Headlice – prevention and treatment

Head lice seems to be a problem in schools around the globe. I have lived on three continents and I can recall the letters that circulated regularly to inform parents when there was an outbreak of head lice in all schools that my kids attended.

Head lice can make any parent anxious about dealing with it. Understanding how these critters operate and their life cycle makes things a lot easier when it comes to choosing a treatment.

Head lice, Nits


The life cycle

The female Pediculosis capitis louse lays eggs, called nits. These are quite small, about the size of a pin head. They stick to the hair shaft which is why it is so hard to remove them.

The eggs hatch in a week and the lice matures over the next ten days or so. Mature female lice then lay more eggs and so the cycle just continues. So it is easy to see how a single louse can start an infestation.


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How do I know my child have lice?

To confirm that it is actually a lice infestation you will have to know what you are looking for.

The nits are very small and kinda look like dandruff. The lice are about the size of a sesame seed.

So put some gloves on, wet the hair because it is easier to spot them that way. A great tip is to use one of those camping headlights – they are bright and leave your hands free. You will have to section the hair and look on the scalp. Pay attention to the area around the ears, they often hide there. If you see live lice, then you are dealing with an infestation.

Head lice- nits


Head lice only live on the human scalp and not in bedding and clothes as once believed. So no reason to wash all the linen and the entire wardrobe.

Another myth is that lice like dirty hair. Lice actually prefer clean hair where they can glue the nits onto the hair shaft.

Head lice don’t spread any diseases. They live on the scalp only and they can cause irritation and itching when they bite you. Lice don’t jump like fleas, don’t have wings so they don’t fly. They can however trapeze to another head when in close proximity. Which is the reason for lice infestations to happen easily at schools. Kids love to cuddle together of sit close to each other.

Getting rid of head lice

There are numerous chemical lice treatments available on the market. I suggest that you discuss this with your chemist and follow the manufacturers instructions. You will have to repeat the treatment again to kill the new lice that hatched from the existing eggs. What we are experiencing now however is these super lice that have become resistant to the treatments that control them. This means that if one product is not working and you can still see live lice on the scalp after the treatment you will need to switch brands. It is pointless to just re apply the same ineffective product.

This can be the reason why many searches for an alternative method. As an aromatherapist I can guide you through the usage of essential oils as part of your plan to get rid of these irritating little critters. First lets just look at some other alternative or natural ‘treatments’ that are floating around on the internet. Which is helpful and which is not?


The acid will loosen the glue like cement that the nits are attached to the hair shaft. Vinegar however will not kill the mature lice. It might get rid of the young lice but it is the mature female lice that are laying the eggs so you will have to repeat the process again and again.


Mayonaise is recommended due to the fact that it suffocate the lice. There is a bit of a problem with that though. Lice can survive without air for up to 6 hours which means you will have to leave the mayonnaise on your head for longer than that. Remember that this might only get rid of the live lice whilst the eggs will stay unaffected.

Burning them off

Running the hair straightener through the hair section by section and burning the adult lice seem effective but since most of the lice live really close to the scalp it is not a great solution.

As a hairstylist I have seen the structural damage that hair straighteners can do. Children’s hair are finer and more susceptible to damage by heat.

Mouth wash and vodka

Listerine comes up on the web often as a treatment for lice, but just because your scalp will smell minty and fresh it might be worthwile investigating if this is a good option, or not.

The main ingredient in Listerine is alcohol. Alcohol will suffocate the lice, but then again alchohol evaporates so you will have to keep applying it. That is also probably the same reason why Vodka is on the list, because of the alchohol. Listerine however has a bunch of other chemicals as well. So if you want to use a chemical for lice, how about you use one that is designed and tested for that purpose instead of Listerine. It is a mouthwash. Let’s keep it that way.

Mechanical treatment

This would be just slathering on some white conditioner and combing the hair with the lice comb to remove the nits as well as suffocating the lice. This is one of the most effective methods. Why do you have to use white conditioner? Well it makes it easier to spot the lice. I suggest that you use cheap conditioner since you will use a large quantity. You don’t want to use your salon conditioner for that. The only downfall with this method is that you will need the child to sit still for a long time.

So time and patience is important with this treatment. You will need a wide tooth comb and a lice comb. Do not brush wet hair, it stretches the hair.

Divide the hair in sections and clip the rest of the hair that you are not working with away.

Start at the neck area, first comb your section with the wide tooth comb and then with the lice comb. Comb it all the way out slowly and smear any lice or nits that are stuck to the comb on some paper towel.

Comb each section at least 3 times. Preferably 5 times. Use your headlamp to check for any lice or nits that are still remaining.

Your sections should not be bigger than 1 cm .

When you are finished, shampoo the hair out. Wash and disinfect the combs or discard the combs. Do remember though that you will have to repeat this process every 2 days until the hair is nit free and lice free for 10 days. It sounds dreadful but the more thorough you are the quicker you will get the upper hand.

Head Lice mechanical treatment heal lice comb

What about essential oils?


Essential oils can be used very effectively to prevent lice as well as removing them. Tea tree essential oil is a popular recommended treatment however the experts doubt the fact that it is a successul treatment and it seems that the super lice are even resistant to Tea Tree oil. It seems that they work better as a team. Which is what is referred to as a synergy blend. Essential oils should always be mixed with a carrier oil and never used neat on the skin. Not even Tea tree or Lavender. You can develop a sensitivity that is irreversible.

Making a synergy blend of 3-4 of these seems to be more effective. You want to make a fairly high proportion so that would be a 5 % solution with a carrier oil such as olive oil.

10 ml of carrier oil – you can mix up to 15 drops essential oils in total to that

20 ml of carrier oil – you can mix up to 30 drops of essential oils in total to that






Massage this into the hair and scalp. Cover your head and leave it on for more than 6 hours, preferably overnight. You will just have to cover your pillow with an old towel or cloth to protect it from any oil that leaks out. Shampoo your hair the next morning.

Comb your hair out with a fine tooth lice comb to remove the lice and the eggs.

You will have to repeat this process every 48 hours to remove the eggs that hatch. Doing this about 3-4 times should get rid of the lice and the eggs.


There is no proven preventative treatment for head lice. Using essential oils might be helpful but you need to lower the dilution solution. You can mix a few drops of Tea Tree oil with your shampoo or conditioner. Just make sure you mix it thoroughly. You can also mix the above mentioned oils in a spray bottle with water and spray it on the hair daily .Do remember though that essential oils d not mix with water, so you will need a surfactant. Shaking it really well before spraying also will do the trick.

Dealing with a lice infestation doesn’t need to be that overwhelming but a combination of treatments such as chemical and mechanical combined have proven to be effective.

Just smile and comb on..

Take care of you so that you can take care of those you love.


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