Most parents dread the news that there is an outbreak of head lice at their children’s school. Even worse, is if the teachers tell you that your child has head lice. It is not just parents who feel embarrassed, it can also be distressing for children. In this article I am going to look at the best and most effective home remedies for lice that are based on research.
What are Lice?
There are 3 different species of lice that can affect humans:
Head lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) are only found in the hair and feed on blood from the scalp. Head lice are generally only spread by head-to-head contact, but because they can spread very quickly and it is essential to get rid of them as soon as possible. The good news is that head lice aren’t a sign of being dirty because they like clean hair as much as dirty hair.
Head lice are usually about the size of a sesame seed, but their eggs (nits) can be very difficult to get rid of. The eggs hatch about 1 week after they have been laid, meaning that even if you get rid of all lice from hair, your child could still have another outbreak. Therefore, any effective natural treatment for head lice should also enable you to get rid of the eggs as well.
Body lice (Pediculus humanus capitis) generally are associated with dirty homes and dirty clothes. They are slightly larger than head lice and live on the body as well as on clothing, bed linen and soft furniture.
Pubic lice (Pthirus pubis) live in the hair in the pubic areas of humans. They are mainly spread through sexual contact, but can be also spread by infected bed linen, towels, and clothing.
In general, all lice can live for around 30 days but can only survive away from the host for 1 to 2 days.
What are the Symptoms of Lice?
One of the most common symptoms of any kind of lice is itching. You may also see red bumps on the scalp and around the neck and shoulders. Lice also prefer the dark, so a person with lice could be more restless during night time.
If you look closely (you may need a magnifying glass to do this) you will also be able to see the lice crawling around. However, it can be more difficult to spot the nits. You will find the nits on the hair shaft within a quarter inch from the scalp. The egg sac is usually white or yellowish. If the sacs are further from the scalp, this means that the lice have hatched already.
So, if you don’t find any lice after fine-combing the hair, and if any leftover sacs are more than a quarter inch from the scalp, this could be a good sign that you have completely got rid of lice.
Issues with Current Lice Treatments
There are many reasons why you should use home remedies for lice. This is because there are many issues with commercial lice treatments.
Most products to treat lice are pesticides containing a mixture of piperonyl butoxide and pyrethrum (pyrethroid). However, a study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology reported that lice are becoming more and more resistant to these pesticides. It said that new approaches to treating lice infestations are critically needed.1
Another issue with current lice treatments is that the pesticides don’t just stay on the scalp, they end up getting into the bloodstream.
A study in Canada into the effects of pesticides in children showed that the majority of children tested had pyrethroid breakdown products in their urine.2 The study showed that pyrethroids may be associated with behavioral problems in children. Also, it reported that exposure to piperonyl butoxide in prenatal women can affect the mental development of their children.
Let’s have a look at the most effective natural treatments to get rid of lice and nits.
Home Remedies for Head Lice
So, why should you use natural treatments to eliminate head lice? According to research, the natural ingredients listed below are effective for eliminating head lice, and the lice haven’t yet built up a resistance to them. They may also be cheaper than the commercial treatments for lice.
If you want to get rid of lice, you should focus on 2 important aspects:
- Kill the lice that are living
- Remove and or kill the lice eggs
Use a nit comb for eliminating head lice
One essential tool for eliminating head lice is a special nit comb. This is a very fine comb which can effectively remove the nits from the hair before they have hatched. It is, of course, best used with the other treatments that are mentioned later in the article.
The British Medical Journal published a study on the effectiveness of specially designed nit and lice combs and found them to be more effective than over the counter treatments for lice infestations.3 Of course, it requires persistence and the proper type of comb to do this.
To successfully get rid of lice by combing, you should use a metal, not plastic, comb that is finely spaced and thin-toothed.
You can wash the hair with tea tree shampoo as tea tree oil was found to be an effective treatment for killing lice and it’s also has many health benefits for hair and scalp.
To make the tea tree shampoo, you should mix about 8-10 drops of tea tree oil for every 1 oz. (30 ml) of your shampoo. Then gently and slowly comb through all the hair from scalp to tip, making sure that every hair has been combed. After each comb, wipe the comb with a clean paper towel.
Natural Treatments for Head Lice – Recipes
You can make your own home remedy treatments for lice which are non-toxic. These use carrier oils and essential oils which are known for their antibacterial properties and they can also kill head lice.
