Effective and Natural Lice Treatments

(We take a little break from food to talk about an important topic to every parent, natural lice treatments!) 

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 has dropped from 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 ten days old. And they are very 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 was effective). There is no need to scrub the house down from top to bottom (though I admit I did), as 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, you should plan on treating once a week for three weeks however, just to make sure you got them all.

Some parents (often even with their doctor’s approval) resort to pesticides not approved to use on humans let alone children, in the form of 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 the conventional methods, which is yet another reason to choose an alternative method.

I speak from experience as my daughter played with some friends who had lice and they “shared” them with her who then 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 to lice until we found lice in her hair. Yuck! But let me be an example to you of being 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)
3. Suffocate


Combing with a lice comb
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 anyways. 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 other parent to think it a superior comb to the typical grocery store modal.

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 very thorough. Expect to take at least an hour on a full head of hair. If you miss anything, you will have another outbreak. Comb through thoroughly once a week for three weeks.

Kill with pesticides
As mentioned above, typical pesticides are becoming less effective. Not only is that fact known in many medical practices, but when I was researching this topic, I not only read research and studies, but I also spent time reading forums to learn from the common experiences of regular people. Many, many of those who choose to go with conventional lice treatments had terrible experiences with it not working. And truthfully, I am really concerned with both the older “cover your child’s hair with poison” methods, and am a bit horrified to find that a new lice “drug” makes your child’s blood a pesticide to the lice (it kills them when they bite your scalp). How in the world does that seem like a good idea?

Thankfully, there are natural “pesticide” options. Tea tree oil actually beat conventional pesticides in this study. Only 25% of children were lice free after using a conventional method, while almost all of the children were lice free who were treated with tea tree oil and lavender. I’ll take the essential oils, thanks.

In our own experience, tea tree oil is key when using essential oils to kill lice. I used all of the other oils that were supposed to be effective against lice in Elena’s hair, but not tea tree oil, as 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.

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 ¼ 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 myself seemed to create an intolerance to tea tree oil after my two-hour treatment as when I did my follow up treatment, my whole head felt like it was on fire! An unusual reaction, but something to be aware of. Tea tree oil is generally considered a safe for children over the age of two, when it is well diluted.

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 non-toxic and effective method to use.

Suffocating lice

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 of the resistance lice was building 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 8 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% effective and doesn’t even depend on using a nit comb. We didn’t use this with our five-year-old as she is afraid of the blow-dryer, but I think most kids would handle it quite well. The Nuvo site also has a lot of great information on lice too.

Prevention

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 while conditioner is in the hair. Not only will this catch things early, but it can actually stop an infestation before it start. 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.

Have any other natural tips to share? I’d love to hear from you. 

Photo Credit: Eran Finkle/Flickr 

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

Comments

  1. Megan says

    When my daughter got lice I refused to use those pesticides on her. How can a pesticide be Ok to use on a person? So I washed her hair and painstakingly nit picked her hair (she was 3 so this was NOT easy). Afterward I sprayed a tea tree oil & water mixture in her hair. After many washings and spraying daily with the TTO they never came back.

    • KimiHarris says

      Good for you! I think that it is best to avoid, and in this case, non-toxic methods are reliable and even more effective!

      • sue says

        My friend loved the cetaphyl. They didn’t come back. But you must comb out extra and dry it thoroughly.And coat the scalp well. But I heard hair gel overnight works great! It gets hard and smothers them. But I just resorted to alcohol, my grandkids are re occurring. I got wintergreen it smells better, mint may help and has glycerine. But I added a little lavender oil to it and baby oil, I was out of tea tree. I did this to cut dryness. I heard hula girls swear by this and kills eggs. But theres fumes. Cover their face with a towel. If there hair is long it should be tangle free, only so you can get through it. I used a spray bottle, a little hard on long hair. It may be easier if you get one at a drug store that hes a small hole, so you can put their head back and pour a little but keep out of eyes! Ten minutes does it. Then wash out. With any treatment, comb their hair with conditioner on it, wide tooth first to detangle. Then the metal. Keep rinsing. Some ppl love just thick conditioner then comb out. But as you said, it takes 9 hours. Tea tree oil added to the conditioner speeds it up. May only need an hour. Some use thick conditioner and a nit comb, but sounds messy! You must keep rinsing comb. A container of water with a splash of vinegar is good or hot water. But you have to keep dumping. I like the tea tree oil in olive or vegetable or hair oil. Massaged in scalp and pulled through. About 45 minutes. Then wash 3 times. Comb conditioner well in shower with a wide tooth then metal comb. I always comb again my towel dried hair with head over the sink to see what comes off. Also good way to check yourself! Combing conditioner in the shower is a good way to keep knocking them off! Combing is the most important thing and should be done every day with a good metal comb! And any time you itch! I found them on my grandkids by spraying the nape with alcohol and combing with a nit comb. Or use a one part vinegar to 2 parts water. Some swear by apple cider vinegar as a final rinse to loosen nits and kill bugs. But it’s acidic and harsh and can sting and smell. I would dilute at least in half! One third cup or a tablespoon in a cup of water may suffice. Up to half and half. Leave in. Make tea tree shampoo by adding 5 drops to a dollop, or conditioner to treat for 20 minutes or more. Or add 12 drops to a bottle of clear shampoo and conditioner. Coconut helps to. And a little mint. Not too much. It makes them jump off. Too much peppermint can burn. A few drops to some conditioner is good. But 10 drops of tea tree oil to a spray bottle of water should be used everyday! After all this, hair gel for 9 hours is a cheap and easy option. All treatments must be done 3 consecutive weeks. But regular combing is a must!

