Do you often find yourself scratching your head excessively? If the answer is yes, it can be due to head lice infestation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations occur in the United States among children (3 to 11 years of age) in a year.(1)
Head lice are tiny parasites that live on the scalp and hair shafts. These parasites feed on blood. Head lice multiply rapidly, laying small oval-shaped eggs known as nits, which are visible near the base of the hair, close to the scalp.
Although anyone can have head lice, the problem is especially common among children.(2)
It is important to note that lice infestation isn’t always a sign of poor personal hygiene or an unclean living environment.
Causes of Head Lice Infestation
Head lice mainly spread through direct head-to-head contact with an infected person. Children, in particular, are likely to pick up these nasty pests:
- during play sessions
- at school
- engaging in contact sports
- during sleepovers
- at other gatherings.
You can also end up with lice by:
- wearing the clothing of a person with lice
- sharing contaminated personal care items, such as brushes and combs
- lying on the bed used by an infected person.
Signs and Symptoms
Two of the most common signs of lice infestation are itching and red bumps on the scalp. A sensation of something crawling on the scalp is also common.
You can also find opaque nits on the hair shafts.
When to See a Doctor
Consult a doctor if head lice infestation is severe and you cannot stop scratching your head.
It can be quite difficult to eliminate lice parasites within a few days as they reproduce pretty quickly. However, lice only live 24 to 48 hours off the scalp. They need blood from the human scalp to survive.
There are several home remedies that will help solve this problem by getting them off the scalp.
Simple Ways to Deal With Head Lice
Here are the top 10 tips and remedies to get rid of head lice.
1. Use a Louse Comb
Invest in a nit or louse comb to get rid of head lice naturally. The fine-toothed comb is easily available at any drugstore and it helps to keep the hair free of lice. However, it is not effective for nits.
A 1999 study published in Pediatrics Drugs points out that the most effective tool for the prevention and control of lice is the louse comb. It should be used on a regular basis to detect lice at an early stage of infestation and to remove living and dead lice from the head.(3)
Another 2001 study published in Pediatric Dermatology examined the effectiveness of louse comb versus direct visual examination for the diagnosis of head louse infestations and found that using a louse comb is four times more efficient than direct visual examination and twice as fast.(4)
- First, wash your hair.
- When the hair is slightly wet, separate it into small sections.
- Sit under a good light and cover your shoulder and back with a white towel.
- Start combing small sections of the hair using a nit comb.
- Rinse out the comb and towel under running hot water after each use.
- Do it once daily until the lice infestation is treated completely.
2. Coat Your Hair with Mayonnaise
This ingredient contains a lot of oil, which has viscosity properties. Thus, it can help suffocate live head lice. Also, it lubricates the hair and facilitates combing the lice from the scalp.
A 1999 study published in Pediatric Drugs reports that suffocating agents such as mayonnaise can help kill a significant number of lice only if they are applied in liberal amounts for more than 12 hours.(3)
Another 2003 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases reports that mayonnaise can effectively decrease respiratory exchange in lice and may decrease infestation.(5)
- Coat your hair thoroughly with full-fat mayonnaise.
- Cover it tightly with plastic or a shower cap. You may also wrap a towel over the plastic.
- Leave it overnight.
- The next morning, wash your hair well with your regular shampoo.
- Dry your hair using a hairdryer as the hot air also kills any remaining living lice.
- Use a nit comb to remove the lice and nits.
- Repeat once a week for about two months.
3. Apply Coconut Oil to Your Scalp
Coconut oil is another effective remedy for head lice. The lubricating nature of coconut oil will stop the lice from moving around freely, thus preventing them from multiplying.
In a 2002 study published in the Israel Medical Association Journal, researchers used a natural remedy, which consisted of coconut oil, anise oil, and ylang-ylang oil on the hair of children (aged 6-14 years) thrice at 5-day intervals and found it to be effective for head lice infestation.(6)
Another study published in the European Journal of Pediatrics in 2010 found coconut and anise spray to be an effective alternative treatment for head lice.(7)
- In 2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil, add 4-5 drops of anise essential oil.
