Every parent of a school aged child lives in fear of that call. You know the call, “Hi this is Mr.B from Susie’s school. I am calling to inform you that there has been an outbreak of lice in your child’s classroom.” At that moment you might slightly panic, and have some phantom lice crawling on your head. I can feel the phantom lice on my head just writing about it now. Ick.
What are lice anyway?
According to the CDC:
“The head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis, is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several time a day and live close to the human scalp.”
They have three stages in their life cycle, egg/nit, nymph and adult. Nits are about the size of a knot in a piece of string and hard to see. They rest at the base of the skull, up to an inch from the base of the skull. They often appear white or yellow but can look different colors depending on a person’s hair color. They take an average of 8-9 days to hatch, which is why it is recommended to do a secnd round of treatment after 7-10 days of the original treatment, to kill off the lice that have hatched and prevent the life cycle from repeating its self. Nymph’s are hatched nits but immature. They grow into the adult louse.
To prevent lice:
If your family is lice-free and you would like to stay that way, add 1-2 drops of Melaleuca ( tea tree oil) Essential Oil to your shampoo/poo free solution every time they wash their hair. Just to be safe just add it to everyone’s shampoo/conditioner/vinegar rinse at the rate of 10 drops per cup of solution. Melaleuca will repel the lice and keep them from taking up residence on your head.
To treat lice:
When you are told your child has lice you may jump up and rush to the drug store for one of the well-known chemical based lice treatments. These treatments have some pretty nasty side effects and according to the EWG database include ingredients that cause neurotoxicity, allergies, immunotoxicity, endocrine disruption, organ system toxicity, biochemical or cellular level changes, developmental/reproductive toxicity… I could go on. So, how do we avoid these toxins and get rid of those pesky bugs?
Mayonnaise or Vaseline
This is a pretty well known natural lice treatment. Go buy a jar of mayonnaise (fresh from the shelf not from the fridge since cold mayo would be uncomfortable) or Vaseline and smear it all over your head, being sure to thoroughly cover the hair, behind the ears, around the forehead and down the neck. Anywhere these little buggers will live. If you are using mayonnaise, let it sit for two hours then wash it out using shampoo. No longer as it can go bad and cause food borne illness. You may have to wash a few times to get clean feeling hair, and rinse the hair with 50/50 vinegar/water solution afterward to loosen the nits and help them slide out of the hair. If you are using Vaseline cover hair with a shower cap or plastic wrap and leave on for at least two hours, or overnight. To wash out Vaseline you will have to use repeated doses of dawn dish detergent to get the goop out. Rinse hair with vinegar/water solution.
Once the hair is washed get a good quality nit comb, preferably stainless steel so you can boil it between treatments, and comb through the hair systematically looking for any nits. The nits secrete a glue like substance that keeps them firmly attached to the skull. The vinegar solution should dissolve this so they can be easily combed out. If they are still sticking do another vinegar rinse and leave it in for a few minutes before rinsing it out. Pick out all the nits you see, and repeat treatment between 7 and 10 days to kill the lice that might have hatched since the last treatment.
Olive oil is also used to smother lice, and according to a study done by Harvard School of Medicine, is the most effective oil to use.
Oil Treatment for Head Lice
2 oz Olive Oil (use more base oil for longer hair)
Combine the essential oils with the base oil and mix well.
Rub the oil thoroughly throughout the hair being sure to cover behind the ears and the back of the neck as well. Cover head with a plastic shower cap or plastic wrap and let it sit AT LEAST 1 hour (up to 8 hours). Wash with shampoo and the vinegar rinse mentioned above. Comb the hair with a nit comb in small sections being sure to go through every piece of hair. Repeat treatment in 7-10 days.
Use caution when using this solution. If it gets into the eyes rinse the eye with olive oil. Oil will dilute the oil and soothe the eye. Water will disperse the oil too quickly causing increased irritation.
Lice do not spread because of improper hygiene. They spread from direct contact from one human host to another, and get transferred from clothes, scarves, hair ties, and other personal objects that touch the hair. Lice cannot transfer from animals to humans and vice versa so your pets are safe.
Lice can live for 24 hours away from their human host. Be sure to wash every piece of clothing, bedding, stuffed animals, anything soft in HOT water and dry on the HOT cycle. If it is something you cannot wash in hot water for fear of damage, run in the dryer on hot for at least 30 minutes. For comforters or other bedding that you cannot fit into the wash, double bag it in a garbage bag and let it sit for at least 24 hours to let the lice die. I would probably leave it up to a week, just to be on the safe side.
Vacuum the carpets, couch, chairs, and any other upholstered surfaces well and throw away the vacuum bag immediately. If you have a bag-less vacuum, empty the container and clean the filters thoroughly. Vacuuming should get rid of the lice nicely, but as an extra precaution can create an upholstery spray using the same ingredients as the olive oil/ essential oil hair treatment. Just add 2 oz of water with the oil combination and shake well before using.
With these natural treatments you should be able to avoid and treat head lice naturally without applying pesticides directly to your family member’s scalp.