  2. says

    Thanks for all the information and ideas Kimi! I just bought the nit free terminator a few minutes ago. It will come in handy for follow up treatments when it comes in the mail next week! Lice being able to hold their breath for up to 8 hours was new to me. I wasn’t suffecting those buggers long enough.

    • KimiHarris says

      Yeah, someone else mentioned it to me too. I think it could work as a deterrent, but probably not enough tea tree oil in there to kill them. I ended up buying a tea tree oil conditioner, and then adding more drops to 1/4 cup. :-)

  3. says

    Our kids’ hair dresser recommended rosemary oil for a deterrent. They keep a bottle of spray around and when I said the school was having an outbreak, she spritzed just in case. We are fortunate not to have had any outbreaks at home. I added a few drops of rosemary to my rinse just in case and will put some TTO and rosemary in my next batch of de-tangle spray. I also usually start french braiding when we get the notices. The hairdresser mentioned that lice prefer clean hair. I’ve found opinions for both clean and dirty. My kids, being 5 and 8 usually get their hair washed every few months. They just don’t need anything beside a water rinse during their bath every few days or so. Their hair still looks clean and beautiful but it’s not an inviting squeaky clean for pests to easily travel in.

  4. Christie says

    Coconut oil. Works great. Makes it easy to comb hair. I comb thoroughly, but not fanatically (about 45 mins for long hair). Since my daughter had lice last year, I wash her hair in coconut oil any time I hear she may have been exposed. She’s not had them since.

    Boy, my head itches reading this. I hate that.

    I like the rosemary spray idea.

    • Rosalee says

      Hahahahaha! I laughed out loud, because my head itches just thinking about it as well! We’ve had an outbreak here and it is NOT fun! :(

  5. says

    I hear you about reading this and then my head itches. Ack!

    I’d never heard that lice could hold their breath for up to 8 hours…wow! I guess the lice my daughter had could only hold their breath for one hour, because, as our pediatrician suggested to us, an hour of mayo treatments on my daughter’s hair for 14 days in a row completely did the trick, and they all died. No more lice!

  6. Susan says

    Wow!! Thanks!! I’m an RN who used to work at a pediatric clinic before I started having my own babies. We used to prescribe the over the counter rinses, and most of the parents would call back saying it hadn’t worked. One of the other nurses said to slather on mayo before bed, put a shower cap over it, wash/rinse it really well in the morning, and then use the nit comb. I don’t remember getting any calls back saying that method didn’t work.

    I really enjoyed reading about the tea tree oil, though, especially the part about spraying it on your hair on a daily basis. I’ve used it as a hair care product, but never thought it would be a deterrent for lice. I’ll start using it on my children’s hair, too. :D

  7. Nicky says

    What an interesting article, thanks Kimi. I’ve yet to experience the joys of nits with my 4 yr old but I’m sure it won’t be long! The brand of tea tree oil I buy in New Zealand (true blue organics) has a recipe on their website which might be of interest… mix 5ml TTO, 1c cider vinegar, 2T shampoo or conditioner & shake really well…apply as much as you need to scalp and cover with cling film for 1/2 hour, then rinse briefly and repeat every 4 days for 5 applications. Comb through after as well. They cite a small local study that showed TTO and lavender were more effective than suffocating product or pesticide. Great to hear!

  8. Mom with grown kids says

    When my older kid got lice from preschool, I found out before I drained the bath. Both girls bath together. There were 3 bugs (turns out to be lice) floating by my older daughter. I googled it, and found an enlarged image of one. After notifying the preschool, 2-3 weeks later they printed a flying about many kids in preschool were getting lice. To please check their hair. Can I say better late than never?!?!?!

