Updated On

July 8, 2024

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    How To Get Rid of Lice

    No matter how often you wash your child’s hair, they remain susceptible to catching head lice. Unfortunately, cleanliness is not preventative. Knowing how to catch these bugs quickly is key to getting rid of them.

    In this important guide to lice control, you will discover:

    • How To Get Rid of Lice Quickly
    • How To Prevent Future Infestations
    • How To Tell if You Have Head Lice
    • The Signs and Causes of Lice Infestations

    Lice Treatments 

    There are generally two types of treatments to kill lice:

    1. Treatments that work on the insect’s nervous system using an insecticide
    2. Treatments that smother the lice to kill them

    Treatments incorporating pesticides work quicker than those that don’t. However, they have been known to cause side effects in children, especially when used against label directions. Alternatively, treatements that smother insects to kill them cause few adverse reactions. Unfortunately, these treatments are known to work slower and are not as effective against developing eggs and nymphs.

    While two kinds of treatments are available, be sure to consider possible side effects. Avoid negative reactions by following instructions exactly as they are printed for you.

    Identify the Problem

    The only way to identify lice is by looking closely to see if any live adult lice are crawling on strands of hair or on the scalp. The presence of eggs (nits), on the other hand, does not necessarily mean there is an infestation. 

    The presence of dandruff flakes can give a false positive for head lice. Therefore, it is crucial to make sure there is a problem before starting treatment. 

    Standard Lice Treatment

    Over-the-counter (OTC) shampoos are available for lice control. They typically contain one or more of the following ingredients:

    • Pyrethrins
    • Benzyl alcohol
    • Permethrin (synthetic pyrethroid)
    • Sodium Chloride
    • Menthol

    First Treatment

    Many lice shampoos require you to massage the product into dry hair and the scalp. Others have you lather the shampoo into wet hair. Be sure to read the label directions to achieve the best results. 

    The treatment instructions require you to leave the product in the hair for up to 10 minutes. Communicate closely with your child to make sure they are not experiencing any burning or discomfort. If so, rinse the hair thoroughly and try using a different brand. 

    Second Treatment

    Lice treatment instructions typically advise a second treatment. However, it’s essential to read the label directions fully to prevent any negative reactions. 

    Lice can develop a resistance to the active ingredients, so if after the retreatment you see little progress, discontinue using that brand and try another one.

    Combing

    Using a lice comb will help remove nits and live lice from the hair, and is easier when the hair is wet. A thick conditioner can help the process as well.

    While it’s easier to comb through short hair, it isn’t necessary to cut or shave the head to gain control of lice. Wet combing is a time consuming process, so be patient and make sure to be thorough.

    Dimethicone Oil

    Dimethicone is a silicone-based, organic polymer that is non-toxic and non-flammable. You use it to lubricate the hair, so lice removal becomes a simpler task. 

    Several products are available that are safe and affordable. They usually come in a liquid spray formula and are proven effective against lice without any chemical resistance. 

    Medical Treatments

    For stubborn infestations, prescription treatments are available from a physician. For example:

    • Malathion is an insect growth regulator that disrupts the developmental stages of lice. Of all the prescription medication treatments, it’s the least effective.
    • Ivermectin is a powerful medication used for parasitic diseases. However, it is not approved for children under five years of age. 
    • Spinosad is an insecticide widely used for many purposes, including lice treatments. Although more studies are needed, it seems to have low toxicity to humans. 

    Many of the prescription medications used to treat head lice can cause side effects in some patients. For that reason, it is vital to talk to your doctor about the risks involved. 

    Home Remedies

    There are many DIY head lice treatments. Some are good while others are not so great. Here are a few that show promising results. 

    Olive Oil

    Olive oil treats head lice by smothering them, so they suffocate. Unfortunately, this method does not kill eggs, so follow-up treatments are necessary. 

    Also, be careful using it on younger children, as olive oil can cause mild irritation to the eyes if in contact.

    Essential Oils

    Peppermint oil works well for lice control, and tea tree oil works better. Studies show that it’s effective for both adult lice and eggs

    Although essential oil products are all-natural, they can have side effects. For example, some may excessively dry the hair and scalp, so it’s good to consult with your doctor or pediatrician to decide the best course of action. 

    Petroleum Jelly

    Spreading petroleum jelly all over your head may not seem very pleasant, but the thick gel works to suffocate adult lice. Leave it on for at least 24 hours for best results. I recommend wearing a shower cap to help contain the mess. 

    Speeding up the Process

    Follow these steps to help speed up the process of removing lice infestations:

    1. Place infected combs and brushes in a plastic bag and freeze it overnight to kill larva and adult lice. 
    2. Wash clothing, towels, and linens belonging to infected persons in hot water. Be sure to dry on high at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. 
    3. Vacuum furniture, car seats, and chairs
    4. Wash scarves, hats, and other headgear regularly.

