OK, I know lice are gross, but as I was pondering which pearls of wisdom I would share with you today, I became fixated on the idea that very few people know how to eradicate lice naturally. I've helped with friends' foster children's infestations and "trained" the staff at my kids' old school. I have picked lice and nits off of enough kids for several lifetimes. I am sorry to say, I am an expert. An amateur expert. Here's to hoping my overabundance of experience helps someone out!
To help this conversation go smoothly, here are some definitions: lice = the bugs, a louse = a single bug, and nits = lice eggs.
Now, why not just use the medicated treatments available over the counter? Several reasons.
- Over the counter lice treatments are insecticides, poisons.
- Skin is semi-permeable. Chemicals can soak through. The scalp is skin.
- It doesn't work . That's right. The wee beasties just walk right on through the foamy poison. One peditrician told me that you have to leave RID or NIX on for at least an hour. Even then it doesn't work. Trust me on this: lice are IMMUNE to the stuff.
- The prescription stuff doesn't work much better.
- It is really expensive, especially because re-infestation is common so you need to buy the treatments several times.
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so avoid "risky" behaviors.
If you work with children, eventually one of those children will have lice. When it happens, try to avoid physical contact, but be kind. I don't mean you can't interact with the child, but avoid hugging, touching his head or shoulders, and leaning your head down next to theirs. Keep your own hair pulled back, out of the way.
While it's fun to share, lice aren't fun, so teach children to avoid sharing certain things. Don't share combs, brushes or other hair stuff. Don't share hats, sweaters, coats, scarves, helmets, headphones, pillows, or stuffed animals.
When in groups, don't stack coats, hats, or backpacks with others. At school or church have your children hang their coats so that they do not touch another person's coat or put their coats in a backpack or plastic bag. Be sure your children use their own sleeping bag and pillow when sleeping away from home.
2. Early detection is important. If you have school-aged children, check hair daily. For kids with really short hair (military cut), you can check while jogging by. But for longer hair, boy or girl, check daily. Lift the hair at base of the neck and look for tiny critters (sesame seed sized or smaller) and/or very small white/grey/yellow/beige things stuck to a hair shaft. Repeat with the hairline around the ears. Do an extra check in good light if you see anyone scratching-even just a little. A quick check now will save you dozens of hours of nit-picking later. Here's what you are looking for.
Nits on dark hair:
Nits on light hair:
Notice that the nits look very different on different colors of hair. If you see something, don't panic, just touch it with your fingernail or a pencil tip. It is most likely a little dandruff. Could be sand. Dandruff or sand will move when touched. Nits need to be scraped off in order to move.
Oh no! Something moved! A louse:
3. Check every member of the family. Everyone will need to do the oil treatment, but knowing who is infected is important information.
4. Tell people. I know it's hard, but bite the bullet. Call the school, call the play group, call the person in charge of the children's church activities. Send an anonymous note if necessary. Ask them send out a neutral email to all of the people who meet in your building. [Simple sample: There has been a confirmed case of lice in the church building/classroom/school. Please check your children carefully.] Not only does this protect the uninfested, it notifies the parent whose child infested your child, and it decreases the chances your child will become reinfested from the original source.
5. Go to the store... and buy shower caps for every member of your family (pay up--buy the nice ones), a big container of olive oil, a metal lice comb (if you want) and extra vacuum cleaner bags. Rent a new movie. Pick up anything you are going to need for the 24 hours; you are going to be busy and your kids are going to be bored
6. Olive Oil Time! Have your child get into old comfy clothes. Apply a liberal amount of oil to the hair. You want every hair to be completely saturated. Cover with a shower cap. Place an old towel over the shoulders to catch any drippies.
Repeat for the entire family. Leave oil and shower cap in place for at least 18 hours. Really, 18 hours. Do you want to do this again and again and again? 18 hours.
[A side note: some people like to use mayonnaise. It works, but mayo goes rancid much faster than oil, so I stick with oil.]
7. Clean the house. I know. I'm sorry, but it must be done. Lice don't live long off of their human hosts, but they live long enough to reinfest you. Do it while you are housebound with your doofy-looking shower caps.
- Soak all brushes, combs and hair accessories in hot water for at least 10 minutes. I prefer to run it all through the dishwasher, but the soak should be adequate.
- Machine wash all bedding and dry in the drier on hot (repeat in three days). Start with the infected family member's beds.
- Vacuum couches, chairs, carpets, car upholstery. Throw away the vacuum clearer bag after you finish. Use a new bag tomorrow. Throw it away.
- Machine wash anything that comes in contact with hair that can be machine washed: cloth baby swing seat covers, high chair covers, car seat covers. Dry in the dryer on high if possible. Line dry, if you must, but it's not as effective.
- Any stuffed animals or clothes laying on the floor or in beds should be washed and dried on hot.
- You can bag up anything that cannot be washed in an airtight bag for thirty days, but I don't trust that method. Our family's introduction to the joys of lice came from a couch pillow at a friend's home that had just been taken out after its 90 day airtight quarantine. Vacuum any quarantined items before putting them back into use.
- Mop hard flooring.
9. Nit removal. Good news: nit removal only needs to happen to the infected members of the family. Now, in theory, after 18 hours in oil, all the nits should be dead. Do not believe theories. Get every one of those nasty nits out. If you caught it early, there shouldn't be too many of them.
They sell several kinds of nit looseners. Don't waste your money.
There are several kinds of nit removal combs. Choose a metal one with very fine teeth. Combs work best on straight hair that has thick individual strands.
Bad news: Most children have hair too fine for a nit comb (including the three examples pictured above). Each hair that has a nit on it will need to be individually scraped. Sorry, I wish it wasn't true.
Here are the scraping procedures:
- Gather your equipment: a cup of water, a chair for the victim, something to hold the sections of hair you are not working with (elastic bands, banana clips, etc.), a nit comb if you are going to use one.
- If at all possible, go outside into the sunlight. You will see the nits much better. If outside isn't available, use a very bright light.
- Start wherever you want, you'll get to it all eventually. Separate a small section of hair. Secure the hair that is not being examined.
- Look for nits.
- When you find one, very slowly, carefully, using the nails of your thumb and forefinger scrape the hair shaft. This will slide the nit off without hurting your child. The nit is now located under your fingernail. (Do this for any dead lice you run into too.)
- Put your fingers in the cup of water and agitate them lightly to so that the nit (or dead louse) falls in the water.
- You will get a rhythm going.
- Repeat until you or your child can't stand it any more.
- Take a break.
- Every time you stop, empty your cup of nitty water into the toilet or sink. Refill when you start again.
- Continue until your child's entire head has been searched and all nits have been removed, taking as many breaks as necessary.
With chemical treatment, reinfestation is nearly universal, but every family I know who has used this process has had no reinfestation. And no reinfestation is good. Very, very good.
Best of luck and sorry to gross you out prior to your need. (My head is ichy. How about yours?)