My head itches as I type this. No, I don’t have lice. At least not at the moment. So far (knock on wood), we’ve been lice-free this year. Not so last. Three separate times last year.

I’m scratching my head (literally, not figuratively) because I just read a blog post from a mom trying to rid her house of the little buggers. Just like I begin scratching every time a letter comes home from school announcing that yet another child’s parents have discovered the creepy crawlies in their angel’s hair.

Since I’ve been through the process and done a fair amount of research–believe me, it’s hard not to become obsessed when you find bugs in your kid’s hair–I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned.

First of all, traditional lice treatments are pesticides. I’ve read enough about the health consequences of humans being unintentionally exposed to pesticides  to know this isn’t a good idea. I’m not too excited about applying them directly to my child’s scalp. Research has shown that pesticides and other toxins can enter the body through the skin.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly to some, pesticide treatments aren’t working. According to the National Pediculosis Association (NPA), lice seem to be developing a resistance to traditional treatments. This makes sense, since the treatments typically kill only the bugs, not the eggs. I remember enough from high school and college biology to conclude that the surviving eggs would build resistance to the treatments.

The first time lice visited our home, I immediately looked for a more natural treatment and have found several that work. None of them eliminate having to scour the scalp at least daily for nits and remove them manually, or wash bedding and clothing, and vacuum furniture, but these kill the bugs and aren’t toxic.

Tea Tree or Melaleuca Oil kills the bugs on contact. It’s actually kind of fun to watch the bugs fall off the scalp as you apply (not night-out-on-the-town-kind-of fun, but when you’re in the throes of lice, you’re fun threshold goes way down). I apply the stuff directly to the hair and scalp and leave on overnight. Wash and comb (using a nit or very fine-toothed comb) hair in the morning, carefully removing any and all nits. I usually do another tea tree oil treatment 3-4 days later. Nit picking (yep, that’s where the phrase comes from) should continue daily for at least 2-3 weeks. We use tea tree shampoo as a preventative as well. (You can find tea tree oil and shampoo at natural food stores, coops, etc. and of course from Melaleuca.)

Olive oil or mayonnaise can kill lice by suffocating them. The head and hair need to be completely coated for at least 4-5 hours. I haven’t tried this one, but know several who have had success with it. Most of them have used a shower cap and slept with it in their hair. The plus to this is that it is better for your hair than tea tree, which can be pretty drying. Wash hair the next morning and, of course, nit pick!

Lice Ice is a natural product that also kills lice on contact (tea tree oil is one of the ingredients). It’s a hair gel that you apply to the scalp and hair and leave on for at least 15 hours (overnight). Like tea tree oil, Lice Ice kills the bugs on contact and then, as the gel hardens, suffocates the nits/eggs. Diluted in water, Lice Ice can also be used as a preventative measure. The only place I’ve found Lice Ice locally is Kowalski’s, but it can be ordered from the company’s website.

In light of resistance to traditional lice treatments, the NPA offers the following advice to parents:

  • Stop using the pesticide treatment if it doesn’t appear to be working. Repeated use of pesticides can cause a variety of health risks.
  • Never use dangerous remedies such as lindane, kerosene or pet shampoos.
  • Never use lice spray which are marketed for use on bedding, cars, rugs, garments and furniture. Vacuuming is safer than sprays and equally effective. Because head lice will not survive without human blood, parents need not obsess about housecleaning and bagging of toys, pillows, etc. Instead, devote your energy to removing lice and eggs from the scalp and hair.
  • Removal is crucial and can be difficult. Head lice move very quickly through hair and can be difficult to see. It may be helpful to have two people checking and, and because it’s so easy to miss a nit or a bug, continue checking for 2-3 weeks after treatment.
  • Check your children fro lice often. Treatment is much easier and effective if it is caught early.

We’ve found that keeping Grace’s hair in a ponytail while she’s at school seems to reduce contact with others. It’s also important to remind your kids not to share hats, combs, jackets, etc with their friends and classmates.

Be well and bug free!