Guess what? If you live in Canada or the U.S., chances are your child’s lice is a “super lice” and isn’t treatable through conventional methods according to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Medical Entomology which says that the lice they are finding now are pesticide-resistant in 97.1 per cent of cases in Canada and 99.6 per cent of U.S. lice cases.
How to check your child’s head for lice
1. Wet your child’s hair with water and conditioner (add a bit of tea tree oil or Neem Oil to it OR use a bit of cooking oil with a few drops of either in it and apply to damp hair). According to Consumer Reports, wet-combing your child’s hair identifies the infestations in 90 percent of the cases, compared with about 29 percent for visual inspections in dry hair.
2. Then, comb through small sections of the hair with a very fine-tooth nit comb. Examine the hair shaft while combing. After each brush through wipe the comb on a damp rag or paper towel–the darker the colour the better.
3. Know what a nit (lice egg) looks like. Lice eggs are CLEAR and very sticky and are often harder to see on light hair. They are most often found in the hair behind the ears and along the nape of the neck and are usually about 1/2 inch to one inch from the scalp. You are far more likely to find nits than lice. Lice look a lot like the eggs–they are a translucent, grey (but have legs)–and can get a bit larger than either a nit or a flea.
How to treat head lice naturally
- Don’t rub pesticides on your little kids or baby’s head. (It doesn’t make any sense to put a known toxin on your child’s head to treat something that will cause no lasting harm.) Pesticides are no more likely to work than the natural remedies and your child will absorb the pesticides into their skin: their largest organ and very permeable. Pesticides applied to the skin and scalp can pass through the blood-brain barrier and cause subtle, but substantial, harm in your child’s developing organ systems and brain. More and more, lice have become pesticide resistant as well. Instead, look for an herbal system and/or one that uses the natural enzyme Protease.
- Nit comb! (but really I mean nit pick) Those dang things are hard to get out and no plastic comb will ever work. They are tiny and they are adhered with an incredible natural glue. Oh, and they are transparent. So, sit in good light with a very fine toothed metal comb and a glass of Tea Tree Oil water to dip and clean. Using a comb helps, but to really get them all, you need to pick. And by “comb” I really mean running your fingers along the shaft of hair to grab and remove the nit. Stop. Look. Look closer. Pick them out. Every week. (So you get rid of the eggs before they hatch.) ***If you are worried about lice on your own head and don’t have someone to pick through your head and you truly can’t convince anyone to do it for you, then try doing everything else mentioned here (most especially reguar smothering) and run a very good, very fine, nit comb through your hair every day. It may work on your hair which is likely courser than a young child’s. Let me know how it works.**
- Add some Tea Tree Oil and/or Neem Oil to your natural shampoo and conditioner. (My Naturopath friend says that the Tea Tree Oil can mix and become inactive if you use shampoos or conditioners with added perfumes, Parabens or SLS. I say you will be lucky if no other weird reactions happen as these products contain ingredients that are known to cause harm already.) Tea Tree Oil repels the bugs helping keep new infestations away and can kill the bugs as well. Neither Tea Tree Oil nor pesticides nor much of anything will kill the eggs (nits). So, whatever you do, you will need to reapply it about every week (that is how long it take for the eggs to hatch). This way you keep killing the bugs when they appear and before they can start laying eggs (which they do at a rate of about 10/day). Neem has the advantage of being able to keep the lice from reproducing, so try washing your hair or applying neem oil twice a week for a month to help get rid of an outbreak or weekly as a preventative.
- Smothering can help too. I know numerous people who swear by the smother method. Mayonnaise seems to be most peoples’ favorite. I have also read that coconut oil will work. Cover the whole shaft of hair all the way down to the root. Leave it on overnight or for as many hours as possible. It is supposed to help smother the lice and the eggs, but I am skeptical about the egg part. All of these things will also make your hair silky!
- Clean your house and linens. If you are in North America dry everything you can on high heat for at least 10 to 20 minutes. The eggs need to have that perfect body temperature to survive so freezing or heating helps get rid of them. Vacuuming rugs and floors will also help. Boil combs. Leave things in plastic bags for 2 weeks if you can’t do either of the above. In Guatemala, vacuuming and high heat drying is just a fantasy, so be super glad for the North American luxury of your dryer. You don’t need to clean everyday during an outbreak, but do a thorough clean at the beginning and then every week during the outbreak. Heat dry your pillow cases every day during the outbreak and then just once a week until you are lice-free for two solid weeks.
- And remember, lice don’t fly. They crawl. So if you are worried about them, don’t let your kid wear the head decorations, hats, or clothes of her friends. In Guatemala, the doctors said that it is unlikely to catch or get lice unless the other person has a full-out infestation with lots of actual bugs. The eggs are glued on too tight to go anywhere easily.
How to prevent head lice
If you don’t want to get head lice and know you might (because, for instance, you’re child is at a school where there are numerous cases OR she gets them every year at this time), then:
- Put drops of Tea Tree Oil in your shampoo and conditioner and any other hair products. You can even put a few drops in water and rub it straight on your hair.
- Use Neem in your shampoo or as an oil every week.
- Nit pick your child’s hair every week to catch any stray nits before they hatch.
- Encourage your child not to share hairbands, brushes, hats, and other head gear.
- Throw dress up clothes and bedding in the dryer on high for 20 minutes every week or wash and hang in direct sunlight on the line.
- Occasionally smother you and your child’s hair with Mayonnaise or coconut oil.
- Vacuum frequently.
Myths about head lice
1. We have more head lice now because we use less DEET.
NOT TRUE. There is no science to back the claim that we have more head lice now because we use less DEET or other pesticides in the environment. No science to back it up and even experientially it doesn’t make since: Guatemala is riddled with pesticides, like DEET, that have long been banned in North America and lice is everywhere there.
2. Clean hair doesn’t get lice.
NOT TRUE. Some people also think that clean hair doesn’t get lice, but this isn’t the case… you can’t wash out the nits with shampoo or conditioner and the lice don’t live off oil and dirt.
3. My hair can’t get lice.
NOT TRUE. Everyone can get lice and every type of hair can get lice, although I have read from some “experts” that black people’s hair is somewhat less likely to get this annoying pest.
4. Public schools or poor countries or just the poor in general are more at risk.
NOT TRUE. All socio-economic classes get lice. There is as much lice in the expensive daycares and boarding schools in North America as there are in the public and free schools. And, in my experience at least, there is a lot more lice at my North American private school than at my Central American one we attend or at the inner-city public school that I went to when I was young. Lots of people don’t feel comfortable talking about lice, however, and many parents in North America have NO IDEA how to look for lice.
The truth about head lice?
“Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of uncleanliness and are not responsible for the spread of any disease,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the U.S. alone kids get between 6 and 12 million cases a year.
Written by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. First photo by By Pediculosis (Deutsche Pediculosis Gesellschaft e.V.), second by Gilles San Martin. Both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.