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Head Lice – Natural Head Lice Treatments That Work
Any parent who has a child at school will know (or will soon know!) the sheer frustration that can come with treating and preventing head lice. If you haven’t done your homework on these menacing little critters yet, then do it quick! Even if your child hasn’t had a case of head lice yet, you’ll probably know it’s a ticking time bomb and is very hard to escape. Some hairdressers report seeing head lice or nits on every third or fourth child that comes in.
Head lice is on the increase and it’s best to be prepared and to place an importance on prevention rather than need a cure. Oh, and if you can get to the end of this article without feeling itchy, you have a will of steel!
What Are The Symptoms Of Head Lice?
Persistent itching is the main symptom, which tends to be focused around the warmer areas of the head – behind the ears, the back of the neck and the crown, however some people may never itch at all.
A case of head lice can be confirmed by finding eggs (nits) in the person’s hair – tiny, off-white, oval shaped eggs, which are firmly attached to the hair shaft and sit at angle. Head lice stay close to the scalp and tend to stay within half an inch away.
If you remove what you think is an egg from a child’s hair and it is able to be flicked or blown off or if it crumbles between your fingers, it’s not an egg. Nits are attached with a glue-like substance and hang on well.
Do They Jump Or Fly From Head To Head?
NO. Head lice don’t have wings or knees, so these pesky little bugs can’t do either of those things. The only way they are spread is through direct head to head contact, which commonly occurs when young children play together.
Pets do not transmit head lice, nor can it spread via swimming pools (they do not swim). Head lice do not exist anywhere in the environment except for the human head.
Make sure you reiterate to your children the importance of keeping their head away from other kids heads. When they are young and get excited and distracted by play, it can be easy to forget. Every time we get a notice home from school that a child has been found to have nits, I always remind my kids to keep their heads away from others. They have gotten really good at remembering this and we’ve not seen nits again after treating them a couple of years ago.
What Do I Need To Wash?
NOTHING. You don’t need to do the crazy cleaning thing, because without ready access to a supply of blood, head lice will die very quickly. Eggs need warmth in order to hatch (hence why they are stuck with that glue like substance to the hair, as close to the scalp as possible, in order to survive). They will die if they don’t get a meal within 45 minutes of hatching. Once hatched, they will feed 3-4 times a day. If head lice don’t have access to blood, they can dehydrate in as little as 6 hours and up to 48 hours depending on your climate. So if your child has lice, focus on the head, not the environment.
Do They Prefer Cleaner or Dirtier Hair?
NEITHER. It’s like gifting someone a brand new car… who cares what model it is?!
No matter if it’s clean hair, dirty hair, short hair or long hair… they just want a warm cosy home with easy access to blood and they’re happy – whatever is on offer. The only truth behind this belief is that over-washing can result in the stripping of natural oils from hair, therefore making it easier for the lice to attach – but lice are opportunists, its not enough to stop them! Over-washing isn’t ideal either, lice or no lice, it shouldn’t be confused with clean hair – it just becomes stripped hair.
Washing with normal shampoos or conditioners will not get rid of head lice. Head lice breathe through holes in their body (called spiracles) and they are able to shut these down for some time during washing, swimming or whenever they need to protect themselves. This is why most treatments require a period of time to be left in the hair.
I Feel Embarrassed That My Child(ren) Have Lice. Is It a Cleanliness Thing?
As a parent, it can be easy to feel terrible about your child(ren) having head lice – heck I did! You may feel like you have been a bad or careless parent, embarrassed, guilty, in a panic, that you were too complacent or even angry at other parents for not treating their kids properly – or for not treating them at all.
There is no benefit in feeling any of these things – it will only make you feel bad when there is no need. If you manage to escape head lice for your children’s entire schooling life, you would be a rare case! You only have to do your research or speak to hairdressers who are seeing it more and more, so the best thing you can do is learn, be prepared and help educate others. Hairdressers and pharmacy assistants I have spoken to openly share their children’s head lice experiences and the battles they have eradicating them. So you are most definitely not alone.
REMEMBER: If your or another child has head lice, it’s NOT a result of poor hygiene, disease or anything of the sort. Its just another school years thing which will pass as they get older and are able to learn to keep their heads away from other kids.
Is It Possible To Eradicate Head Lice Forever?
Head lice can be very stubborn to treat, even for someone vigilant like a hairdresser. Speaking to the hairdressers who cut my children’s hair, I suddenly felt better hearing that even his own grandsons get it every four or so weeks – and since there are two children, sometimes it’s not even four weeks apart that their mother is battling them! So you can do your best, but sometimes it’s just going to require persistence and patience… but most of all prevention.
It’s impossible to completely eradicate head lice from existence because they learn to adapt to their environment. So accepting they exist and are likely to be found in your child’s hair at some point of their schooling is going to be less stressful for everyone. With a good management plan, you’ll be much better off when it happens.
