Photo Credit: Eran Finkle/Flickr
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. Yikes!
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
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 one daughter’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, but everyone is unique and you should always spot check before lathering it on.
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.
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 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.