- Completely saturate the hair and scalp with this oil mixture.
- Cover your head with a shower cap or towel and leave it on for 6 to 8 hours or overnight.
- In the morning, comb your hair with a nit comb and then shampoo as usual.
- Repeat this every day for a week to eradicate lice.
Along with coconut oil, you can also use olive oil or baby oil.
4. Tree Tea Oil can Help
Tea tree oil is a natural insecticide which offers a lot of health benefits. Being an effective insecticide, it plays a vital role in treatment for head lice.
In a 2010 study published in BMC Dermatology, researchers examined the effectiveness of three different products to treat head lice, including one that contained tea tree oil. It was found that tea tree oil was effective in keeping the head free of lice.(8)
Another 2012 study published in Parasitology Research found tea tree oil to be more effective than nerolidol against head lice.(9)
- Mix together one teaspoon of tea tree oil, one ounce of natural shampoo, and 3 tablespoons of coconut or olive oil.
- Apply the solution gently throughout your hair and cover your head with a shower cap or towel. Leave your head covered for half an hour, and then rinse your hair thoroughly with warm water.
- Finally, comb your hair using a louse comb while it is still wet to remove the dead lice.
5. Trust the Healing Potential of Neem
Neem, also known as Indian lilac, is a good remedy to get rid of head lice. Being a natural insecticide, it can help kill the lice.
In a 2012 study published in Parasitology Research, researchers examined the effectiveness of an anti-louse shampoo based on a neem seed extract on the hair of 12 children and found it to be very effective.(10)
It even soothes the scalp irritation caused by constant scratching of the head due to lice infestation.
- Apply a paste made of neem leaves on your scalp and hair. Allow it to dry, and then rinse your hair. Do this at least twice a week for two months.
- Alternatively, massage some pure neem oil onto your hair and scalp. Allow it to sit for 1 hour. Wash it out with shampoo. Once the hair is dry, use a nit comb to remove the lice and nits. Do this remedy 2-3 times a week for 1 to 2 months.
6. Petroleum Jelly can Give You Relief
Petroleum jelly can have a stifling effect on the lice roaming around in the hair. The Minnesota Department of Health even lists petroleum jelly as an acceptable method for treating head lice.(2)
- Apply a thick layer of petroleum jelly to the scalp before going to bed.
- Cover your head tightly with a shower cap or towel. Leave it on overnight.
- In the morning, use baby oil to remove the petroleum jelly.
- Comb your hair thoroughly with a louse comb to remove the lice.
- Repeat this several nights in a row.
7. White Vinegar can be Helpful
Another safe and inexpensive method to get rid of head lice is white vinegar. White vinegar possesses acetic acid, which can help eliminate lice.
A 1999 study published in Pediatric Drugs reports that formulations containing 5% acetic acid in combination with a louse comb can be helpful in removing nits.(3)
Another 2012 study published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology reports that vinegar (4% acetic acid) aids in dissolving the cementing substance that attaches nits to the hair shaft.(11)
- Dilute white vinegar with an equal amount of water.
- Saturate the hair and scalp with the solution and then wrap a towel around the hair for approximately 1 to 2 hours.
- Next, dip a comb in white vinegar and comb your hair with it. Focus on one small section of hair at a time.
You can also rinse your hair with white vinegar before and after shampooing.
8. Try Camphor with Coconut Oil
Camphor in coconut oil (also known as camphorated oil) is another excellent remedy for head lice.(12)
Lice find it hard to tolerate the strong smell of camphor, thus making it easier to comb them out of the hair. Moreover, the coconut oil helps suffocate the lice.
- Melt a ½ cup of coconut oil in the microwave.
- Add 1 tablespoon of camphor powder and mix properly.
- Apply the mixture all over your head, and massage it into your scalp.
- Cover your hair with a shower cap and leave it on overnight.
- The next morning, wash your hair with a shampoo. When dry, comb it with a nit comb.
- Use this treatment daily for 5 days to eradicate lice.
