The Ultimate Guide to Lice Treatments

Getting Rid of Head Lice Quickly and Safely

Rethinking Effective Lice Treatment

12 Million

Up to 12 million children contract lice annually in the U.S.

24 Million

Up to 24 million school days in the U.S. are lost to head lice each year


70% of the OTC treatment shampoos & ointments contain the highly toxic Permethrin

What are Head Lice?

Head lice are small insects that live on the human scalp, feeding on blood several times a day. These parasites make small bites in the scalp to feed and live off of human hosts. The bites don’t hurt, but lice excrete a substance to prevent the blood from clotting, which can cause severe itching and allergic reactions. Without a host to feed on, lice will die within 1 to 2 days.

How Common are Lice?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that up to twelve million children aged 3 to 12 contract lice in the United States each year.

Pediatrics, the Official Journal of The American Academy of Pediatrics, cites studies that claim as many as 24 million days of school annually are lost to lice infestations and schools’ “no nit” policies. The economic burden for parents is mounting, too; pharmacotherapy alone costs the United States economy $240 million annually and experts estimate direct and indirect costs may be as high as $1 billion per year!

How Do I Know My Child has Lice?

Dandruff, dry scalp or that odd substance your child gets on his or herself after crawling through bushes sure can mimic a lice infestation, so it’s important to check for symptoms! The most common symptom of a lice infestation is itchiness, as lice bites cause an allergic reaction which causes the itch.

Other symptoms include: 

  • Red bumps on the head, neck and shoulders
  • Difficulty sleeping, as lice are most active at night
  • Swollen lymph nodes, which can be caused by the infections from the bites

Still not sure? You can always take your child to their pediatrician for a check-up. Alternatively, try shining a bright light onto your child’s scalp. The lice appear as brown, sesame-seed-sized insects crawling on the scalp; the nits are small and white. They are usually close to the scalp and appear to be stuck to individual hairs.

A Better Path to Eliminating Lice

"Your child has lice! Please come and collect them.”

You just got off the phone with your child’s school. You’re trying not to freak out. You’re feeling itchy – is that just your imagination, or could you have lice, too?

Before you panic, remember: lice are an all too common nightmare for American parents. Children play in close quarters, which is just what lice need to jump from one child to the next, no matter how clean they are! In fact, lice love clean hair. Lice aren’t dangerous, either – just annoying! They don’t do any real damage and don’t carry diseases.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics has already called for schools to end “no nit” policies. They state that head lice are a nuisance, but not a serious disease or sign of poor hygiene. They further find that these policies are unjust toward otherwise-healthy children.

However, for now, lice still keep your child out of school and, well, make your family downright miserable! So, what do you do when you detect lice? Kill them as quickly as possible!

Here’s the problem: lice are common in children, yet many lice treatment products on the market are toxic – 60% of over-the-counter treatment shampoos and ointments contain the highly toxic ingredient Permethrin, which can have some nasty side effects.

In addition to side effects, research published in the Journal of Medical Entomology†† found that head lice in 42 states are 100 percent resistant to these over-the-counter treatments. So not only will your child face negative side effects – the treatment might not even work!

It’s Time for Safe, Non-Toxic Solutions

Why would any parent put such harmful substances on their child’s head? Luckily, there’s a better way, and to that end, this guide to lice treatment is here to help you eliminate lice quickly, safely and reliably – without killing any of your child’s neurons!

Non-Toxic Lice Treatment (Questionable Effectiveness)

Coating your hair with mayonnaise may be non-toxic, but it probably isn’t effective (for anything other than smelling like a sandwich, anyway).

Mayonnaise and other home remedy treatments are understandably popular among parents, but most are unproven when it comes to effectiveness.

Home remedy treatments work the same way: they’re designed to suffocate or smother the lice.

Treatments may include coating the hair with things like:

  • Coconut oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Olive oil

Unfortunately, these treatments don’t get rid of eggs, commonly called “nits.” These nits take 6 to 9 days††† to hatch into nymphs. So that mayonnaise may smother the full-grown lice, but new ones will hatch in a week!

Plus, lice can last 6-hours without air. Your child probably won’t sit still that long, and you may end up with mayonnaise all over your house!

Tea tree oil is another common non-toxic lice treatment. Lice are repulsed by the smell; unfortunately, the oil doesn’t send them packing if they’re already present.

Unfortunately, lice have become immune to the active lice-fighting ingredient, anticholinesterase, which is found in many pesticides. Tea tree oil should therefore only be used to prevent lice – not treat them.

Non-Toxic Lice Treatment (Research-Backed)

Luckily, there are other non-toxic lice treatments! Let’s look at a couple of options that have been backed by research:

Dimethicone Shampoos

Non-toxic dimethicone shampoos are silicone-based. The lubricant coats the lice, which prevents them from getting the air they need to survive.

