The Most Popular Home Lice Treatments
From peanut butter and mayonnaise to vodka and kerosene, parents have turned to anything and everything to treat lice on their children—some more effective than others. It’s easy to see why lice shampoo is a go-to solution, but many readily-available treatments are filled with harmful chemicals. Some products can also have potential side effects, which is why non-toxic treatments can be as effective and safer for your child. We’ve compiled a list of common treatments—from OTC to DIY—and some info about how effective they really are.
Over the Counter Medications
- Pyrethrin & 1% Permethrin lotion
Pyrethrin is a natural insecticide derived from the chrysanthemum flower and is safe and effective when used as directed. Permethrin is a synthetic version of pyrethrin and can be found over the counter in 1% lotion. Both work by disabling the nervous system of lice, but unfortunately they don’t kill unhatched eggs (nits).
In order for it to be effective, the CDC recommends using a second treatment 9 to 10 days after the first treatment to kill any newly hatched lice before they can produce new eggs. The only problem is that some lice have become resistant to pyrethrin and permethrin.
Whatever your pantry weapon of choice, most of the below options work by clogging breathing holes and suffocating the louse. But since lice can survive without breathing for hours, be sure to apply overnight and cover with plastic wrap or a shower cap.
Olive Oil and Essential Oils
Grabbing a bottle of olive oil might seem like a great first bet against lice—it’s all natural, doesn’t smell as bad as mayonnaise, and won’t harm skin. However, olive oil alone can only kill lice and not unhatched eggs. That’s why some people recommend adding a few drops of essential oils for the mask to actually work.
A study in 2004 found that a number of essential oils are actually more effective in killing lice than phenothrin and pyrethrum (active ingredients found in OTC lice treatments). Of the 54 oils tested (including eucalyptus, marjoram, pennyroyal and rosemary) the two deemed safest and most effective are tea tree and lavender oil.
According to the Mayo Clinic, tea tree oil is a natural insecticide and antibacterial that can help treat acne, athlete's foot, lice, nail fungus and insect bites. When used in combination with lavender oil, the two can kill lice in the nymph and adult stages of life. Tea tree oil treatments also reduced the number of lice eggs that hatched. A 10:1 olive oil to essential oil ratio was found to be even more effective than commercial treatment and helped eliminate 97% of lice.
Vinegar & Vodka
Some people believe that vinegar or vodka can help remove nits by breaking down the bond between the egg and hair shaft. The acetic acid in vinegar can also help to remove excess oil after smothering the scalp overnight. While there’s no known evidence of vinegar having a clinical benefit, many people recommend using white vinegar—straight up or diluted with water—to remove lice eggs.
Similar to vinegar, the alcohol in vodka is believed to kill lice eggs by breaking down their shells. It’s recommended that you use at least 80 proof liquor for it to really work. To use, fill a spray bottle with vodka and a few drops of cinnamon leaf essential oil, then spray directly on the hair and scalp while you comb for nits.
Adding heat to your lice-removing arsenal has been proven to be highly effective in killing nits, but less so in eradicating live lice. One study found that an old-fashioned bonnet dryer killed nearly 89% of nits but just 10% of lice, while a blow dryer using direct-heat got rid of nearly 98% of nits and 55% of lice.
Remember to use a hair dryer only on freshly washed hair. Some chemical lice treatment products are highly flammable, and the extra heat can be dangerous.
- No matter which treatment you use, a good, high quality lice comb is absolutely necessary when it comes to nitpicking. A metal comb with fine, close teeth will help crush the nit shell and pull them off from the hair shaft. Lice hatch about eight days after the eggs are laid, so it’s a good idea to comb every day until you’ve gone at least eight days without seeing any nits or live lice.
For an added punch, use an electric comb like the RobiComb® Lice Zapping Comb to quickly kill lice and eggs. The RobiComb® uses MicroCharge technology to zap lice on contact with a safe electric pulse that kills lice but doesn’t hurt kids. Simply run the RobiComb® through clean, dry hair. If you listen closely, you’ll actually be able to hear lice being eliminated on contact. Best of all, it’s clinically-proven to work and is completely safe.
- LiceGuard Webmaster