  9. Erin says

    May I recommend a website??

    http://www..HeadLicetoDeadLice.com

    It suggests using olive oil every 4-5 days for 3 weeks. They have a video that shows how to nit pick and a calendar you can print out so you don’t lose track of what day to apply it.
    It saved us from panic! It is kind of corny but a great resource. I added tea tree oil to my olive oil.

  10. Amanda says

    Tea tree oil and lemon myrtle oil are great for head lice……as is apple cider vinegar.
    I spray my daughters hair everyday with a mixture of apple cider vinegar and water as a detangler and she has never had head lice despite been exposed on several occasions. I also hardly wash her hair with shampoo and use lemon myrtle conditioner (amother great aussie product)

    Amanda

    • Jenny says

      Yup, tabasco sauce or hot sauce or cayenne and/or thyme for intestinal worms. (You also need to wash bedding.) Sprinkle a little on a cheese quesadilla or something. Culinary herbs are part of many different cultures cuisines for a reason. ;)

      Mom always just gave us a bath and combed our heads with ACV and a fine toothed comb, worked every time. Keeping long hair in a braid is supposed to help prevent catching it in the first place.

      -Jenn

  11. Laura says

    Hi Kimi: Sorry for your lice troubles! As a mother of six daughters, we battled head lice on and off for 1 year. What a nightmare! More recently, we had it again and I learned a lot more from a professional who was worth every penny we paid her. A great adult lice killer is an olive oil wrap (with a shower cap) for 8 hours or so. Great for your hair, too! The special lice combs are the way to go, too. Tea tree oil can be harsh and drying to the scalp. Also, the smell still torments my children because I stopped using the pesticide shampoos and went to tea tree oil rinses. I found a good quality tea tree oil at Wal-Mart. Anyway, my pre-schooler was exposed to head lice at her pre-school this last week. Before taking her home, I got her checked by a professional which was free. This was not the same person I used before and I seemed to know more than her! Anyway, before pre-school the next day and thereafter, I spray her hair with a mix of 1/3 generic Listerine, 2/3 water and several drops of pure peppermint oil. All the smells repel lice and peppermint actually burns them. That spray doesn’t wash out easily either, but the smell fades and is barely noticeable. I will comb her hair out, though, just to make sure she doesn’t have any eggs. This was a great post. Thanks!

  12. Lauren says

    Just a warning about neem: I am quite sure it works, but I used it on my own head once and the smell (like onion soup, but not) lingered for weeks and made me feel queasy. I quite like the smell of lemon myrtle and lavender, and am used to the sort of medicine-y smell of tea tree, but for ME at least, neem would be almost as bad as the lice!
    I wonder if changing bed linens weekly and using the dryer on them is enough to stop an outbreak before it starts? Maybe in combination with non-shampooing? We’ve never had them despite a couple rounds at our kindergarten.

    • says

      Yes, neem oil does stink quite bad! We used it for an outbreak of scabies. It was wonderful for the skin, but my daughter said it smelled like peanut butter and garlic mixed together. I can handle a lot for the sake of health, but it was too much for me.

  13. lani says

    I just put conditioner on their dry hair and combed the nits and lice out. No need for expensive treatment. The best comb for removing nits is one sold on amazon. It has amazing reviews. I bought it and it’s true, it removed nits that the pharmacy combs had left behind.

  14. Denise says

    I use tea tree oil for my whole family for various reasons. I usually use the brand NOW. I am curious about it’s effectiveness after reading this post. Can you please explain why you choose the brand that you use? I looked it up and obviously costs much more…I’m sure for good reason, but would like to hear more about it.
    Thanks for all the great info.

  15. Karen says

    I bought Tea Tree oil and Lavender oil and wondered if I should use 10-15 drops of both or fewer drops of lavender oil in 1/4 cup of shampoo. Hope you see this before we wash our hair!

  16. Julie says

    Any tips on bed bugs? I heard 1 in 4 have them in some cities. I am especially concerned with church gatherings in homes.

  17. Cath says

    I have only had one case of lice in my children thankfully.

    Apparently they love clean hair :-) so I only wash their hair once or twice a week. My DD tends to wear her hair in french braids at school and the boys is short anyway so I think that helps too.

  18. Lori says

    Do you know why head lice is pretty much only found in elementary and preschool age kids? Because by the time they reach middle school, most of the girls are blow drying their hair. When my kids got head lice, my mom, a middle school secretary, shared this tip with me and it was the best, least toxic cure I tried. I just shot the blow dryer through their dry hair several times a day, the nits and lice were killed, so all we had to do was shampoo and comb them out. As a preventative measure, you can also blow dry kids hair a couple of times a week, especially if you hear of an outbreak.