It is important to remember that essential oils should never be applied directly to the skin but always diluted in a carrier oil. Also avoid contact of essential oils with the eyes.
Recipe #1 – tea tree and lavender oil to eliminate head lice
This recipe combines tea tree essential oil with lavender essential oil mixed together in a carrier oil.
A study published in the journal BioMed Central Dermatology showed that a mixture of tea tree oil and lavender oil when applied 3 times a week killed 97% of lice and was more effective than pyrethrins-based products.4 Coconut oil has also been shown to be effective in treating lice.5
To use this, you should:
- Mix 15 drops of tea tree oil, 5 drops of lavender oil with 2 oz. of carrier oil such as coconut oil orjojoba oil.
- Apply to the scalp and hair, avoiding the face and eyes.
- Put the hair in a shower cap and then wrap with a towel and leave for an hour.
- Comb through all the hair with a nit comb (as directed above).
- Wash the hair to remove all the oil.
Repeat this 3 times a week.
As mentioned above, you can add about 8-10 drops of tea tree oil for every 1 oz. of your regular shampoo.
Recipe #2 – apple cider vinegar and tea tree to kill head lice
There is anecdotal evidence that apple cider vinegar can loosen the glue that holds the nits in place. Apple cider vinegar also has many other benefits for hair and scalp. Tea tree oil can help to kill off lice that can still be in the hair.
Here is what you should do:
- Mix 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar with one cup of water, add a few drops of tea tree oil and pour into a spray bottle and shake well.
- Spray the rinse until the hair is wet and massage into the hair and scalp.
- Leave for an hour.
- Wash your hair with the tea tree shampoo and comb through all the hair with a nit comb.
Make sure to shake the mixture well before each application.
Recipe #3 – neem oil to eradicate head lice
In January 2007 Egyptian researchers published the very promising results of a small clinical trial of a head lice remedy.6
Sixty children, all heavily infested with head lice, were treated with neem oil shampoo. The study showed that if the hair is washed with 20 – 30 ml of neem shampoo, and the shampoo is left in the hair for at least 10 minutes, then neem shampoo is highly effective against head lice.
No side effects, such as skin irritation, burning sensations, or red spots on the scalp, forehead or neck, respectively, were observed.
Neem oil shampoo for head lice
- Use 8-10 drops of neem oil for every 30 ml (1 oz.) of shampoo.
- Message the shampoo into wet hair and cover it completely with the neem oil shampoo
- Leave for 20 minutes
Rinse and comb through all the hair with a nit comb.
Be aware that neem oil stinks! So be careful with the amount you use. Only mix a small batch at any one time, ideally only as much as you will use.
Home Remedies for Body Lice
Body lice infestations occur much less frequently than hair lice. However, they can still happen and, as with head lice, it can be easier to kill the lice than the eggs.
In order to get rid of body lice, it is important to remember that they can live on the body, clothing, bed linen, and upholstery. Therefore, treatment for body lice involves washing thoroughly at a high temperature all clothing, towels, and bed linen which the infested person has used. You may have to also wash items of people that the infested person has been in contact with.
It is also important that the infested person takes care of personal hygiene by regular washing.
How to relieve the itchiness and redness that is associated with lice bites
You can make a topical treatment to relieve itchiness and redness that is associated with lice bites.
You can apply a little tea tree or lavender oil to bites because they have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties which can help soothe the itchiness.
To do this, mix 1-2 drops of the essential oils with a teaspoon of coconut oil or other carrier oil (such as jojoba or sweet almond oil) and apply with a cotton ball to the affected area.
You can also soak the items to be washed in a bowl of hot water and a few drops of tea tree oil. Let soak for 30 minutes.
How to Prevent Lice
As with most problems in life, it is always better to prevent something happening than to deal with the consequences. It is exactly the same with lice. It is much easier to prevent lice infestations than cure it. So how can you prevent a lice infestation?
The best way to prevent head lice from affecting you and your family is to completely avoid close contact with people who are infested. So, for children who attend school, this means to educate them not to share brushes, combs or hats. It’s also necessary to avoid having head-to-head contact with other children. Lockers and shared coat hooks can be places where head lice can be passed on.
The above is also true if you work with children.
You can also use the tea tree shampoo mixture to wash hair.
To prevent body lice, one of the most important factors is to keep everything very clean. Lice can’t live away from the host for longer than a day or two, and hot water and detergent is usually enough to kill lice and their eggs.