How to Treat Your Child's Head Lice

Itch-itch-scratch-scratch...oh no, it's head lice! Before you lose your cool, remember that head lice are not an actual health threat. So roll up your sleeves and follow Mighty Mommy’s effective tips for getting rid of the lousy parasites once and for all. 

Cheryl Butler,
February 23, 2014
Episode #269

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Option #2: Chemical Treatment

Permethrin or pyrethrin is available over the counter and sold under brand names like Nix(permethrin) and  Rid(pyrethrin), these pesticides are considered the first-line medical treatment for lice. If applied exactly as recommended with a second treatment 7-10 days later, it should result in very high rate of elimination of the infestation. 

The key to treatment with these products, however, is also following up each application with a thorough going over with the accompanying nit comb.  Do not skip the combing with the nit comb even if you’ve inspected your child’s head a dozen times after applying the Nix or Rid shampoo—the combing is imperative to get rid of the nits once and for all.

Option #3: Smother Them

I am a huge fan of this method, having successfully gotten rid of head lice three times on three separate children with this method alone. For many parents, using an effective home remedy is often preferable to putting harsh chemicals on your child’s head. Here are some of the natural smothering treatments that work well as long as you follow the instructions.

Vaseline, petroleum jelly, and mayonnaise are effective but messy remedies.  Instead, try olive oil. My daughter had lice in the 5th grade and it kept circulating throughout the school. We used a nit comb and sectioned the hair to get out as much as possible, then smothered her hair in olive oil. I then put a plastic shower cap on her hair, wrapped it in a towel, and let her sleep like this overnight.

First thing in the morning I sectioned off the hair and combed out all the nits and lice (alive or dead, but hopefully all dead). I then used the blow dryer on a high setting to dry her oily hair (heat kills living lice).  Once her hair was dry, I used Dawn dish soap as a shampoo and after 2 – 3 washings the oily residue was gone.  You'll likely want to apply olive oil a second night to make sure you get all the nits. The key is sectioning off the hair and really getting every part of the head checked.

Once you have completely combed out, washed, and dried your child’s hair, make sure you wash all the towels you used in the process and clean out the lice comb. Soak them in a 10% bleach solution or a 2% Lysol solution for 30 minutes and rinse very well to make sure nothing is left alive.

Essential Oil Lice Treatment

A number of essential oils have been shown to be effective in eliminating head lice. Before you use any essential oil, put a small drop on the back of your child’s hand. Although it’s rare, some kids have allergic reactions to these oils—specifically tea tree oil.

In order of most to least effective at killing lice and nits, the essential oils include:

  • tea tree oil
  • lavender oil
  • clove oil
  • eucalyptus oil
  • aniseed oil
  • cinnamon leaf oil
  • red thyme oil
  • peppermint oil
  • nutmeg oil

Mix 2 ounces of olive oil with 15 to 20 drops of the essential oil. Apply to the scalp using cotton balls or a spray bottle, making sure to saturate the hair. Leave this mixture on the scalp and hair overnight—at least 12 hours.  

The following morning, comb out your child’s hair. Then, shampoo, rinse, and repeat. Once the lice have been eliminated, the essential oil spray can be used as a preventive treatment.

Remember—combing out the hair is absolutely essential after any of the above treatments.  Also, if one of your children has lice, chances are others in the family might play hosts as well. Because they're highly contagious =, be sure to check everyone's scalps carefully (including your own!).  

How to Treat Your Home After a Lice Infestation  

  • Soak all hair care items (such as combs, brushes, hair clips, etc.) in hot water (1300F) for 15 minutes.

  • For items that cannot be soaked in hot water, such as headsets or helmets, place them in a tightly sealed plastic bag and put them in the freezer for 10-12 hours to kill the lice and eggs.

  • Wash all bedding and clothing that your child has used in hot water or run them through your dryer's hottest setting for at least 30 minutes. Be sure to dry clean items that cannot be washed.

  • Place items that cannot be cleaned or run through the dryer (such as stuffed animals and toys) in a tightly sealed plastic bag for 10-14 days. This is to ensure that any newly-hatched lice will die.

  • Follow up with the vacuum to get rid of any lice dust or egg shells that were left behind. According to the NPA, vacuuming is the safest way to remove lice and fallen hairs with attached nits from upholstered furniture, rugs, stuffed animals, or car seats -- basically, wherever someone with head lice may have rested their head.

Has your child ever had head lice?  What remedy worked best for you?  Share your thoughts in the comment section at quickanddirtytips.com/mighty-mommy or post your ideas on the Mighty Mommy Facebook page. You can also connect with me on Twitter @MightyMommy or e-mail me at mommy@quickanddirtytips.com.  Visit my family-friendly boards at Pinterest.com/MightyMommyQDT.

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Head lice is an unpleasant disruption, but it's not life-threatening. So keep that in mind and remain calm if your family ever experiences it. Until next time—happy parenting! 

Lice treatment and other images courtesy of Shutterstock.


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