lastly, here are some local services if you live in Southern California.
Although it can be expensive, sometimes having someone else take care of the nit picking (especially on yourself) can be worth the price tag. Here are some local services that do just that. I am not promoting any of these. I just want to give you a handy list to have at your fingertips:
The first three also sell non-toxic shampoos and sprays to use at home.
Honeycomb Lice Removal Salon:
22311 Ventura Blvd, Suite 125, Woodland Hills, CA
Hair Wizards Salon:
16733 Ventura Blvd #15, Los Angeles, CA
My Hair Helpers-Head Lice Removal and Natural products
have a store (by appointment) and will also come to your home:
5810 Las Virgenes Rd, Calabasas, CA
Natural Choice Lice Removal comes to your home:
5810 Las Virgenes Rd, Calabasas, CA
20118 Itasca St, Chatsworth, CA
The Nik Picker – Your “Lice-Saver” comes to your home:
Canoga Park, West Hills, CA
We Nit Pick comes to your home:
18375 Ventura Blvd, Tarzana, CA (Tarzana Square Shopping Center)
Hair Whisperers salon:
They use the LouseBuster hair dryer, and guarantee full lice removal in a single visit.
300 S Westgate Ave, Los Angeles, CA
Kelly (the Lice Guru)
Have you had to deal with this?
Have you found any remedies I didn’t mention that worked for you? I’d love hearing from all of you because it gives us more information to help each other next time…but let’s hope there’s not a next time!
www.headlice.org has information on non-toxic lice control, including a video on effective combing methods, and pictures of lice and nits
**http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/5/1962.abstract describes studies determining the effectiveness of various hair-drying techniques.
has the essential oil recipe we listed here.
http://www.microscopy-uk.org.uk/theliceprogram/theprogram.html is a great resource to understand the life cycle of lice and how combing, when properly timed, can eliminate them completely.
Photo from ladibugsinc.com
common pesticides used in lice shampoo: http://www.environmentalhealth.ca/lice.htm
Toxicity information: http://scorecard.goodguide.com
Natural and Effective Products:
coconut oil: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/04/18/coconut-oil-improve-hair-health.aspx?e_cid=20120418_DNL_art_1
Neem oil: http://amzn.to/13BRJ8t
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