Home remedies for lice may include olive oil, coconut oil, and mayonnaise. However, more scientific research is necessary to show whether these remedies are effective and safe.

Prescription treatments, such as shampoo and lotion, are available to treat head lice infestations. Anecdotal claims may also suggest home remedies, including herbal options and essential oils, are equally effective.

However, further research is necessary to prove the effectiveness and safety of these alternative therapies.

It is important for people considering these remedies to speak with a doctor, review the evidence, and weigh up the benefits and risks of at-home treatment.

This article examines the evidence for and effectiveness of six home remedies for lice, when to use medical treatments, and how to prevent lice.

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Lice are tiny insects that feed on human blood. Adult lice measure 2–3 millimeters in length and lay their eggs on hair, close to the skin.

They can infest eyelashes and eyebrows, though they most commonly live in the hair on the head.

As lice lay eggs that hatch quickly, an infestation can build up rapidly. Killing lice requires the elimination of both the insects and their eggs. If someone uses a treatment that does not kill the eggs, they will need to repeat it once the eggs hatch.

Some people believe home remedies can kill lice, eggs, or both. Below, learn about some of these remedies and the current evidence to support them.

1. Anise oil

Anise oil may coat and suffocate lice. A 2018 study of natural remedies for lice in children suggests that anise oil was one of the most effective natural remedies.

Although other natural remedies were frequently effective, anise oil was one of just two that permanently eliminated lice. People who used other herbal remedies typically reported reinfestations within a couple of months.

However, further research is necessary to prove the safety and effectiveness of anise oil to treat head lice.

2. Olive oil

Olive oil offers similar benefits to anise oil, potentially suffocating lice and preventing them from returning. Like anise oil, it ranked among the most effective remedies in the same 2018 study.

A 2022 study compared the effect of an ozonated olive oil lotion to a permethrin shampoo when treating head lice. After one week, the lotion successfully treated head lice, but people who used the shampoo required further treatment.

However, like anise oil, further research is necessary to demonstrate whether olive oil can be a safe and effective treatment.

Learn more benefits of olive oil for hair.

3. Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a popular treatment for dry skin and hair.

A small 2020 study examined the effects of a shampoo containing 1% coconut oil on 31 people with lice. Researchers reapplied the treatment after eight days.

At day 16, 38.7% of participants had no lice. However, some participants had lice at all stages of development. The researchers suggested the shampoo’s success was likely due to other ingredients, such as detergents.

More research is necessary to demonstrate whether coconut oil can be part of an effective treatment for lice.

4. Tea tree oil

Tea tree oil is a popular home remedy for many skin conditions because of its antimicrobial properties.

A 2018 randomized control trial compared a treatment containing lemon tea tree oil and eucalyptus oil with a treatment containing piperonyl butoxide and pyrethrins.

Researchers found that the tea tree oil treatment was more than twice as effective at treating lice than the other treatment option. However, further research is necessary.

Products containing tea tree oil may also cause irritation in some people, so people should always patch test before applying it to their entire head.

5. Petroleum jelly

According to a 2020 systematic review, petroleum oil and other topical occlusive agents may be effective against head lice by covering and blocking their excretory system.

However, the review authors highlight that further research is necessary to confirm the safety and optimal dosage of this treatment option.

Petroleum jelly can be greasy and messy, and removing it may require repeated washings. However, it may be an effective option for people with treatment-resistant lice or an allergy to lice shampoos.

6. Mayonnaise

The United States version of the television series “The Office” may have popularized the use of mayonnaise to treat lice.

Proponents of this method claim that mayonnaise smothers lice and makes it easier for a person to comb them from the hair. Some people also say that mayonnaise can ease the itching and scalp irritation that lice cause.

There is no evidence that mayonnaise can kill or treat lice. While this home remedy is probably harmless, it may be messy and inconvenient.

Other remedies

Herbalists and supporters of natural remedies argue that a wide range of products, including garlic, thyme oil, and sesame oil, can treat head lice. However, there is little, if any, scientific evidence to support their effectiveness.

Research suggests that garlic oil has few benefits as a treatment for a lice infestation. While thyme and sesame oils may cause some improvements initially, people who used them often saw the infestation resurge.

Research into the effectiveness of home remedies for lice is ongoing. Emerging data suggests that some home remedies, such as petroleum oil and tea tree oil, may be effective.

However, most existing studies point to the importance of further research.

A major concern about home remedies is that they may not permanently eliminate lice. A 2018 review of numerous natural remedies found that, in most cases, lice infestations returned within 2–8 weeks of treatment.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people with active lice infestations use proper medical treatments. Lice can reproduce quickly, and infestations can be itchy and painful.

They highlight that some people may wish to combine medical treatments with supplemental measures. This may include:

  • washing the affected person’s clothing and bedding
  • hoovering floors to remove shed hair
  • sealing things in a plastic bag for 2 weeks if they cannot wash them

If a lice infestation is mild, a person may wish to try a home remedy first. However, if a rash or reaction develops or the lice reappear, it is best to try an OTC lice shampoo instead. If this is ineffective, a doctor can prescribe a more powerful medication.

People can take steps to prevent the spread of lice and reduce the risk of re-infestation, including:

  • Using machines to wash and dry bedding, clothing, and other fabrics that a person with lice has used in the 2 days before treatment. Washing at a temperature above 128.3 °F will generally kill the insects. Alternatively, try sealing the fabrics in plastic bags for 2 weeks.
  • Soaking combs, brushes, and other hair care items in hot water for 5–10 minutes.
  • Vacuuming the furniture, floor, and other surfaces that may contain lice or their eggs. Lice die quickly when they are not on a person, so there is no need to pay for expensive deep cleaning services.
  • Avoiding sharing brushes or combs.
  • Discouraging children from playing with one another’s hair, sharing pillowcases, or rubbing their heads together, especially if there has been a recent lice outbreak at their school.

It is important to refrain from using fumigant sprays, which are not necessary to eliminate lice and can be dangerous.

Below are some frequently asked questions about home remedies for lice.

How can someone treat their own lice?

The CDC recommends using an OTC or prescription medication to treat lice. People may need to reapply the treatment depending on which type they choose but they should follow their doctor’s instructions. Options include:

  • permethrin lotion
  • ivermectin lotion
  • benzyl alcohol lotion

Can vinegar kill lice?

According to a 2022 article, vinegar may have some use in lice removal. However, it may also pose a risk of skin damage.

Further research is necessary to determine whether vinegar is a safe treatment option for head lice.

Lice are highly contagious, and anyone can get them. Having lice does not mean that a person has bad hygiene or is otherwise unhealthy.

Lice are not typically dangerous, but an infestation can be uncomfortable, and because they are so contagious, prompt treatment is essential.

Further research is necessary to prove the safety and efficacy of home treatments. However, a healthcare professional can recommend OTC or prescription options.