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The Truth About Head Lice

Updated on September 1, 2011
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Sunshine is a wife, mother of four, a relationship expert, a journalist, a photographer, a public speaker, and author.

Head Lice
Head Lice

Head lice (Pediculus capitis) are highly contagious parasitic bugs that thrive on the scalp and neck hair of humans. Having lice doesn't mean a person lacks hygiene, as they are passed from head to head, or from sharing combs, hats, and other articles of clothing, not from lack of cleanliness. Also, they can survive on bedding or furniture for a short time, though they cannot survive for more than two days at room temperature without a host. They feed on human blood while living on the scalp.

Often referred to as cooties, femalelice start laying eggs, also called nits, at just 7-8 days of age. The term lousy refers to a person with an infestation. Each louse can lay 7 nits per day and it takes only 7 days to for them to hatch. The nits are attached to the shaft of the hair, usually at the nape of the neck or above the ears, with very strong non water-soluble glue. Nits are very small, and look like dandruff, so they're easily overlooked. The difference is, dandruff will flake off, and nits are attached, and hard to remove. Nits can be sand color, dark brown, or white, and about the size of a grain of salt. Nits can be removed by sliding your fingernails down the shaft of hair, or with a nit comb.

Once hatched, the bug is called a nymph. For 7-8 days, the nymph feeds and grows into an adult louse. The itching is usually caused by adult lice moving on the head, but it may be weeks before it starts. Infection from scratching the scalp is common. One louse lives and feeds on the scalp for about 30 days. On average, there are about 12 live adult lice on an infested person's head, but there may be hundreds of viable, hatched, and dead eggs. Lice frequently fall from the hair they live in, and wait for another host to come along. They usually don't affect babies because they don't like their soft, thin hair. Caucasian people have a higher rate of infestation.

Infestations may take weeks to recognize, and by then, most people are on the third generation of adult lice, and have spread it to many people they've com in contact with. By the time you realize your child has head lice, their hair can be covered in nits. Your child will be excluded from daycare if he or she has nits or bugs in their hair. He or she may have contracted lice from a peer at school whose parents didn't take the steps to kill the lice. If you send your child to school with a single nit, untreated, or anything of the sort, you are risking getting and spreading head lice again.


To Treat head lice:

  • Hair: It's a long process to rid your family, house, and cars of head lice. The first step is to treat each person's hair and notify everyone that your child has come in contact with. To treat hair, you can purchase a lice killing shampoo at most stores. Studies are showing that the bugs are developing immunity to over-the-counter chemical lice shampoos. This writer has found that Desert Essence's Therapeutic Treatment Shampoo works wonders on head lice. Its mixture of tea tree oil, blue cypress, and eucalyptus rids your head of lice without the harmful side effects from chemical treatments. Dessert Essence shampoo and conditioner can be found at Wild Oats, or other health food stores, or at

  • Nits: After treating the hair, it's time to nit pick. You can purchase nit combs, but most lice killing shampoos come with them. It's important to go over the hair thoroughly, because it only takes one surviving female to start the whole infestation over again. Your best bet is to treat every 4-6 days for 28 days to be sure that everything is gone. It is not necessary to purchase an electric nit comb.

  • Home:

    1. DRYER: All the while, you need to be working on your house. Put the kids in the bathtub or shower and have them take their time and help them get the shampoo out of their hair. Go room by room and sort and bag any clean clothes, stuffed animals, and any pillows or blankest that are clean into bags marked DRYER. These can be run through the dryer for 20 minutes at a time to kill any lice or nits that may have fallen on them. Run large pillows or blankets for 30 minutes to insure that the heat gets distributed evenly. The heat from the dryer has to be able to distribute evenly, so it's best to keep loads small, and run one comforter at a time.
    2. WASHER: Bag any dirty clothes, and stuffed animals that need to be washed in one bag marked WASH. Wash and dry the rest as you normally would. Make sure to get all the wet clothes completely dry.
    3. SEAL: Next, bag all the toys, pillows, stuffed animals, and toys that have clothes or hair. Make sure the bags are airtight. With a permanent marker, write 2 WEEKS on the bags along with the date. Items that can't go through the washer or dryer, but have clothing and hair need to be sealed in plastic bags for at least two weeks to kill any lice that may hatch on them.
    4. FURNATURE: After the entire house is clean of clothes, toys with clothes or hair, and stuffed animals, vacuum all furniture. Remove cushions and vacuum under them. Vacuum the entire floor. Be very thorough. Next, spray lice killing spray on all furniture and carpets. They sell the spray at all stores that sell the shampoo. There are also some home remedies that you can try.

