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A Brief History of Lice Treatments

line art drawing of Cleopatra reclining on a chaise lounge bed bench

Updated on July 17, 2020

By Lice Technician, Margaret Steingraber

While head lice may seem more prevalent today than in the past, this nuisance has been around for centuries. Read on for a brief history of this parasite.

Since ancient times, head lice have been a constant annoyance to humans. Derived from the lice found on apes, these little blood sucking vermin have been treated the same way from the early days of Egypt up to contemporary times.  They have inspired many sayings that we still use today.  They even inspired an entire fashion statement during the 1700s. So let’s jump into this brief history of lice treatments!

Ancient Egypt to Medieval Times

The first lice treatment took place around 1550 B.C. in Egyptancient Egyptian Pharaoh figure.  Ancient priests were encouraged to shave their heads in order to not give the lice a place to live.  

Cleopatra herself was buried with a fancy comb specially made to scratch her head.  Two Peruvian mummies from 1025 BC were found to have between 400 and 550 specimens on them. Researchers have determined that lice have derived from three separate lineages.    

The 1600s – 1700s

In the 1600s, humans started trying different concoctions to rid themselves of the dreaded lice.  Parents were told to give their children everything from tomato juice to a drink mix made of vinegar and cheese whey.  Another example is a recipe made from sneezing powder mixed with beaten ginger then combined with melted butter.  It is unclear whether or not any of these concoctions actually worked or not, but they certainly sound interesting.Mona Lisa painting

In the 1700s, humans’ dealings with lice inspired a trend of wearing perukes, also called powdered wigs.  For the perukes to fit the right way, the head had to be shaved.  Lice stopped hanging out on their hair, but then started infesting the wigs.  Lice treatment with the wigs was simple; instead of nit picking (a modern phrase still used today), they just boiled the wigs.  While the men used wigs to avoid lice, women kept their fancy hair styles for several weeks with hair pomade that was made from beef fat. These women used silver combs in their hair that could be used to scratch the attractive and useful trend for the time period.

The 1800s to Today

Treatments varied from a concoction from vinegar and lard to leaving the responsibility to the women stylized humorous rendition of American Gothic painting wearing nit pick themselves and their families and friends.

The first record of head lice in the U.S. is from early 1800’s in Wisconsin. A lice comb made from bone was discovered in the 1930’s in Fort Crawford, Wisconsin and currently is in the Wisconsin Historical Museum. It makes sense that in a location where people were in close quarters, such as a fort, there would have been a lice outbreak.

People still use chemicals and concoctions to rid themselves of head lice, many times to no avail.  The best treatment for any type of lice has apparently always been and still is the comb.  LiceDoctors technicians use the highest quality comb to eliminate the lice.  That comb (combined with the four corners combing technique) is the absolute best treatment… and history agrees!  If you are in West Valley City, Utah, call LiceDoctors any day or night at 801-477-4730 for safe and effective lice removal service in the privacy of your home.