Pediculosis pubis is a type of lice infestation that mainly affects hair in the genital region. However, it can also spread to the eyebrows and eyelashes.

The symptoms can appear similar to other skin conditions, such as eczema. This can make it challenging for doctors to diagnose.

This article explains what eyebrow lice are, the symptoms a person can expect, and how to get rid of them.

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Eyebrow and eyelash lice — formally known as phthiriasis palpebrarum — is a type of infestation caused by one of the three varieties of louse:

  1. Pediculosis capitis, which usually affects hair growing from the scalp.
  2. Pediculosis corporis, which generally affect body hair, often on the abdomen.
  3. Pediculosis pubis, which typically affects hair in the pubic region but can also affect the eyelashes and eyebrows.

An adult pediculosis pubis or pubic lice is very small — about 1.1–1.8 millimeters long — and has crab-like legs that can easily grasp onto hair. Due to its appearance, people commonly refer to this parasite as crab lice.

The females live for about 3–4 weeks and lay about three eggs daily. These eggs hatch 6–8 days later and cement to the base of the hair.

They typically infest the pubic region. While uncommon, they can affect other coarse hair on the body, including the eyelashes and eyebrows.

The most common symptom of eyebrow and eyelash lice is excessive itching.

Other symptoms may include:

  • redness or swelling around the eyes or eyebrows
  • excessive tearing
  • redness in the white part of the eye — conjunctivitis
  • scratch marks on the skin around the eyebrows and eyelashes

Although people typically associate lice with poor hygiene, having lice does not mean someone is unclean or lives in unsanitary conditions.

In most cases, pubic lice transmit via sexual contact in adults. In some cases, close nonsexual contact with someone with pubic lice or belongings may cause a person to contract the parasite.

The lice can spread to the face if a person touches their genitals and then their face.

In children, pubic lice on the eyelashes or eyebrows may be a sign of sexual abuse.

People may be able to tell they have pubic lice if they find a crab-like louse or eggs on their pubic hair. A person may also find eggs or louse on the eyelashes, eyebrows, or coarse hair.

It is possible to see the parasites with the naked eye, but a magnifying glass may help with detection.

White-colored eggs will be visible at the roots of the hair, often making the roots look white.

However, the hair of the eyebrows and eyelashes easily hides nits and adult lice. A healthcare professional can diagnose eyebrow and eyelash lice more accurately using a slit lamp biomicroscope under high-power magnification.

Upon first glance, the lice appear clear and may be transparent. According to an older 2009 study, this appearance can mimic blepharitis, a common eye condition that causes redness, swelling, and itching. Eyebrow and eyelash lice can also look like eczema.

If only a few live lice and nits are present, removing these with fingernails or a nit comb may be possible.

If a person requires additional treatment, they can carefully apply ophthalmic-grade petrolatum ointment — available on prescription — to the area. People should not use regular petrolatum, such as Vaseline, as it can irritate the eyes.

A person should also avoid using products on the eyelashes or eyebrows unless they clearly state they are safe around the eyes.

Other treatment steps are as follows:

  1. Be sure the skin is dry and cool.
  2. Apply the pediculicide to all areas affected by the louse, except the eye itself, as this can cause irritation and damage.
  3. Wash off the product after 10 minutes.
  4. Wash all bedding in hot water, including:
    • blankets
    • sheets
    • pillowcases
    • hats or head coverings
    • undergarments
  5. Dry items on high heat.
  6. If the items are not washable, a person can seal them in an airtight bag for 2 weeks to kill the parasites.

Eyebrow and eyelash lice are uncommon infestations of pubic lice.

The symptoms of this type of lice can look similar to blepharitis and eczema, which may initially make it challenging to diagnose.

A doctor can prescribe an eye-safe product for treating eyebrow and eyelash lice. Treatment may involve applying medicated ointment to the affected areas.