    How To Treat Braided Hair

    Combing hair extensions, dreadlocks, and braided hair to remove head lice may be impractical. Instead, use a series of three dimethicone treatments in a seven-day period.

    How to Prevent Head Lice 

    Communication

    Parents should communicate with their kids’ teachers and school officials if they suspect an infestation. Also, always take lice infestation alerts from your child’s school seriously. While you do not need to be alarmed by every event, it’s still wise to know what is going on. 

    Avoiding Contact 

    The person with the lice infestation should avoid close contact with others until it’s under control. This may seem harsh but is necessary to prevent a larger infestation in your home. 

    Wet Combing

    Periodic wet combing with a nit comb or a fine-toothed comb makes sure nits left behind by prior treatments are removed. Wet combing may help prevent reinfestation by disrupting adult lice activity as well. 

    Preventive Treatments

    While it may be tempting to stave off future infestations with regular use of lice treatment shampoos, doctors advise against it. The harsh ingredients in these products leave hair dry and brittle over time. Furthermore, overuse can cause health risks in children.

    Instead, try using a mild essential oil shampoo containing peppermint or tea tree oil. When used once a week, these products are gentler on the hair and have less chance of adverse side effects. 

    What Do Lice Look Like? 

    Lice are parasitic insects that feed off human blood and skin secretions. They’re typically the size of a sesame seed, measuring from two to three millimeters long, and are light gray in color. Often, it can be difficult to tell lice and dandruff apart. However, after a blood meal, lice become much darker. 

    Head lice are relatively fast climbers but cannot hop from one host to another. They feed on the scalp of humans and take a blood meal about every two hours. They are so tiny that you cannot even feel them biting. 

    Life Cycle

    Lice eggs (nits) are difficult to see, so a magnifying glass may help uncover them. One female louse lays up to five eggs, usually close to the scalp, in a 24-hour period. 

    Eggs hatch in about seven to 10 days. To survive, newly-hatched nymphs need a blood meal immediately. Adult lice live between three and four weeks. However, they can only survive without a host for up to 48 hours.

    Head lice can only live on humans and not animals, so no need to worry about pets if a household member has lice.

    Can Head Lice Live on Your Pillows and Sheets? 

    Lice can live up to 48 hours without a human host, but they can transfer from one host to another within that time. 

    Because of this, it’s important not to share linens with other family members. During the treatment process, it’s a good idea to wash sheets and pillowcases in hot water and dry them using high heat. 

    Replacing infested pillows is not typically necessary, but you can do so as an added precaution. To disinfect pillows rather than replacing them, set them outdoors in plastic bags for at least 48 hours so the lice can die naturally. 

    Signs & Causes of a Lice Infestation  

    In most instances, head-to-head contact causes lice infestations, especially in children playing near each other. After that, they can spread through a child’s hair rapidly. Within a few weeks, the entire family may become infested.

    Early signs include itching, which can eventually cause secondary skin infections. Wet combing is the best way to inspect for head lice visually. Look for live adults as well as tiny white nits cemented to strands of hair near the scalp. 

    You can use a magnifying glass to distinguish nits from dandruff flakes by the way they stick to the hair shaft, whereas you can easily brush off dandruff.

    Today’s Homeowner Tips

    Adult lice live between three and four weeks. However, they can only survive without a host for up to 48 hours.

    A Final Note About Head Lice

    Preschool children are not the only victims of head lice infestations. Infestations can spread to other family members easily, so it’s crucial to be armed with the best information. There are many OTC options, and you can try DIY solutions as well. Above all, talk to your pediatrician or primary healthcare provider when faced with a lice infestation.

    FAQs About Getting Rid of Lice

    What kills lice immediately?

    Unfortunately, no lice treatment kills all lice and eggs instantly. Some products are more effective than others. Options for treatment include over-the-counter treatments, prescription treatments, wet combing, heat treatment, suffocation methods, and essential oils.


    What kills 100% of lice?

    There is no single treatment that can kill 100% of lice in one application. Effective treatments usually require multiple applications and additional steps to get rid of lice.


    How do I get rid of lice on young children?

    Stanford Medical recommends that treatment for lice in children include applying medicated cream rinse or shampoo to the child’s hair.

    In addition to the shampoo, you will want to remove nits from wet hair with a fine-toothed comb,  and soak all combs and brushes in hot water with the medicated shampoo for at least 15 minutes.

    Be sure to check all other household members for lice, and wash all bedding, clothing, hair accessories, and stuffed animals in hot water. If items cannot be washed, seal them in a plastic bag for two weeks.


    Editorial Contributors
    avatar for Ed Spicer

    Ed Spicer

    Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management.

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    photo of Katelynn Ward

    Katelynn Ward

    Katelynn Ward is a home warranty writer at Today’s Homeowner. She attended Eastern Kentucky University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degrees and her Master’s Degrees.

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