Want to get rid of head lice permanently? Of course you do! There are few words more guaranteed to make parents shudder than the dreaded ‘head lice’. Getting stuck in the endless cycle of eggs, nits and an itchy scalp make a No. 2 crew cut seem incredibly appealing (even when your kids are girls). There are less drastic answers – we promise!
In fact, we’ve dug up so many tips and tricks on how to get rid of head lice permanently, we reckon you’ll be sending us a lice free thank you card.
Head Lice: The Unauthorised Biography
Before we figure out how to get rid of head lice permanently, let’s get to know these nasty nibblers.
Head lice, unlike fleas, do not spread any diseases but they can cause skin irritation and itching with their bites. These creatures are teeny and wingless. They’re roughly the size of a sesame seed and feed exclusively on human blood – yes gross! They don’t fly and they can’t jump like fleas because their legs are too short and stumpy. Magnify one of these creatures and it resembles something out of a sci-fi movie, with a long body and dramatic looking pincers.
According to Wikipedia, the head lice we experience enjoy feasting on humans and humans alone. Head lice need to spend their entire life cycle attached to and feeding on a human host. Other animals attract different lice but the ‘Pediculus humanus capitis’ is for our scalps only. It may feel embarrassing and uncomfortable to deal with head lice but at least you’re not going to catch the plague as a result of getting them. Phew!
While head lice are determined to call the top of your head home for the long term, it’s not impossible to serve them with a permanent eviction notice, with the help of some quick and thorough treatment.
How does a lice infestation start?
Head lice are extremely common, affecting children and adults alike; however, they are mostly found in school-aged kids. They are always looking for somewhere new to set up shop. Lice transition from one scalp to another when children or families are playing, cuddling or working together.
The only way to get head lice is to come into contact with another person who has them. It is commonly believed you are more likely to get head lice if your hair is very dirty. However, Wikipedia states that head lice infestations are not related to cleanliness.
Another myth is other animals, such as cats and dogs, play a role in transmission. Lice can’t live on the blood of these animals so this is also untrue.
If you do discover your family has lice, tell everyone you or your children may have had head-to-head contact with (this is slightly mortifying to do as a parent but is essential in breaking the cycle!). This way they can check for lice and treat their family quickly. During a lice outbreak, remain vigilant and check scalps daily.
It is useful to remember that if you don’t see any lice on your loved ones, you don’t have to treat them. Washing or treating a lice-free head doesn’t act as a deterrent for these creatures and is most likely a waste of money and time.
The lice life cycle
Lice don’t live long but the certainly make their existence known.
The life cycle of the louse starts with a female laying her eggs, which are known as nits. Nits are minuscule, smaller than the head of a pin. They’re hardy too, attaching on the hair shaft close to the scalp with a glue-like adhesive. This is what makes it so tough to get rid of head lice permanently.
Lice eggs hatch around a week after being laid, and the new lice are mature about ten days after that. Once mature, they are ready to lay more nits, and then the infestation really begins. It takes around thirty days from the laying of the egg to the death of the nasty bug from natural causes.
Should your head lice stumble and fall from your scalp and not make their way back to a human food source, these 2mm creatures have little hope of surviving beyond two or three days.
What is life like for a louse?
‘Louse’ is the singular way of saying lice.
Once the lice hatch from their eggs, they need food – pronto! They use their claws to crawl through the strands of hair to the scalp, where, like little vampires, they feed on the host’s blood several times a day (that’s you). As long as blood is available, they can live a full life cycle, with a female laying up to six eggs daily. Wouldn’t it be scary if chickens did that?
How to get rid of head lice permanently
When faced with an infestation, the first thing you want to know is how to get rid of head lice permanently. Luckily, many different products can help you eradicate them. Some parents swear by older, natural remedies, but use your own discretion when making your ultimate choice.
Store-bought treatments to get rid of head lice permanently
This is a medicated lotion and foam that provides fast and effective treatment. For optimum results, you need to use the lotion first and then follow with the foam. The active ingredient, Maldison, works by not only killing the lice but destroying the nits. The formula also contains tea tree oil, which is believed to prevent further outbreaks.
Users of productreview.com.au say they are big fans of this product, especially those who have long, thick hair.
Moov Head Lice Solution
Moov is another popular choice. Using a combination of natural essential oils, it is an excellent choice for those looking to go down a more natural route but still wanting an effective outcome. You can also pair the solution with the Moov Spray to keep those critters at bay and prevent re-infestation.
Here’s a product review: “(The) natural eucalyptus smells pretty good. Killed all lice after 15 minutes. Applying this solution is best done by adding a little water to this solution in a spray bottle and spraying onto the head to create a lather.”
NitWits Absolute Head Lice Solution
This is an excellent choice for children with irritated scalps and sensitive skin. The product is formulated for sensitive skin and is also free of any strong smell.
“NitWits is amazing!! For the first time, my children did not fuss and complain about having their hair treated!” – Bellema from BubHub.com.au
This one’s perfect for children who have trouble sitting still. Because it is a mousse, it does not drip. This makes it easy to keep out of the little one’s eyes as they squirm. The mousse has a pleasant smell and is effective against both the adult lice and their eggs.
