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Getting Rid of Head Lice: The Long Struggle

Updated on January 16, 2014

How to Spot Lice and Nits

The Discovery

Head lice are an annoying, yet non-disease carrying parasite that cause the scalp to itch. They live and feed on the scalp, laying their eggs on the hair shaft. Lice are generally first spotted around the base of the scalp, by the neck, and just above the ears. Their eggs are roughly the size of pepper flakes and stick to the hair shaft, close to the scalp. While the adults themselves are easy enough to get rid of, the egg, or nits, are tricky. The glue the lice secrete to hold the eggs in place is pretty strong, so you have to go through the hair, lock by lock to be sure all the eggs have been removed.

Adult lice


Treatment Options

As lice are a common place nuisance, there are many different options to getting rid of them. There are lice shampoos that can be bought over the counter, there a prescription treatments, and then there are home remedies. Deciding which treatments to use takes some research and trial and error.

OTC Treatments:

Lice shampoos can be found in any major drug store, supermarket, or mass retailer; i.e. WalMart, Target.

Different treatment options found at these stores include:

-Just the shampoo

-The shampoo and nit comb combo

-All in one: shampoo, nit comb, lice spray for furniture, gel for removing the nits easier

-Or buy everything separately

The problem with most of these shampoos is that they contain pesticides. The pesticides strip the hair and scalp of their needed oils, causing the hair to dry out and become brittle. Also these pesticides have toxic fumes which can cause the child to become sick if inhaled.

Prescription Treatments:

Sometimes a visit to the doctor might be in order. Lice in certain areas have become immune to the pesticides in the OTC treatments, the prescription shampoos contain different pesticides that combat the lice. The prescription shampoos also tend to be more gentle on the hair. Unfortunately though, like most medicines, dangerous side effects have been known to occur with these treatments.

Home Remedies:

With everyone wanting to go green; home remedies, or DIY treatments, have become very popular. Ranging from mayonnaise to olive oil, there are many options to choose from. These options are generally preferred for those wanting to use all natural, safe methods. The problem is, finding those remedies that actually work.

My Preference

My family tends to go the more natural way. We found a natural way to get rid of head lice, and keep them away.

The Treatment

First, wash everything; bedding, clothes. What can't be thrown in the washer and dryer, bag up for two weeks or vacuum. A steamer or iron is also a great thing to have, as lice can't stand the heat. While everything is in the washer start treating the head.

Using any olive oil of your choice, coat the head and hair liberally. Place a shower cap over head and hair, secure in place with plastic wrap. Leave in hair for about 8 hours. Using a metal nit comb, the metal ones work much better than the plastic ones and break less, comb through small sections of the hair. Rinse the comb under hot water frequently. Using a gentle dish soap, such as Dawn, wash the oil out of the hair. Only wash and rinse once, the hair may still feel oily but that is okay. Let hair air dry.

After the hair dries, drape a clean, dry towel over shoulders. Holding the head over the tub or sink, pour vinegar over the head using the towel to catch the run off. The vinegar dissolves the glue that keeps the nits on the hair. Wrap the hair in the vinegar soaked towel and let sit for 30 minutes. After this time wash the hair again using dish soap. Blow dry the hair this time using the highest heat setting. Comb through hair again using the nit comb. After, use a straightening rod, this cooks any nits left on the hair, killing them.

The Prevention

Coconut oil shampoos and conditioners are the best we have found to keep lice at bay. The oil actually dissolves the exoskeleton of the lice, killing them, also the strong scent is unpleasant to them, so they avoid it. Also, do not use brushes as they collect hair, dust and oil. Try to stick exclusively to combs. Nits stick better to clean hair so try to wash hair only twice a week. It has been over a year, and using this method, my family has been lice free.

Make sure to comb through to remove nits.
Make sure to comb through to remove nits.

What's Best For You

Lice, like anything else, can be treated and prevented with enough diligence. Making sure hats and combs/brushes aren't being shared is a great way to prevent them. Finding the best treatment just takes a little research. Just remember, lice are very common and, though annoying, are not life threatening. So, which method works best for you?

My Comb of Choice

Metal or Plastic

Which nit comb do you prefer to use?

See results


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    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 2 years ago from Oklahoma

      Luckily I haven't had to deal with lice yet, but I know from the experience of friends just how difficult it can be.

      Very helpful hub.

    • Robin profile image

      Robin Edmondson 4 years ago from San Francisco

      I have never heard of using a straightening rod! Great idea! Unfortunately, we've been plagued with lice twice. Combing seems to be the only way to really get rid of the lice because treatments do not kill the eggs. The first time we had it, I paid the $100 an hour to have my daughter's hair professionally combed. You really have to take your time, part the hair into sections, and go through each section thoroughly. It usually takes around 2 hours for medium length hair. Once I saw how they did it, I was able to successfully comb her hair the second time it went through our neighborhood.

      My other two weapons are the lint brush and hair spray. I lint brush all of the furniture and have even brushed the seats of movie theaters. Those that have had lice can sympathize with the compulsive behavior of doing everything in your power to avoid a reoccurrence. If you have a girl that has had lice, put their hair in a braid after you have removed the lice, and spray it with hairspray. Lice don't like hairspray as it's hard to inhabit and it's difficult to lay eggs on a coated hair shaft.

      Thanks for the idea of olive oil, soap, vinegar, and the hair straightener! Here's to hoping neither of us have to deal with it again!

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 4 years ago from Taos, NM

      I dealt with this problem with students when I taught in an inner city school. It was devastating to the girls when we had a lice check and it was discovered they had it. I had a female student that had hair down to her waist and she had to get it cut short in a pixie hairstyle. She cried for two days over the loss of her hair. Your remedies and suggestions are great ones and this is a very useful hub!