How to Tell the Difference Between Lice Eggs and Dandruff

lice eggs or nits under magnifying glass on white paper towel

People see white specks in the hair and are sometimes not sure if they are looking at dandruff or nits. It can be confusing and overwhelming to look at a sea of white specks on a head. Below describes the differences between dandruff and nits.

Dandruff (also known as seborrhea dermatitis) is very common and is caused by the excessive production of dead skin cells that can be itchy and are flaky. Dandruff is not contagious. It is generally found on the scalp of people who have either very oily or very dry skin. It is estimated that up to half the population has some form of dandruff. Dandruff usually appears in patches around the head and flakes off of the hair.

Head lice lay eggs call nits that are sometimes confused with dandruff. Lice and their accompanying eggs affect at least 6-12 million U.S. kids between the ages of 3 and 11 each year. Nits are glued to the hair within a quarter of an inch of the scalp. They do not flake or blow off the hair. In fact, it is very unlikely that a nit will fall out of the hair at all because it is cemented to the hair. Nits are tiny—about 0.8 millimeter long and 0.3 millimeter wide. They are oval with a pointy front.

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Nits have a translucent shell that give them a whitish appearance in the hair. When nits are extracted from the hair and placed on a white paper towel they actually look brown. After hatching they will look white. Nits can be very difficult to find in the hair as they tend to camouflage. While both dandruff and nits can be located anywhere on the scalp, dandruff tends to be scattered and nits are often found clustered near the ears and the nape of the neck.

The quickest way to tell the difference between dandruff and nits is to move the hair. If the white matter falls out of the hair, then you are looking at dandruff. If what you are looking at sticks to the hair and needs to be pulled off your by fingertips then you have a case of head lice and you are looking at nits.

If you find nits or are unsure, call LiceDoctors in the Potomac area at 240-720-7491. We may ask you to take a picture and send it to us and we will be able to advise you as to what you are dealing with. LiceDoctors is available day or night, every day every year, to help defeat head lice.