  • Cars: Repeat all above steps to any vehicles the infested person has been in. Most people forget about their cars, which makes reinfestation so easy.

Each child's bedroom, as well as the parents, needs to be decontaminated before they are allowed to go back in. Wash all bedding. Vacuum all mattresses. Bag all clothes and toys as described above. Make sure to hit under beds, too. All bedding should go through the dryer every day for the next couple weeks.

Check your family's heads daily for at least 28 days, treating every 4-6 days. Always nit pick after treatment. This is important even if it doesn't appear your child has lice or nits anymore. Place all combs and brushes into water that has been brought to a boil.

It's always better to go above and beyond to insure you don't have to deal with lice over and over again.

Don't forget to treat your cars. Many people fail to do this. Your child has sat in that vehicle with bugs. Clean, vacuum, and spray your vehicle daily for the entire treatment period.

Nits on the scalp
Nits on the scalp

Remember, if you don't clean properly, your child will get lice again. It's embarrassing to them and the costs you can be astronomical. Daycares and school cannot legally have the child in care or at school if there are any nits or bugs, so you'll have to take time off from work. The cost to continue shampooing and cleaning everything adds up quickly.

Below are a few home remedies that work well. Remember, chemical shampoo and lice killers can be toxic, and should never be used on a child under two years of age.

  • Mix equal parts of Vaseline, olive oil, and mayonnaise. Put in the hair, cover with a shower cap, and leave in overnight.
  • Wash hair with vinegar, then apply coconut oil and rinse out. Do this for four days, stop for four days, then repeat cycle three more times.
  • Add twenty drops of tea tree oil to your shampoo and conditioner as a preventative measure. Lice hate the smell of tea tree oil, and will not be attracted to hair. Desert Essence Therapeutic Treatment Shampoo and conditioner with eco-harvest tea tree oil, blue cypress, and eucalyptus can be purchased at Wild Oats and other health food stores, and already contains lice preventing oils.
  • Mix butter and lemon juice to form a cream, and apply to your head. Wait one minute, then rinse. Do this every day for four days, stop for four days, and repeat cycle three more times.
  • Mix minced garlic and lime juice to make a paste. Apply to hair and leave for one hour. Rinse. Do this every day for four days, stop for four days, and repeat cycle three more times.
  • Furniture and carpet spray: Mix 10 drops rosemary oil, 10 drops lavender oil, 5 drops tea tree oil, 1 tsp olive oil for every cup of water. Put in a spray bottle. Shake frequently during use. Spray all furniture, carpet, car seats, mattresses, and anything too large to fit into a plastic bag. Repeat six times per day for 28 days.

*None of these remedies have been proven or disproved by the USDA.

Although very small, lice can be a big expensive problem if not handled correctly. Just missing one can start it all over again. If you take the right precautions, and use thorough treatments, lice can be eradicated from your home.


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    • radgirl profile image

      radgirl 4 years ago from Somewhere in outer space

      Thank you. Unfortunately as a teacher, I have to deal with this a bit, so out of necessity I had to become an expert on the subject.

    • Peter Geekie profile image

      Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

      Dear radgirl,

      An excellent, well researched and written article about a problem as topical today as it was when we were children and "nitty Nora" the nit nurse used to visit the schools.

      Voted up, useful and interesting.

      Kind regards Peter

    • MarkMAllen15 profile image

      MarkMAllen15 6 years ago

      wow, really appreciate this hub. Thanks for sharing.