Head Lice Life Cycle
Head lice have a very short life, living for 32-35 days. They start to reproduce around day 16-19. Eggs are laid one or two days after mating and a female will lay 3-8 eggs for the next 16 or so days before dying. Breaking this cycle is the key.
Head Lice Prevention Tips
The most important things to remember in order to prevent head lice are:
1. If your child has long hair, tie it up for school every day (plaits or braids are great) and if you like, spray their hair with hairspray. Many mothers swear by hairspray – after you’ve tied up your child’s hair, keeping it under control with hairspray seems to help.
2. For long or short hair, encourage wearing a hat to protect their hair from coming into contact with others.
3. You can buy (or make your own) head lice resister sprays which you can spray into their hair and inside their hats. Most of the sprays have essential oils – mainly tea tree, eucalyptus, geranium and lavender – which lice don’t like. Its an effective repellant.
4. Make absolutely sure that you follow any treatment program as per the instructions. No treatment exists that kills both the head lice AND the eggs in one go. Repeating a treatment is always needed because the live lice die, but the eggs in your child’s hair will hatch soon after, so you need to make sure you get them out before they are old enough to reproduce – around 7-10 days is a good time to repeat a treatment.
4. Use tea tree shampoo and/or conditioner for washing your children’s hair. Check out the different options available which vary in price, as well as the amounts of oils in each product. You may be able to find a better range at your pharmacy or variety store.
5. Make sure you check yourself and your partner for head lice. Kids love to be up close to your face and hair, especially when they snuggle, so you may have transmitted head lice between you before you realised head lice was around. The last thing you want is to have your children head lice free, but then someone else passes it back to them. Some mothers who colour their hair find that their hair colour treatment kills the head lice. Similarly with those who straighten their hair with a straightener – the heat kills the lice and eggs.
Head Lice Treatments – Parents Suggestions
There are so many products out there on the market, and with head lice being so stubborn, it may concern you as to the chemical content of these products – especially if you’re using them frequently. I found that in the head lice world, its another case of natural products being very effective, and even better than other chemically manufactured products. My daughter has particularly thick and long hair, which I found a bit overwhelming at first, but you can get on top of it no matter what you’re faced with!
To see if others found the same, I asked other parents what worked for them in the race to beat head lice, so you have some options to help you too. Some are very interesting!
One method which is very effective and great as an early detection for head lice, is to keep a supply of cheap conditioner and a metal lice comb. Once a week, saturate your child’s hair in conditioner (brush their hair first if its prone to knots) and leave it in for a little. The conditioner makes the hair very slippery and head lice have trouble moving around which is a great way to get them out. Either get a paper towel and comb sections of the hair until the whole head has been combed through a few times, and by wiping the comb on the paper towel, you’ll see if you’ve found anything. Alternately you can do this in the shower, as I do with my kids. They have started doing it themselves to make sure they are still gone and it’s under control with this method and with the help of one other product.
Here’s some of what they had to say:
“Lice breathe via an air hole on the sides of their bodies. Coat the scalp with oil (olive oil works well). You can add peppermint or tea tree oil which speeds up their respiration, which makes them breathe in the oil faster. The oil causes them to suffocate (my husband is an entomologist).” — Shawnna
“White vinegar (neat, not diluted)! Lay her down on the ground with a towel rolled under her head, another covering the floor. Put her hair in a big bowl and pour the vinegar over her. Get her to lay there for a few minutes (the vinegar dissolves the egg’s glue) the use some (LOTS) conditioner to comb with nit comb, ending in the bowl so you collect them all. She will hate it, it will stink, but you will only need to do it once if you do it thoroughly. Maybe give her a rolled up facewasher to hold over her eyes too, so you can really pour it all the way up to the top.That is the only thing that ever worked here, good luck.”
