Head lice are relatively common, especially among school-aged children. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that as many as 12 million children between the ages of 3 and 11 get head lice every year.
Although lice don't cause other diseases, having them isn't a fun experience. Lice thrive on blood and will bite the scalp to get it, often causing itchiness and allergic reactions.
One method of treating lice is to use an over-the-counter shampoo. The problem is that many types of lice have become resistant to those shampoos. Luckily, many home remedies help to kill lice.
Whether you or your child are affected, here's how to get rid of lice.
Steps to Take
Getting rid of lice is a multi-step process, no matter what method you choose to use to kill the little bugs. It's worth noting that not every type of natural lice treatment is effective on all kinds of lice, so you might need to try multiple options before you find one that works.
When getting rid of head lice, here's a general step-by-step guide to follow:
1. Choose a treatment option and apply to affected area
Pick your (lice-killing) poison. The method you choose can be based on effectiveness, on what you have lying around the house, or on your personal preference.
Since clothing can be stained by some types of home remedies for lice, it's often a good idea to have the person you're treating strip down or wear worn-out clothing before you begin. You'll also want to apply the remedy in the bathroom or another room with access to running water so that you can rinse it off when finished.
2. Comb out the lice with a nit comb
Even if you choose the best way to get rid of lice and every living louse is washed away by the treatment you apply, new lice can emerge if you leave any nits, or eggs, behind. Combing the scalp and hair after applying a natural lice treatment will get rid of those nits and reduce the chance of a recurrence.
Combing out nits can be a challenge. Those eggs are attached to each shaft of hair, and they won't fall away easily. If you don't have a comb specially designed for nit-removal, your best option is to use a comb with teeth that are very fine and very close together.
You might need to comb through the hair several times before you get rid of all the eggs. If you're having trouble seeing the nits, a magnifying glass and a bright light can help.
3. Check for lice every eight hours
Closely inspect the person's hair and scalp eight hours after applying the remedy and removing the nits. Ideally, you won't see any sign of lice after the first eight hours. But if treatment isn't effective, the little pests will still be in the hair.
If the lice remain after the first treatment, you might consider trying a different treatment or speaking with your doctor. It's especially important to talk to a physician if you're using an over-the-counter shampoo to treat the lice, as you might be dealing with a resistant variety.
List of Remedies
Here's how to get rid of lice, from using products you probably have at home to trying out over-the-counter shampoos.
Tea tree oil
You can find shampoos that contain tea tree oil, but your best bet when getting rid of head lice is to use a diluted version of the oil. You can purchase a spray made with tea tree oil, or buy a bottle of the oil and make your own dilute spray. To do that, add two or three drops of the oil to two cups of water in a spray bottle.
You can also try adding two drops of the oil to shampoo when washing your hair.
Nitpicking and combing
Wondering how to kill lice the easy way? In some cases, all you need to do is remove the nits, and you'll eliminate the lice problem. If you only notice nits in the person's hair, not live lice, try combing through the hair several times to remove the nits.
Often, after daily combing sessions for about three weeks, you'll have gotten rid of the lice, no other treatment needed.
Think of the LouseBuster (now known as AirAlle) as a fancy hair dryer that destroys lice and nits. The device uses hot air to dry out the lice, ultimately killing them. It's FDA-approved for treating lice and their eggs.
You can't just go out and buy an AirAlle device, but you can schedule an appointment at a location that offers the service.
How do you get rid of lice using a product you probably already have in your kitchen? One option is to use mayonnaise, particularly full-fat mayo.
When spread over a person's scalp and hair, the oil in the mayonnaise will help to suffocate and smother adult lice and nymphs. To see how effective mayo is for head lice removal, apply a thick layer of it to the scalp and hair. Leave it on for several hours, then rinse. To minimize the “ick” factor, you can put a shower cap on over top of your hair.
Mayo won't kill lice eggs, so you will still need to comb through thoroughly after you've rinsed it away.
Pyrethrum is a type of pyrethrin, a pesticide that is derived from chrysanthemums. It is the main ingredient in many over-the-counter lice shampoos. These shampoos aren't always the best way to get rid of lice because some varieties have evolved to resist the pesticide.
Still, if you want to know how to get rid of lice fast, using a product with pyrethrum might be your answer. If the shampoo kills the bugs, it will kill them right away. Use as directed on the product's box, comb out the nits, and check for live lice after eight hours.
You might not want to rinse your mouth out with Listerine because of its sharp taste, but you might not mind using it as a natural lice treatment. Listerine contains a bunch of ingredients that can effectively kill lice, from alcohol to herb oils.
To use it to kill lice, wash the hair with Listerine, being careful not to rinse. Make sure you wet the scalp with the mouthwash, too. Let the Listerine sit on the hair for a few hours, then rinse with water. Use a nit comb to remove any eggs.
Want to know how to get rid of lice naturally without using mayonnaise? If your family doesn't eat mayo, try using olive oil instead. It works to kill lice the same way mayo does — by suffocating them. Coat the scalp and hair with the oil, leave on for several hours or overnight, then rinse away.
You'll want to comb out the nits the next day and check for any live lice several hours after washing out the oil.
Not into olive oil either? Coconut oil can also smother lice. Coat the scalp and hair with it, let it sit, rinse, then comb. Check the hair and scalp after several hours to see if any pesky lice remain.
One question lots of parents have is, how to get rid of lice eggs at home? Most products only kill the adults or nymphs. Spinosad, approved by the FDA in 2011, is one product that kills both adults and eggs.
Although you apply the product at home, it's only available with a prescription. It's considerably more effective than permethrin shampoos, leaving more than 86 percent of people lice-free two weeks after treatment. Since it kills the eggs too, you don't have to nit comb after treatment.