“I use this on my daughter every time we get nits now as I know it is going to work properly every time.” – La La from BubHub.com.au
Natural lice removal options to try (and some to skip)
If you aren’t keen to try pharmaceutical products and would prefer a more natural treatment, there are a few options. Unfortunately, these are not scientifically proven, so be warned – they may not combat the infestation successfully or get rid of head lice permanently.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea Tree Oil is popular within natural health circles but experts are not convinced. They say more research is needed before this product is declared to work in all circumstances. If you do decide to try Tea Tree Oil to a lice-infested scalp, be careful. The product is strong and can have dangerous side effects. It should not be applied in its pure form to babies, young children or pregnant women. It is also said that a light spray of diluted tea tree oil or lavender oil on the hair just before school can discourage head lice from choosing your child’s head as their next new home.
Vinegar is also purported to do the job of lice-icide, however, the jury is still out. The acid in vinegar may well kill young lice, but it lacks the properties to eliminate the adults. It does help in getting rid of the nits though, as the acetic acid loosens the glue that holds them to the shaft. This makes combing out those sticky eggs a lot easier.
Mouthwash has been rumoured to suffocate and kill lice. The herbal ingredients in some mouthwashes have been said to prevent reinfestation and discourage lice from setting up shop. Although mouthwash can suffocate the adult lice, the eggs can lay dormant (and there are always eggs) so it is not an effective solution.
Another popular option is olive oil. Some informal studies do show olive oil can work as an effective treatment of lice. Don’t get too excited though, it can take more than EIGHT hours for the lice to die. And olive oil treatment is also ineffective in destroying nits so they would need to combed out to end an infestation. You could consider using oil in combination with vinegar to loosen the nits if you are set on an all-natural remedy.
If you are thinking you can kill those lice and nits with a hair straightener, think again! It is true the heat will kill the lice but most of them live very close to the scalp. This spells danger for your child’s head. It also isn’t going to get rid of all of the nits. Another problem with the straightener technique is that it can do permanent damage to the fine hair follicles and hair shafts of a child.
Patience and conditioner
One of the most effective, non-pharmaceutical treatments is to patiently comb out nits and lice using a special nit comb (available from any pharmacy) and any white-coloured normal hair conditioner. The white colour makes the lice easier to spot. Also, the conditioner acts to slow lice down while you get to work, so this technique can be effective. However, if you have tried getting a young child to sit still for this procedure, you are not likely to want to repeat the experience. Friends have reported waiting for their child to fall asleep them laying them on the floor with a towel under their head to then commence this technique.
How to get rid of head lice permanently: what to avoid
- Be wary of using a hair dryer to dry your child’s hair after using a lice treatment. Some of the treatments may contain flammable ingredients, and the hair dryer can also blow those sneaky lice over to someone else’s scalp.
- Don’t wash your child’s hair before applying lice treatments, or for one to two days afterwards.
- Don’t use bug spray or hire an exterminator to tackle the infestation around your house. As previously mentioned, dropping off their host means certain death for head lice anyway.
- Resist all temptation to give your kids the dog’s flea treatment! It will likely only serve to hurt their scalps.
- Don’t keep using the same medication over and over. If you have used the same medication more than three times, it is time to see a professional. Your doctor can help you find another remedy.
Tricks to avoid re-infestation
Once you have got rid of the lice and nits, it is essential to try to keep them gone. Here are the best tips for keeping these sneaky parasites at bay:
- Clean all combs, brushes and hair accessories in hot water – at least 65°C. Wash all hats, pillowcases, cuddly toys in very hot water too, and then stick them in the dryer for at least 15 minutes.
- Place all non-washable items that may have come into contact with the lice in an airtight plastic bag for a few days.
- Give your carpets a very thorough vacuum
- Make sure your children understand to avoid head-to-head contact. That includes in the playground and when playing at home. Also explain that they should avoid sharing hair accessories, hats, combs or brushes.
- It is also important to avoid lying on any bedding, pillows and even carpets that have been used by someone with lice within the last 48 hours.
- If anyone in your family has had contact with a lice-infested person, don’t forget to check their hair every three or four days for any signs of lice or nits.
- During a lice outbreak at school or daycare, tie long hair back. This will make it harder for the lice to transfer to your child’s hair.
- Plastering your child’s head to their scalp with hairspray or gel can also make it hard for lice to get into their hair.
Remember, no product is guaranteed to stop your child from getting lice, no matter what the advertising says.
Lice: Be alert, not alarmed
Having a head lice infestation does not mean you or your children are dirty. Lice do not discriminate – dirty, clean, rich, poor. Anyone can find lice on their children’s scalp. Make sure to let your children know that this happens to everyone and that you will help them get it sorted straight away. Although they may feel embarrassed, it is ultimately part of the human condition. Once they receive the treatment, the lice will be a distant memory.
Again, it is worth noting that if you can’t wipe out the lice from your family’s heads, book a trip to the doctor and get professional help.