Wet-combing

Combing wet hair with a fine-toothed nit comb may remove lice and some nits. Research is inconclusive on the effectiveness of this method.

As well as the hair being wet, something should be used to lubricate the hair, such as a hair conditioner.

Comb the entire head from the scalp to the end of the hair at least twice during a session. The process should be repeated every 3 to 4 days for at least 2 weeks after no more lice are found.

Click here to purchase a nit comb online. This link will take you to an external page.

Essential oils

Small clinical studies have suggested that some natural plant oils may have a toxic effect on lice and eggs. These products include:

  • tea tree oil
  • anise oil
  • ylang-ylang oil
  • nerolidol, a chemical compound found in many plant oils
  • eucalyptus oil
  • lavender oil

In one study, a spray containing a combination of coconut and anise was found to be significantly more effective at clearing head lice than a permethrin lotion.

One benefit of coconut oil and anise is that the effects are physical rather than neurological, so the lice are highly unlikely to develop a resistance. The treatment dries out the waxy outer shell of the lice, causing fatal dehydration.

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not confirmed the safety and effectiveness of any essential oils for head lice treatment.

Should my child stay off school?

A child should not stay home because of lice. Some schools have had "no-nit" policies under which a child was not allowed to return to school until all nits were removed. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Association of School Nurses discourage no-nit policies.

However, children should keep their hat on a separate hook from other children at school, and they should not share combs, brushes, or headgear, unless it is protective head gear, such as a cycle helmet, where they would otherwise have to go without.

What about my child's clothes?

Hats, bedding, and so on do not need to be thrown away if there is an infestation of head lice. Washing items that were used within the 2 days before the infestation was found should be enough. Use hot water and dry on a high heat. Items that cannot be washed can be sealed in a plastic bag for 2 weeks or dry cleaned.

What if they don't go away?

Home treatment usually gets rid of head lice. If your child or someone else in your family still has head lice after a few weeks, it means that the treatments have not worked, and an appointment should be made to see a dermatologist.

The following measures can help reduce the risk of finding head lice in the home:

    • teaching children to avoid touching their head against those of other children during play
    • advising children not to share clothes, such as hats and scarves, as well as items including towels, hairbrushes, and headphones
    • disinfecting any combs or brushes that have been used by a person who has had head lice
    • if a person with head lice has used a bed, couch, pillow, carpet, or stuffed animal, avoiding them
    • thoroughly cleaning items that have had contact with the head of a person with a head lice infestation with hot water, such as bed linens and dry clothing
    • vacuuming any floor space or furniture previously occupied by a person with head lice, as the lice will die if they cannot feed
    • checking each family member for head lice a week after treatment

    Avoid bug sprays and pesticides as these can be toxic if inhaled.

    Causes

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    Head lice are tiny grey or brown insects. They are about the size of a sesame seed.

    A head lice infestation results from the direct transfer of lice from the hair of one person to the hair of another through head-to-head contact.

    To survive, an adult head louse must feed on blood. They can live for approximately 30 days on a person's head. If they fall off, they will die within 1 to 2 days.

    Head lice cannot fly or jump, but sometimes they can be transmitted on personal items, so it is sensible to avoid sharing brushes, combs, headbands, headphones, towels, clothing, or hats with anyone who has an active infestation.

    An infestation does not result from dirty hair or poor hygiene, and it can occur in hair of any length or condition. Head lice cannot be passed on to or caught from animals.

    Head lice may be able to survive under water for several hours, and chlorine levels in a swimming pool do not kill them. However, they are unlikely to be spread through pool water. They tend to hold tightly to hair when submerged in water.