Non-Toxic, Pesticide-Free, Safe and Effective Lice Treatment for Toddlers


So, you’ve just discovered that your toddler has lice and you’re on the verge of freaking out.  Don’t panic; it will be okay!  Lice are incredibly common, especially among the sippy cup set who like to snuggle, and they spread quickly to any type of hair.  Lice are not a sign of uncleanliness and, fortunately, they do not carry diseases.  So take a deep breath, and remain calm!

Though lice are not dangerous, getting rid of them can be a time consuming and labor intensive process.  If you have a wiggly toddler, you can likely figure that many options for removing lice will take twice as long.  Toddlers are not known for their patience. 

Know Thy Enemy!

 First, you should understand what exactly you’re up against.  Here are some quick facts you may not know: 

  • Lice thrive in clean hair;
  • Head lice are one of the top three reasons children are absent from school or daycare;
  • According to the CDC, an estimated 6 to 12 million US children, ages 3-11, catch lice every year;
  • Lice are tiny. A full grown louse (the singular of lice) is about the size of a pinhead and can blend in with the hair;
  • Nits (eggs) and Nymphs (young lice) are practically invisible and are “glued” to the hair shaft;
  • Adult lice can live 30 days;
  • Adult female lice lay 8-10 eggs EVERY DAY;
  • Lice do not live on pets; and
  • Lice are more common in girls than boys.

Lice Treatment Options for Toddlers

 Lice Shampoos

 Lice shampoos are probably the first thought that comes to most parents’ minds when they are considering how to get rid of them.  Before rushing off to your local pharmacy, you should know that many lice shampoos contain pesticides and are not approved for children under the age of 2 (some are not recommended for children under the age of 6).  The chemical used in many OTC lice shampoos, usually a form of the pesticide malathion, is harsh on the skin and can cause stinging, burning, and redness.  Shampoos which are approved for children under 2, often use pyrethrins to kill lice. 

 Pyrethrins are organic compounds, derived from the chrysanthemum plant, which are commonly found in natural pesticides.  Pyrethrins have been known to cause allergic reactions, especially among those with hay fever, as well as serious breathing issues.  Even if approved for young children, they should not be used by anyone with asthma.

 As we become more aware of the risks of pesticides to both humans and the environment, non-toxic shampoos have become available.  Safe for even toddlers, they are gentle on the hair while killing the adult lice and nymphs, and helping unglue the nits.

 DIY Lice Remedies

 If you do a quick Google search looking for an at-home remedy, you’ll come up with page after page of “safe” DIY options to kill lice in children.  Here are a few popular ones, and the cautions that one should know about: 

  • Smothering them with mayonnaise or oil. The theory here is relatively sound: the mayonnaise or oil will suffocate and kill the live lice.  In practicality, the thought of covering your child’s head in mayonnaise or oil, wrapping it in plastic overnight, and rinsing it out the next morning, is extremely gross!  Not to mention the fact that you should never put a plastic bag on your child’s head, and the risk of salmonella from mayonnaise is frightening!  Smothering also doesn’t kill the nits;
  • Apple Cider Vinegar. While ACV has been known to dissolve the “glue” that holds nits to the hair, as well as kill nymphs, it does not kill adult lice.  ACV has a 5% acidity level and if the lice have caused any sorts of sores on your child’s scalp, it will sting quite severely.  You must also be careful to avoid getting it into your child’s eyes; and
  • Essential Oils. Essential oils work great for many things, and while they may work on adult lice, they do nothing for nits.  Essential oils can also cause allergic reactions in some children, especially toddlers, so they should be used with extreme caution. 

Lice Combs

The safest non-toxic, pesticide-free option to treat lice in toddlers is by using a lice comb. Lice combs have teeth that are extremely close together to catch all the lice and nits. Some, like this one, from LiceGuard®, even come with magnifying picks to help you better identify the lice.  Since combing doesn’t get all the nits, it will be necessary to comb up to 10 days in a row, until you’re certain there are no more nits.

Wet combing is exactly what it sounds like.  Wetting your toddler’s hair (you can use conditioner in it, but many brands are not gentle enough for toddlers), and combing it with a lice comb.  With toddlers, wet combing may be difficult, as it is often a long process and tangles could be an issue.

Electric combs, like the RobiComb®, are a fast and easy way to kill lice.  Once a louse is hit with electricity, it will be stunned or killed, and the comb will remove it quickly.  

Preventing Further Infestations

 Since you can’t control who your child may cuddle up to at daycare, once you have eliminated the lice, your best move is to do everything you can to prevent another infestation.  Lice cannot live more than 24 hours without feeding, so you don’t need to throw everything out! 

  • Treat all other family members, even if they show no signs of lice (remember, eggs can be nearly invisible!);
  • Wash all clothes and bedding in hot water (130F/55C or higher) and dry on high heat;
  • Clothes, stuffed animals or bedding that cannot be washed should be dry-cleaned;
  • Bedding and stuffed animals that cannot be dry cleaned should in a sealed plastic bag, with the air removed for 3-5 days;
  • Vacuum floors and upholstery;
  • Use the electric lice comb once a week on the entire family during an infestation; and
  • Use a lice repellent spray during an infestation, for up to 24 hours of protection. 

Remember, your toddler having lice is nothing to stress over.  It’s a common occurrence and is not due to anything you have done.  With a little time and effort, combined with a healthy dose of patience, you can rid your child and house of lice in a safe, non-toxic and pesticide-free way!


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