Many people with head lice and hair extensions are truly torn...which is more daunting: removing the expensive and time-consuming hair extensions you just paid for or potentially living with lice and nits in the hair? Keep in mind, nits never shed off of the hairs they’re glued to, even after the baby bugs hatch and leave the egg. Before we get into treatment options for people with extensions, we feel it’s important to distinguish between a person who has hair extensions and head lice and a situation where there are head lice in hair extensions themselves...
Can Lice Live in Hair Extensions?
One time, we received a call from a distressed woman who had just gotten beautiful sewn-in hair extensions. As she was fixing her hair the next morning, she suddenly spotted what looked to be a few nits (lice eggs) on her new-to-her hair. Besides being upset about her salon’s quality control, she was anxious that she now had lice. “Can you get lice from hair extensions with nits on them?” she asked us.
While it’s possible to pick up lice at the hair salon (although there are safeguards in place to prevent that from happening), the real question here is how long can head lice live in hair extensions made from real human hair?
The answer is the same as it is for any inanimate object: up to 36 hours, but usually far less time. The nits need the heat of the head to incubate them into maturity and hatching, just like a bird will sit on its eggs to hatch them. If hairs with nits glued to them are cut from the head, that hair becomes an inanimate object, and those nits will not hatch. Even if a nit was in the hatching process as the hair was cut, that baby bug wouldn’t survive without direct access to a human. So as long as your stylist isn’t cutting the hair off of one person’s head and directly transferring it to yours on the same day, it is not possible to get lice from hair extensions. If you do have head lice with hair extensions in, the lice came from someone else because head lice are transferred from person to person.
People don’t get head lice in hair extensions, they get head lice in their natural hair where it is attached to the scalp. Lice live on the scalp, where they feed on human blood by biting twice a day, and they lay their eggs on the hairs where they attach to the scalp. The hair extensions are not truly a concern, except that they function as a roadblock to successful lice treatment.
Can You Use Head Lice Treatment on Hair Extensions?
Whenever someone calls us and says, “I have lice with hair extensions,” we know we are in for a delicate conversation. Lice and hair extensions are two words that, when used together, make everything more complicated. Our lice treatment is the safest and most effective available: combing and picking the lice out of the hair. When combined with our unique aftercare plan, our process is over 99% effective at eliminating lice. But, how can we comb the hair all the way from the scalp (where the lice are) to the tip if there are extensions semi-permanently installed in the hair?
We’ve spent the last two decades preaching that, in order to be effective as a treatment, all the nits and live bugs need to be physically removed. Since this is off the table if the hair cannot be combed from root to tip, head lice treatment for hair extensions at first glance seems to be limited to chemical lice treatment...but will that even work, and will it damage the hair extensions?
As mentioned in other articles on our blog, head lice chemicals and pesticide shampoos are largely ineffective at killing nits. Over-the-counter brands are losing their power as the lice grow resistant to the common chemicals. These chemicals don’t even penetrate the eggshells to kill the baby bugs developing inside the nits, meaning they’ll hatch and start the problem over again if not removed. Prescription chemical lice treatments from the doctor may work to kill some eggs, but nothing kills 100% of the eggs, so no matter what treatment is done, those nits still have to be completely gone for the cycle to end. If you follow the typical advice on how to treat head lice with hair extensions and try using chemical lice shampoos, there’s a very high probability the lice won’t fully go away, and you’ll be dealing with this again in a couple of weeks. Plus, lice shampoo and other lice treatments may damage certain glues used to hold the extensions in, rendering your attempts to save your extensions fruitless.
When LiceDoctors comes to a home to treat a child for lice, we always recommend the entire family gets thoroughly checked while we are there. This is because by the time you see your child scratching, the lice have probably been contagious for weeks, but during the initial stages, it’s extremely difficult to spot unless you know what you’re looking for and are actively looking. Although most of the time, parents call us with the intention that we treat the kids for lice, that’s not exactly how it ends up. In 75% of the families we treat, mom has already caught lice from the kids, whether she knows it or not.
At LiceDoctors, we are committed to saving your money as the most affordable professional lice treatment for the whole family, and we recognize and respect that hair extensions aren’t cheap! Many people hesitate to remove their hair extensions simply because they spent so much time and money getting them to put in. With this in mind, if you only want your kids treated for lice but want your high-dollar locks left alone, we will respect your wishes and focus on the others in the household. It’s your house, it’s your rules.
Just remember...by the time lice are symptomatic on the kids, the mom has lice too in 3 out of 4 cases. There is a good chance you are already developing lice and will give it back to the kids. Because while the extensions are in, we cannot rule you out as a carrier, leaving your extensions in and just crossing your fingers that you don’t have lice yet may mean having to pay for a second treatment visit, which may end up costing as much as having the extensions redone. Since combing and picking are the only reliable head lice treatment, hair extensions really should be removed if there is evidence that you have lice, no matter how mild.
How to Treat Head Lice with Hair Extensions?
When people ask us for a guide on head lice treatment for hair extensions, we tell them it’ll be the same treatment as usual, but with the extra first step of removing the extensions.
- Remove all extensions from the hair. The extensions can be saved; they cannot become infested with lice. If you’re worried there might be a bug in them, you can carefully lay them in a bag and place them in the freezer, which will kill any bugs that might have gotten on them without significantly damaging the hair itself.
- Apply oil to the head hair, saturating thoroughly.
- Comb out the hair using a high-quality lice comb.
- Wash the oil out of the hair. Two washes will cut the oil better than one. If the shampoo is especially gentle, add a drop of dish soap to the normal amount of shampoo.
- Dry the hair.
- Handpick any remaining nits from the hair, being sure not to miss any nits.
- Don’t re-attach hair extensions until you are absolutely sure everyone in the home has been lice-free for at least 20 days.
- If you use LiceDoctors in-home natural lice and nit removal service, we will customize an aftercare plan for you to guarantee that everyone remains lice-free, so you can get your extensions put back in without worry.
Whereas LiceDoctors natural lice removal treatment is safe and effective for all ages, and we treat adults with head lice every single day, sometimes there are special concerns that arise when treating lice on adults. If you have hair extensions and someone in your household is having us treat their head lice, we can perform a basic check on you to help determine if you have lice before you remove your extensions for treatment.
However, keep in mind that the only kind of check that will detect lice within the first few days of catching it is an oiled comb-through with a professional lice comb. Because we cannot do a complete comb through on hair with extensions as the attachments block the comb, we cannot certify that that check is thorough.
What we ultimately recommend for maximum peace of mind is that you remove your extensions if you’re at high risk for having head lice, just to be sure that we can eradicate the case of head lice for the entire family once and for all, guaranteed, so you can confidently get those extensions put back in soon after treatment. We recognize that this can be a stressful decision to make and that every lice case is different. We would love to speak with you to go over your options, weigh the risks versus benefits, and answer your questions about head lice and hair extensions. Please give us a call any time to speak to one of our knowledgeable, caring dispatchers about your unique circumstances at 1-800-224-2537.