Head Lice – Natural Remedies

Many people panic when they realize that they or their child has a headful of lice, but this isn’t associated with poor hygiene. The panic is understandable; nobody wants a 3mm sized menace feeding on your blood. But the good news is that there are plenty of natural therapies and remedies to cure head lice infestation.

What are Head Lice?

Lice are small, wingless parasites that feed on tiny amounts of blood for survival. Since they can’t fly or walk around, they can only live off a host for 24 to 48 hours. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), six to twelve million children get lice each year in the US, primarily through close contact with an infected child who either has lice or their eggs, called nits. But they can also be transmitted through shared belongings like hats, combs, or bedding. The good news is that head lice are not dangerous and don’t carry diseases.

Bad Side of Insecticidal Lice Shampoos

Even though the FDA has approved these shampoos, you should be wary of the long-term repercussions of using such harsh shampoo, especially on young children. Research has linked pyrethrins and pyrethroids to higher estrogen levels, which may pose a cancer risk and hyperactivity and other behavioral disorders in children. So, here are some healthy, natural ways to get yourself or your child rid of lice:

1. The Comb

Wet-combing with a very fine-toothed comb is the oldest way of removing lice from hair. The British Medical Journal even claims that this method has such benefits as making the lice more visible, and differentiating them from dandruff. This method includes spraying hair with conditioner and then using a very fine-toothed comb to remove individual lice. [1]

2. Essential Oils

  • Olive or Almond Oil – These oils successfully suffocate lice and, as a bonus, nourish your hair. You should apply oil onto the hair and comb it with a fine-toothed comb. Though combing can be a tedious job, it’s important to do it thoroughly for best results.
  • Tea Tree Oil – According to one research, tea tree oil’s effectiveness in removing lice is very promising. It contains two constituents which have been proven to kill lice and nits. [2]
  • Neem Oil – Initial studies have shown that neem oil effectively gets rid of lice and nits. It has compounds that disrupt these pests’ life cycles, making it natural insect repellent (for gardens and human heads). [3]
  • Lavender Oil – This oil is another effective way to treat head lice and also a variety of insects and fungi, but it doesn’t kill nits.

3. Petroleum Jelly

Petroleum jelly kills lice by suffocating the insects and their eggs. However, it is a very messy treatment, and removing it can require repeated washings. But, for people with allergies to lice shampoos, it can be an effective option. [4]

Prevention

You can take steps to prevent the spread of lice and reduce reinfestation by:

  • Washing and drying all bedding, clothing, and other fabrics used two days before treatment.
  • Soaking brushes, combs, and other hair care items in hot water or in the oils mentioned above.
  • Vacuuming the floor, furniture, and other surfaces regularly
  • Avoiding sharing combs or brushes, and hats or any clothing that comes near the hair such as jackets.

Take Away

Lice are contagious and anyone can get them, but this isn’t an indicator of poor hygiene. Though lice are not dangerous, they are very  uncomfortable and prompt treatment is essential to prevent damage to the scalp through excessive itching.

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References:

  • [1] Jan De Maeseneer, Ineke Blokland, Sara Willems, Robert Vander Stichele, Filip Meersschaut. Wet combing versus traditional scalp inspection to detect head lice in schoolchildren: observational study. BMJ 2000; 321 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.321.7270.1187 (Published 11 November 2000).
  • [2] Emanuela Di Campli, Soraya Di Bartolomeo, Patricia Delli Pizzi, Mara Di Giulio, Rossella Grande, Antonia Nostro, and Luigina Cellini. Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitol Res. 2012 Nov; 111(5): 1985–1992. Published online 2012 Jul 31. doi: 10.1007/s00436-012-3045-0.
  • [3] Fathy Abdel-Ghaffar, Saleh Al-Quraishy, Khaled A S Al-Rasheid, Heinz Mehlhorn. 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. Parasitol Res. 2012 Jan;110(1):277-80. doi: 10.1007/s00436-011-2484-3. Epub 2011 Jun 11.
  • [4] Johannes C van der Wouden, Tim Klootwijk, Laurence Le Cleach, Giao Do, Robert Vander Stichele, Arie Knuistingh Neven, and Just AH Eekhof. Interventions for treating head lice. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018 May; 2018(5): CD009321. Published online 2018 May 22. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD009321.pub2.

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