“We had them so bad here and my eldest has long, extremely thick wavy hair. It was horrible. I could not get any organic treatment to work. I actually resorted to the pesticide stuff and had to do that two or maybe even three times. I remember being so scared. I did the oil massaged in the heads with plastic shower caps on, over night and all. Nothing killed them. I was literally going crazy washing everything i could in scalding hot water, vacuuming, etc. But by the time I noticed she had the lice they had spread to me and the girls…we share a hair brush much of the time, since I do their hair. I hope the natural treatments work for you. I was so upset that it didn’t for us. I battled them for nearly two months trying to get rid of them all…that is why I finally caved and used the pesticides.” — Pamela
“Vinegar and olive oil is one option, but vinegar may sting the scalp. Alternatively, use conditioner and comb out in tiny sections in good light, rinse then do it again, you need to make sure that you pick out all the eggs or they come back in a few days.” — Kim
“Cheap conditioner… Makes the combing pretty easy too. Did have success with an orange oil based treatment.” — Diane
“I spoke to someone once who had some foster kids arrive with masses of them and she swore by thick conditioner and a metal nit comb.” — Kristy
“I second conditioner. Suffocates them but also makes it really easy to pull the lice comb through the hair.” — Cassandra
“I have been dealing with head lice for 12 years, first with my own daughter and now that I work with young children. It’s ok to use a product called Moov, it has essential oils, comes with a lovely green shower cap and only stays in for 10 mins – great stuff. you need to repeat treatment every 7 days and I do that for at least 3 treatment to make sure I really break the cycle. I also make a up a water spray bottle with tea-tree, lavender, peppermint and spray on hair, hats, brushes, combs every day (especially for school).” — Shantell
“Thick conditioner with tea tree oil added (generous amount). Apply to dry hair. Make sure it is fully saturated then put a shower cap on for an hour. Comb through with a nit comb. Always works for me and i have 3 girls with think long hair. The more conditioner the easier it is to comb, kills all the bugs. Never had a crawling one yet and gives their hair a great treatment too. It will be so shiny afterwards!” — Melinda
“Once the lice are gone, washing (or however you want to get the essential oil on the scalp) with rosemary will help with preventing lice.” — Aimee
“Conditioner. We had a lice issue for about 2 years (a couple of kids in my daughter’s class that were never properly treated) and I just combed her hair every day with conditioner as soon as she got home from school. I’d only get a handful of massive adult lice, fresh from someone else’s head (every day). As soon as you are getting baby ones too you know they are breeding.” — Robyn
“This isn’t very earth friendly but my mom used to put hairspray in our hair before we went to school to PREVENT us from getting it again…i guess the lice don’t like the taste of hairspray so the don’t stay in hair that has it.” — Kimra
“Half a bottle of detangler and a comb, an hour in the tub – I believe in the mechanical (and yes essential oils when that’s finished).” — Sandra
“I have three girls with long thick hair, plus three boys. When they were all in primary school head lice checks and treatment became a normal thing we did every Friday. If I didn’t schedule it in it was a nightmare. You have to break the lifecycle by removing all the eggs or nothing will work and she will be re-infested. So tea tree oil works to kill the live lice, but you must comb the eggs out with a metal toothed comb. Use lots of white conditioner so that you can see the eggs easily, section the hair off and start with the back of the neck and work your way up. Most people don’t get all the eggs because they don’t section off the hair and work systematically, so stuff gets missed.” — Priscilla
“I swear by Tea Tree Shampoo. My kids have not had them since using that shampoo regularly.” — Kathryn
“We used vinegar mixed with warm water (a third vinegar, 2 thirds water), in a spray bottle. Wrap the hair in gladwrap for half an hour. Into the shower, rinse their hair. Conditioner with a few drop of tea tree in it, comb through the hair with a good quality metal comb before you wash the conditioner out. Blast with a hairdryer too… any remaining one should be killed off by the heat. Repeat every couple of days, just to be sure you got them all.” — Elocin
“If you have a hair straightener, use that after you have done the treatment twice a week for a few weeks. The heat kills the eggs left over and stops them hatching.” — Nai
“I have an electric comb that you run through their hair and it zaps them, works great.” — familyof3
“I use the comb and conditioner first then rinsing with vinegar. Tea tree oil in a spray bottle works a treat to keep them away.” — dianescruffy
“So far, the conditioner method has worked best for us. Get some thick conditioner (I use some of the cheaper ones as you use HEAPS) and spread liberally through dry hair. Leave for about an hour then comb out with a nit comb, dunking the comb after every pass into a container of hot water with a good splash of vinegar. Laugh like a maniac as the little buggers twitch and die in the container. Rinse and repeat every day until they’re gone.” — Cranky Kitten
Some Important Points…
1. The olive oil ‘smothering’ technique does work well – it has been proven in lab tests to kill head lice. However make sure you choose olive oil and not other oils because mineral oils or baby oils are not good for skin. All you need is a cheap olive oil and layer it on, placing a shower cap over the hair to prevent any mess. One thing to note though is head lice are able to shut down their system for hours – so you really want to do this treatment overnight if you can, in order to get the best result. When it’s done, simply comb out the dead lice and you may like to wash it out with tea tree shampoo.
2. Chemical treatments aren’t designed to be used over and over again. If your child(ren) still have head lice after repeating the treatment, try something else rather than expose them to more chemicals. Unfortunately head lice are becoming resistant to the pesticides we are using. There are many natural options that work very well.
3. If you want to make your own lice repelling shampoo, you can add the following ingredients to a normal shampoo bottle: 1 tsp of tea tree oil and 1 tsp of rosemary or eucalyptus oil. Please use eucalyptus oil with extra care, making sure your children don’t get it in their mouth or eyes.
More Support and Suggestions
Join in on the BellyBelly Forums discussion on head lice treatments.
So, did you start itching or was it just me?
Kelly Winder is a birth attendant (aka doula), the creator of BellyBelly and mum to three beautiful children. Follow Kelly on Google+ and become a fan of BellyBelly on Facebook. BellyBelly is also on Twitter. Please note that all of my suggestions and advice are of a generalised nature only and are not intended to replace advice from a qualified professional. BellyBelly.com.au – The Thinking Woman’s Website For Conception, Pregnancy, Birth and Baby.
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