Dimethicone does not kill the nits, but it does make them much easier to comb out of hair. However, the treatment does not always kill all the live lice the first time, so the shampoo must be used at least a few days in a row. Though not severe, repetitive use has led to cases of mild skin irritation.

Enzyme Treatments

Enzyme lice treatments for kids usually come in the form of shampoos. They are designed to disable and kill lice by mimicking their own molting enzymes and dissolving their exoskeletons. They also work to loosen the nit “glue” which sticks the eggs to the hair, making the eggs easier to remove.

Unfortunately, this sort of treatment doesn’t kill the eggs; it just makes it easier for you to comb them out of your child’s hair. Treatment is still a two-step process: shampoo, then comb, and repeat every day until the lice and eggs are gone.

Lice Combs

Lice combs have been used for years as a part of treatment regimens for infestations. The regular, old-fashioned steel lice comb is a simple, very fine-toothed comb which is run through hair to capture the nits (lice eggs). This method is most effective after using a shampoo or similar treatment to kill the live lice.

Electric Lice Combs

No, this isn’t a science fiction novel – you can electrocute lice! Electric lice combs are safe and non-toxic. The lice will be stunned or electrocuted, but your child will not, thanks to the rubber guards on the comb!

These combs can be used on dry hair of all types with little fuss – including thick hair, which proves to be a problem for other lice treatments! And because the an electric lice comb such as the RobiComb® doesn’t require any shampoos or smelly solutions, there’s no need for any messy clean-up! 

The RobiComb® can also be used on every member of the family, making it an affordable method of lice treatment. One comb for the whole family instead of bottles and bottles of shampoo!

Non-toxic lice treatment is a priority for most concerned parents. This is the magic combination if you want an infestation cleared up as quickly as possible! The RobiComb® is the best-selling lice comb on the market.

Steel Lice Combs

Steel lice combs are cheap and easy to use on fine and straight hair – and they’re chemical-free! Experts say these metal combs are better than their plastic alternatives†††† because the teeth of the comb are narrower and more rigid, thus trapping eggs more efficiently. Those with thick or curly hair may find these combs challenging, however.

For best results, rinse the comb after each pass through the hair to ensure the eggs don’t get put back in! Keep combing for 8-10 days until you don’t see any lice or eggs left.

Vacuum Combs

Vacuum combs are another chemical-free solution and work exactly like your home vacuum – they suck up the living lice and the nits into a collection bag! (The lice are still alive in the vacuum, so if you’re squeamish, you may look for another solution!)

However, they are noisy, which can bother children; and they can be difficult and even painful to use on thick hair.

No matter what sort of comb you choose, you’ll have to use the comb every day, for several days. Some combs are more effective than others, but the majority of them struggle to kill the nit eggs, which means it’s essential that you repeat the treatment until all the nits are gone. With a little persistence, you’ll have your child back to school in no time!

The Lice are Gone? Prevent Another Infestation!

You spent a good amount of time and effort getting rid of the lice – the last thing you want is for them to come back! Thankfully, there are preventative measures you can take to protect your child, and family, from another lice infestation.

First things first: you don’t have to deep clean your entire house! Lice are not like fleas; they can’t fly or jump, nor can they lurk in your furniture. Lice can’t live without a human host for more than three days, so there’s no need to dry clean your curtains!

Instead, do the following:

  • Sterilize all hairbrushes. Clean out any hair and soak in boiling water.
  • Look for any hats, clothes, or accessories your child has worn in the last three days. These should be washed and if possible, dried for 30 minutes in a machine dryer.
  • Wash bed linens and blankets. Put pillows and stuffed animals in the dryer on high heat, too.
  • If there are other soft furnishings your child’s head has been in contact with in the last three days, vacuum and lint-roll those surfaces (including car headrests).
  • If an item can’t go in the dryer, another option is to put it in the freezer overnight, then wipe it clean!
  • Treat everyone in the family, even if they show no signs of lice! The critters are far more likely to have ended up in your hair than on your couch.

If there are too many items to clean or items you can’t fit in the dryer or the freezer, don’t sweat! Just don’t touch them for three days. Any lurking lice will die without human contact. And they won’t lay eggs anywhere else!

A lice infestation doesn’t have to cause shame or panic. It’s a very common occurrence in households with school children. Not to mention lice prefer clean hair, so congratulations – you probably have great hygiene! So, take a breath and follow the steps above when getting rid of lice. Your household will be back to normal in no time!

AAP Updates Treatment for Head Lice

††Expansion of the Knockdown Resistance Frequency Map for Human Head Lice

†††Lice Biology

††††Head lice: Most-used treatments no longer very effective, scientists say

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