If you or your child have ever had head lice, then you already know what a pain it can be. Sometimes you wash everything and spend hours combing or picking through your kids hair only to see them scratching it again within a week. The thing is that getting rid of lice once and for all can seem like a full time job for awhile, but it is possible, and you can do it.
Make Sure That Lice Are Present
Just because your child or you have been exposed to lice does not mean that either of you automatically have lice. Before treating the hair, it is vital to make sure that lice are present. One way is to see if lice or nits (eggs) are present is to part the hair and look. Lice can be less than a centimeter up to an inch and a half long. They may appear reddish, brown, or black. Nits are eggs that a female louse will lay. These are typically white or black in color, and can be found up to a few inches away from the scalp. Nits are attached to the hair. To tell if something is a nit or possibly something else, such as dandruff, touch it or blow on it to see if it moves. Nits will not move easily, and must be removed by pulling the nit all the way down the piece of hair. Purchasing a nit comb and combing through the hair can be even more effective at determining if lice or nits are in the hair. I find that the metal nit combs typically work better.
- If using oil, it can be hard to wash out. Dawn dish soap works well, but it may still take a few washes to get all of the oil out of the hair.
- Wearing a shower cap will keep lice from crawling off of your head onto couches or pillows.
After concluding that there are lice in the hair, the hair needs to be treated to kill any lice. There are many different options for this step. Chemical shampoos are available over the counter and by prescription. Simply read and follow the directions as closely as possible. Treatments that contain chemicals can irritate and dry out the scalp. If left on the hair longer than instructed this is more likely to happen. Also, keep in mind over the counter products are not guaranteed to work. Some lice have become resistant to over the counter products, so they do not die when you use them. There are also shampoos available that do not contain chemicals. Home remedies such as oil (baby, vegetable, olive, etc.) and conditioner work by suffocating the lice. For these, I recommend leaving them on the hair as long as possible. Cover the hair in conditioner after dinner, then putting a shower cap on until the next afternoon should be ample time to suffocate the lice.
After the hair has been treated, comb through the hair again. This can remove any dead lice from the hair, and make you aware of any lice that are still alive in the hair. Lice shampoos often include a plastic comb. While these will remove some of the lice, they do not work as well as the metal combs. I use the metal lice comb to the right. I also cheat a little throughout the school year when time is short and run the nit comb through my daughter's hair to check for lice. There are also nit combs available that will kill any lice on contact, if there are still live lice in the hair.
Some lice are building up a resistance to the pesticides used in shampoos, and these may not work as well as they once did. If there are still live lice in the hair, it needs to be treated again. Using a chemical on the hair right after another one can be cause a bad reaction, and is not recommended. This can severely damage your hair. Because of this, home remedies that do not contain chemicals should be used if a second treatment is needed directly after the first treatment.
After you have concluded that there are no more live lice in the hair, do not start picking out all the nits just yet. Even though the hair has been treated, if there are lice on furniture or bedding, you will be right back where you started. Some shampoos claim that they will prevent lice for seven days or so, but how do you know that will work if lice are immune to pesticides to kill them?
Pull your hair back off of your neck, tell everyone to sit in the kitchen for a minute, and vacuum the entire living room. This includes furniture, the floor, and anything cloth. Lice sprays do not always work, and I consider them a waste of money. Get some trash bags and put any pillows or stuffed animals in them, tie them tightly so nothing can crawl out, and toss the trash bags by the washer. Try to avoid putting things up against your person or clothing while putting it in the trash bag. Now the family can sit in the living room. Complete this process with all the rooms in the house. Just put the laundry in trash bags for now(you'll get there eventually) and vacuum EVERYTHING. (Do not forget the car.)
Boil any hair brushes, combs, and hairties in water for approximately twenty minutes.
After you are done with the house, start on some laundry. Wash everything in the hottest water possible, and dry it on the highest heat setting possible. I've heard that twenty minutes in the dryer will work, but I always do it longer just to make sure. Everything that can not be washed and/or dried should be left in trash bags for 2-4 weeks.
It's easy to multi task with the laundry and picking out the nits. Getting up every hour makes it a little easier on your back, and if you are doing this with children that are not accustomed to having their hair done, they will enjoy running around for a few minutes while you do the laundry.
Picking Out Nits
Picking out the nits is also a tedious process. Begin by combing through the hair with a nit comb at different angles to remove as many eggs as possible. After you have removed as many nits as possible with a nit comb, it is time to go through the hair manually. Some people find it helpful to divide the hair into sections when they do this so that the hair that has already been gone through does not get mixed up with the hair that has not been gone through. A bright light can also help you see any nits that are on the hair.
I do this strand by strand, taking one strand of hair between my finger and thumb and running my fingers all the way down the hair while looking at the hair. If you feel a bump on the hair, there is a nit there.
After you are done, don't forget to thoroughly vacuum the area where you were doing this. Also, don't forget to boil the nit comb you were using in between uses.
After this, you are not done just yet. If you miss one egg, and it hatches, you could have to start all over. That is why it is important to continue to look through the hair. A second treatment is often recommended 5-7 days after the first one in case any eggs have hatched.
Failing to re check the hair is the main reason that people wind up with lice for extended periods of time, so try to do this daily if at all possible.
Once you are positive that one no longer has lice, follow the easy steps in this article to help prevent head lice.
Lice Does Not Mean You're Dirty
There is a misconception about head lice that it means you're dirty. Head lice does not mean you are unclean, and can be found in the hair of the cleanest people you come across as well. It is nothing to be embarrassed about, and it's okay to tell people about it. My daughter has gotten lice form parents sending their children to my house that knew they had lice, and did not want to say anything. I would have preferred it if they would have said something. I have told people, and they actually appreciate the honesty because then their child is not catching it.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: What can be used to get rid of lice if we don't have shower cap?
Answer: A plastic grocery bag. Just put it I over the hair and tie the handles in the back at the nape of the neck to tie it tight.
kidscrafts from Ottawa, Canada on December 17, 2012:
Great article! Just reading the title I feel itchy!
I use to be a teacher and every year ...those nasty pesky little things came back. There was one parent in the school who went around to check every single head. It was my nightmare to get some myself!
I realized that I never really saw how it looks like until I saw your picture at the top! What a great picture!
Someone told me that you can use a few drops of tea tree oil in the shampoo to get rid of them. I never tried!
Voted up, interesting and useful!
Redberry Sky on July 17, 2012:
I used to work in an office with social workers who worked with children, and every couple of months *everyone* would get these little critters and have a terrible time getting rid of them! Brilliant advice, angel :)
Farhat from Delhi on July 16, 2012:
mighty tips, i'm sure it is helpful in fighting against this unwanted occupant in our homes. ... thankyou for sharing!!
Nell Rose from England on July 16, 2012:
Hi Angel, really important advice, great stuff! my friend actually caught headlice a few years ago, and it was such a hassle trying to get rid of it for her, so this is really helpful, cheers nell