9. Apply Benzyl Alcohol Solution to Your Scalp
Benzyl alcohol, a monoaromatic primary alcohol, can effectively kill lice and nits. This powerful disinfectant is safe to use and is even approved by the FDA.
A 2010 study published in Pediatric Dermatology found benzyl alcohol lotion 5% to be a safe and effective topical head lice treatment. It can be used in children as young as 6 months of age.(13)
- Apply a little benzyl alcohol solution on the scalp and hair.
- Leave it on for 10 minutes.
- Then, rinse your hair properly.
- Finally, comb your hair using a nit comb to remove dead lice and nits.
- Do this once a week for 1 month.
10. Hot Air Treatment for Head Lice
Another option to keep your head free of lice is hot air. There are specific machines available in the market that use air with higher flow rate to kill the lice.
The machine works based on the concept of dehydration, which helps to kill head lice and their eggs.
A 2006 study published in Pediatrics analyzed the effectiveness of a custom-built machine called the LouseBuster to kill head lice and found it to be very effective. There were no adverse effects of this treatment.(14)
- Get a machine from the market and use it as directed.
- Do not share any of your belongings to a person with lice infestation.
- Keep combs and brushes used by an affected person separate from others.
- After treating lice, wash all clothing and bedding used by the person in hot water.
- Seal all the nonwashable items used by the affected person in plastic bags for a week.
- Vacuum all upholstery, mattresses, and carpets.
- Once in a while, comb your hair with a nit comb.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/epi.html. Published September 24, 2013.
- Head Lice Fact Sheet – Minnesota Dept. of Health. Fact Sheet – Minnesota Dept. of Health. http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/headlice/headlice.html.
- Mumcuoglu KY. Prevention and treatment of head lice in children. Pediatric drugs. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10937452. Published 1999.
- Mumcuoglu KY, Friger M, Ioffe-Uspensky I, Ben-Ishai F, Miller J. Louse comb versus direct visual examination for the diagnosis of head louse infestations. Pediatric Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11207962. Published 2001.
- Jones, N. K, C. J. Review of Common Therapeutic Options in the United States for the Treatment of Pediculosis Capitis | Clinical Infectious Diseases | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/36/11/1355/303092. Published June 1, 2003.
- Mumcuoglu KY, Miller J, Zamir C, Zentner G, Helbin V, Ingber A. The in vivo pediculicidal efficacy of a natural remedy. The Israel Medical Association journal: IMAJ. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12389342. Published October 2002.
- Burgess IF, Brunton ER, Burgess NA. Clinical trial showing the superiority of a coconut and anise spray over permethrin 0.43% lotion for head louse infestation, ISRCTN96469780. European journal of pediatrics. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19343362. Published January 2010.
- Barker SC, Altman PM. A randomized, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children–melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonylbutoxide, and a “suffocation” product. BMC Dermatology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20727129. Published August 20, 2010.
- Di E, Di S, Delli P, et al. Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitology research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22847279. Published November 2012.
- Abdel-Ghaffar F, Al-Quraishy S, Al-Rasheid KA, Mehlhorn H. Efficacy of a single treatment of head lice with a neem seed extract: an in vivo and in vitro study on nits and motile stages. Parasitology research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21667206. Published January 2012.
- Bhushan made, UdayKhopkar. Pediculosis capitis: An update. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology, and Leprology. http://www.ijdvl.com/article.asp?issn=0378-6323;year=2012;volume=78;issue=4;spage=429;epage=438;aulast=Madke. Published 2012.
- European Journal of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. EJBPS | ABSTRACT. http://www.ejbps.com/ejbps/abstract_id/116.
- Meinking TL, Villar ME, Vicaria M, et al. The Clinical Trials Supporting Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5% (UlesfiaTM): A Safe and Effective Topical Treatment for Head Lice (Pediculosis Humanus Capitis). Pediatric Dermatology. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1525-1470.2009.01059.x/abstract. Published February 23, 2010.
- Goates BM, Atkin JS, Wilding KG, et al. An Effective Nonchemical Treatment for Head Lice: A Lot of Hot Air. Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/5/1962?download=true. Published November 1, 2006.