Admittedly, lemon juice isn't the best way to get rid of adult lice. But, it's very effective at loosening nits from the hair shaft. To use it, soak the hair and scalp with lemon juice, leaving the juice on the hair for about 10 minutes. Rinse, then comb through the hair to remove any nits. You might need to repeat treatment daily for a week or two before all the eggs are gone.
Odds are, you have a jar of petroleum jelly or Vaseline tucked away in a medicine cabinet somewhere. Vaseline isn't only good for protecting cuts and softening calluses on your feet. It can also work to kill lice.
Like oil and mayo, the thick jelly suffocates the bugs. You'll need to leave it on for several hours or overnight since lice can hold their breath for a long time.
Although petroleum jelly is inexpensive and easy to get, there's one big drawback to using it to get rid of lice. It can be pretty difficult to rinse away. But if you don't have any other type of oil, it can be your best bet.
What kills lice eggs? Ivermectin. Or, more accurately, it keeps nymphs from surviving right after they've hatched. Like Spinosad, it's a prescription cream that you apply to the scalp when the hair is dry. The treatment works quickly and doesn't require any nit-combing afterward.
If you still see signs of lice eight hours after using Ivermectin, don't retreat. Instead, let your doctor know so that he or she can recommend a different remedy.
Hair styling gel
Thick hair styling gel, particularly those gels that come in neon colors like hot pink and green, can get rid of lice by suffocating them. But they offer one significant advantage over kitchen oils and Vaseline: they are actually meant to be used on the hair and are easier to wash away at the end.
To try to get rid of lice in one day using hair gel, coat the hair with the gel. Let dry, then wrap in a towel or shower cap and leave on for at least eight hours. Rinse the gel away, then comb to remove nits.
Benzyl alcohol lotion 5%
Benzyl alcohol is another prescription treatment that kills lice by suffocating them. It's a two-step treatment, meaning it's not as fast as other options. You apply the lotion then rinse off after 10 minutes. Comb the hair to remove nits and any dead adult lice. After a week, repeat the treatment, then check to see if live bugs are remaining.
Don't worry! You don't actually have to put plastic wrap on or anywhere near your child's head to perform the shrink wrap method. Instead, you “shrink wrap” the hair by coating it with a lotion or gentle facial cleanser.
You let the product dry on the hair for a few minutes, then comb it out and use a hair dryer to dry the rest of the hair. Repeat three times, spacing each treatment one week apart.
Skeptical about the method? A study conducted to try it out found that 96 percent of people were cured of lice by the end.
Does vinegar kill lice? The answer is no because its acidity is too mild to actually dissolve the exoskeleton of a louse. So how to get rid of lice with vinegar? Like lemon juice, the vinegar helps get rid of lice by loosening the nits from the hair, making them easy to comb away.
To use, wet the scalp and hair with straight vinegar or with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water if you can't stand the odor. Let it sit on the hair for 10 minutes, then rinse. Comb through the hair to remove the nits. Use another treatment to kill the adult lice.
Combing out nits is a tough business. After running a comb through your child's hair over and over and still coming back to find more lice eggs, you might be ready to pick up the shaver and give your kid a buzz cut.
Put down the trimmer and call a nit-picking service instead. For a fee, someone will come and comb the nits out of your child's hair. There's even a professional organization, the National Association of Lice Treatment Professionals, to help you find a pro nit-picker you can trust to do a good job.
When it comes to lice, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Lice travel from head to head by close contact and don't particularly care if someone's scalp is dirty or clean.
To reduce the likelihood of another lice outbreak, remind your kids not to share combs, brushes, hats or any other hair accessories with their friends. Little kids like to snuggle up close to each other but remind yours not to get too close to anyone else’s hair
Relax (Don’t panic!)
If you kids do come home from school with a note from the nurse about lice, don't panic. Lice are a pain, but they aren't that big of a deal. You'll get through this and will get rid of the lice. Keep your kids home from school for a few days if they don't have lice and get them treatment if they do.
While treating any family members who have lice, it can also help to treat others in the household, just in case. You'll want to treat siblings who share a room or bed, even if only one has visible signs of lice.
Treating your home is an important part of treating lice and preventing a future outbreak. Either deep clean or replace any hairbrushes and combs in the house and wash any hats with hot water. You might just want to get rid of barrettes, hair bands, and hair elastics since those are difficult to clean.
Wash any pillowcases and sheets that people with lice slept on during the past few days in hot water. If you can, use bleach or a color-safe bleach to get them clean. Dry them on the hottest setting on your dryer to dry out and kill any lingering lice or nits.
You'll also want to vacuum the floors of your home and the upholstery to suck up any shedded hairs.
Apply treatment twice
To make sure the lice are gone, it can be helpful to use some treatments twice. Oil-based treatments and other home remedies are worth repeating, just to be on the safe side. If you used an over-the-counter shampoo or prescription, only use as directed and talk to your doctor before reapplying.
While our home remedies have all proven effective, they may not all work in your situation. That is why you have to stay on top of the situation. Even after you have treated your child and no longer see bugs, you should do regular head checks to make sure they do not return.
Unfortunately, it is often difficult to stop a lice problem because of exposure. If you do everything right and your home and child are lice-free but your child returns to school and is exposed once again to the person who gave him or her lice, then the chances are pretty good your child will get them again.
So, to combat this issue, and as a last word of advice, make sure you educate your child about what not to do so he or she can avoid picking up these little bugs again. This includes things like not sharing combs or hats and not putting his or her head against someone else's head.
Sometimes you can do everything right and problem persists. Just stick with it and keep trying our remedies and following our instructions. Eventually, you will put an end to the problem and be lice free and happy once again.