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Head Lice Home Remedies

Expert Q&A


Updated May 27, 2014

Q. Head lice is going around at my child's school. Is it true that the old remedy of using dog shampoo will get rid of the head lice? I have also heard that you can use lamp oil. I don't know for sure if it is head lice though. I haven't seen any bugs, just white stuff that looks like dried scalp or dandruff. Please help me with any home remedies that you may have. Marie, Columbus, Mississippi

A. You should first make sure that your child actually has head lice before doing anything else. Head lice infestations are often overdiagnosed, both by parents and health professionals.

Symptoms of head lice can include:

  • having an itchy scalp
  • seeing red bumps on your child's scalp and neck
  • seeing live lice moving around on your child's head
  • finding nits (lice eggs), which are tiny white oval shaped specks that are attached to the sides of hairs
If you are just seeing nits, but no live lice, then you may be able to simply wash her hair with a regular shampoo and then try to remove the nits using a nit comb. Keep in mind that live lice can sometimes be hard to find, so if you continue to find new nits, then your child does likely have an active lice infestation and does need further treatment.

If the 'white stuff' is simply dandruff and is on her scalp and not on the hair shafts, then she may not have head lice at all. Instead of lice treatments, you might try an medicated shampoo, like Selsun or Neutrogena T-gel, although a visit to your Pediatrician would be a good idea in this case.

Head Lice Treatments

If you do see live lice moving around on her head, then she needs to be treated. In addition to over-the-counter medicines, like Rid and Nix, and prescription medicines, such as Ovide, there are many natural home remedies that you could try. Keep in mind that according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Nix 'is currently the recommended treatment for head lice, with retreatment in 7 to 10 days if live lice are seen.'

Head Lice Home Remedies

If you don't want to use a chemical on your child's head, the most effective treatment that doesn't involve using any products at all simply involves removing the nits and live lice with a lice comb and/or tweezers. This is the method that is advocated by The National Pediculosis Association. It can be time consuming to do this and you may have to repeat the procedure for several days to make sure you get them all, but this is likely the best thing to do. You still have to take the time to comb out all of the nits anyway even if you use an anti-lice shampoo, as these shampoos don't kill the eggs. If you don't, they will just hatch and you will have live lice again.

Most other natural home remedies involve putting something on your child's scalp and hair to 'smother' the head lice. Popular choices include real mayonnaise, olive oil, and vaseline. These are usually left on overnight, often under a shower cap, and then washed out the next day. They can be very messy though and have not really been proven to work. Some experts believe that this method 'works' because you actually remove the nits and lice as you try to get this stuff out of the child's hair.

There are also herbal remedies to treat head lice, including products with tea tree oil and other essential oils. Because they are 'natural,' these are not regulated by the FDA, have not been proven to work, and should be used with caution and avoided in younger children.

Parents and pediatricians can also now to turn to Ulesfia (Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5%) as a non-pesticide prescription treatment for head lice. Ulesfia can be applied to the hair of children over 6 months of age with head lice until it is saturated, washed off after 10 minutes, and then reapplied 7 days later. Unlike Nix, Rid and other head lice shampoos, Ulesfia is thought to work by blocking the louses respiratory spiracles, thereby suffocating them.

Dog Shampoo

You shouldn't use dog shampoo on your child! Some of the active ingedients in dog shampoo, like pyrethrins, are also the main ingredient in Rid and other anti-lice shampoos. And other dog shampoos contain permethrin, like Nix. Plus there are dog shampoos with essential oils.

Although they have some similar ingredients, you still shouldn't use a shampoo that is produced for your dog on your child...

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