  19. Soozana says

    HI, our neighbour sent her kids around just before Christmas this year and left the little buggers (the Lice, not her kids ;) ) behind :P
    She didn’t even tell me that her kids had them AND that all she was doing was *washing* their hair frequently to rid of them!! I learned this from her kids when we confronted them…
    Well, I spent ALL Xmas day washing out linen, kids linen, vacuuming etc in 90 degree Celcius water and using Neem oil and Coconut oil on all our heads, my hubby’s, mine and our three children under 4. (Whilst cooking a Lamb Roast and Roast veggies to boot!)
    It worked! Neem is very smelly but the way I see it, is if you can stand to eat all the onion and garlic in Mediterranean foods, you can put up with Neem. It has multiple naturally occurring compounds in it that: Stop the Lice wanting to feed, interrupt growth cycles, stop a function in the eggs from hatching by blocking them from accessing oxygen. So it’s acts as a great insecticide and ovicide. Here’s a pubmed citation to the effectiveness of a Neem shampoo http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21484346
    To mask the smell though I did put in Eucalyptus oil but I didn’t have any Lavender or Tea Tree Oil on hand to add to the other oils :(
    So far, we are Lice free! :D
    Happy New Years everyone :)

  20. AMc says

    As a child I was always a magnet for lice. Now I have two teens & one of them is a magnet, and low & behold I am still too.

    In the past 12 months we’ve had them 5 times. Yes, 5. So far I’ve done the following:

    Nix – didn’t kill them or help with the eggs.
    Coconut oil overnight soak worn tea tree and acv rinse.

    I have the terminator comb which works magically. I thought that I finally found the combo to kill them. Now, we have them for the 5th time. I’m convinced that getting lice so easily has to do something with our blood. For example, I’ve never been bit by a mosquito, yet lice love me (I also have 1 kidney, so I think that has something to do with it). I’m O+ and so is my kid that keeps bringing home lice. The other kid has a different blood type.

    I’ve now purchased fairy tales line of lice supplies and we’re using that. Friday I did out hair. Lots of dead bugs & I meticulously went through every strand of hair & removed nits.

    Saturday I did the lice good-bye again, a few more dead bugs & nits. Skipped Sunday.

    Today I went through her hair again and pulled out another 5-7 bugs and more nits. I don’t understand how this is happening! I am OCD when it comes to come through, yet, they’re still there.

    My home is clean (I truly am OCD), linens washed. No reused towels & I used diatomaceous earth in my home and on the bedding. What gives? I hate the fact that kids can go to school with nits. The APA has stated that nits don’t matter because they’re not mature. But if a child attends school with nits during the day, by end of school day they can be hatched.

    If anyone has any suggestions I’m more than willing to try. This time we’re also both on a round of antibiotics (which makes me cringe) but with the amount of times we’ve got lice I feel like I have no choice. I’m about ready to call the doctor for Rx shampoo, but I know brags just going to cause dread on our hair & I really don’t want our scalp soaking it up & getting into our system.

    • sand006 says

      AMc – unsure where you are located, but around me, there are many lice companies who will go to your home, or you can go to their business, and they guarantee the removal of nits and lice. You can go back, for free, if any are missed.

  21. EC says

    Can anyone share what the dilution is for tea tree oil mixed with water or olive oil to be used on hair? My daughter and I just learned we have them. We panicked and used the pesticide from pharmacy the other night but we still feel them in our hair. I have very long and thick hair and I had to rely on my husband to go through it. He could see some bugs but couldn’t actually retrieve them. I would like to use something natural and moisturizing so I can attempt to comb through my hair. The chemical rinse is drying and makes my hair impossible to brush through so olive oil sounds fabulous! How much tea tree oil should I add to it? Thanks!

  22. Mya Phelps says

    Hi! I was wondering if Australian TeaTree oil would also work as a “enemy” for lice? I have recently bought “Hydrating Teatree Mint Shampoo” and i was wondering if this will be as effective as a 100% pure TeaTree oil.
    We are only experiencing the babies and wondered if it would rid them without the treatment.

  23. says

    My kids got lice, and then got it again, and again…
    We started with the doctor recommended pesticides and daily combing. It didn’t work.
    I dug into the research and discovered that one of the best cures for lice is to smother them with coconut oil! We coated our kids (and our) hair and scalps with coconut oil before bed, put shower caps on and slept like that, then showered and combed them out the next morning.
    Worked like a charm.
    We had a few other friends whose kids got lice and were also struggling to get rid of it, we told them our treatment and it worked for them as well.
    We also made sure to wash all the bedding/clothes on hot and dry on hot as well.
    Smothering definitely wins over pesticides or just combing, especially if you have lots of hair!!

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