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‍DOES ALCOHOL REALLY KILL LICE?

‍DOES ALCOHOL REALLY KILL LICE?
Updated on 
December 15, 2020

When the primary caretaker of a family finds that one or more members of the household have lice, she or he will often start grasping for straws – combing the internet for something, anything, that will help get rid of lice quickly and effectively without breaking the bank. As is the case with most things, there is more than one way to try to get rid of lice. Some of these methods, such as benzyl alcohol lotion, may have some effectiveness, others are merely gimmicks that families end up spending a whole lot of money on with zero satisfaction and a lot of disappointment.

We have heard far too many of these gimmicky methods of treating a case of lice recounted to us as the caregiver explains to us all of the things they have done to try to get rid of it, and yet they have failed. One of the more common techniques that we have heard relayed to us is the use of alcohol and alcohol-based lice treatment. Some even ask can rubbing alcohol kill lice eggs or can alcohol kill lice and nits? With alcohol in so many household items, and readily accessible, which ones are effective at killing lice? Can you use Listerine and vinegar for lice? Is benzyl alcohol lotion effective and safe?

Will Alcohol Kill Lice?

Can alcohol kill lice? Does alcohol kill lice on contact? These are loaded questions. While the answer to the question “can alcohol kill head lice” is technical yes, the type and strength of alcohol used will determine the effectiveness of the treatment. Benzyl alcohol 5%, formerly branded as Ulesfia, was approved for treating head lice in people older than six months and younger than sixty years old.

In 2019, the manufacturer ceased production of this benzyl alcohol lotion for undefined business reasons. This is a specific lice treatment that had to be obtained at a pharmacy with a prescription that would be provided by your doctor. Like other lice medications, benzyl alcohol lice treatment is a pediculicide, meaning it only kills the live bugs. It does this by suffocating the live bugs. Because it suffocates live bugs, it is not considered ovicidal. This means that it will not kill the eggs. The benzyl alcohol lotion was unable to penetrate the outer shell of the lice eggs (nits) to kill the bug that is inside the shell.

In view of this, the second application of benzyl alcohol was required to kill the bugs that hatch out of these eggs after seven days following the initial treatment. As is the case with other prescription and over-the-counter lice treatments, it was not 100% effective. In addition to this, the benzyl alcohol medication came with side effects, some serious, such as itching, numbness and pain, and pus-filled sores that many families found undesirable and not worth the risk.

Will Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?

listerine for head lice

A different kind of alcohol that clients have reported using for killing lice is rubbing alcohol, most commonly the kind you find in your household medicine cabinet to be used as a disinfectant. After hearing about the effectiveness prescription of benzyl alcohol has on lice, clients would like to know does rubbing alcohol kill lice? If so, what is the best way of treating lice with rubbing alcohol? If it is effective, can rubbing alcohol kill lice and nits? After all, there are many sources online that recommend disinfecting or soaking brushes or other hair accessories in alcohol to kill any lice on them, so it would be reasonable to conclude when pondering "can you kill lice with rubbing alcohol", that the answer is yes; alcohol kills lice and that it would kill the lice on the head, right? Wrong. The keyword here is soaked.

Rubbing alcohol and lice need to be in contact for a considerable amount of time for the live bugs to die. It would be impossible to completely submerge the lice-infested head in rubbing alcohol for a long enough time to say confidently that alcohol kills lice, without putting the person being treated at risk. So will rubbing alcohol kill lice? The answer is effectively no; rubbing alcohol will not eradicate a case of lice.

Downsides of Using Rubbing Alcohol to Kill Lice

Prolonged and/or direct exposure of skin to rubbing alcohol can cause many undesirable side effects which include:

  • Dryness
  • Burning on the scalp
  • Rubbing alcohol is flammable

In addition, it can delay the healing of any sores that might be on the head from lice bites having been scratched. Speaking of scratches….have you ever poured rubbing alcohol on a wound? If you have, you no doubt understand that those scratches are going to burn very badly and cause severe discomfort. If alcohol drips down into the eyes, that would be extremely uncomfortable, potentially even dangerous. Rubbing alcohol can also be harmful to the hair and hair follicles.

How to Kill Lice with Rubbing Alcohol

Ironically, the method that is usually used to try and kill lice with rubbing alcohol involves combing; including all of the hair down from hair follicles. It is the combing that gets rid of the lice and nits, not the alcohol. Since there is no evidence that the little bit of alcohol that is used to facilitate the combing out of lice can kill lice and their eggs, the natural conclusion is that it is not the alcohol being used, but rather the combing technique that eradicates a lice infestation.

Does Mouthwash Kill Lice?

Another alcohol-based product that clients have reported trying in the past is mouthwash for lice. Sometimes when clients call they start by seeking advice on how to get rid of lice with mouthwash. This technique is widely known and many families with extensive experience with lice have tried this method and some claim to have had some success. So can you use mouthwash for killing lice?

The instructions most people familiar with this treatment abide by include putting the mouthwash in some sort of a spray bottle. Use the spray bottle to saturate the hair with mouthwash. Once saturated, this method requires that you comb, comb, and keep combing with a good nit comb to remove all of the eggs. One application is not enough; this process should be completed several times to ensure that this method is successful. The process, if completed as directed, will be successful, but it will not be the mouthwash that gets rid of the case of lice. The reason this method will ultimately prove to be effective is because of the repeated combing. The key to getting rid of an infestation of lice lies in the ability to get rid of all of the bugs and eggs from the hair. Left behind, two eggs can start an infestation all over again. The repeated combing involved with this protocol, especially when repeated multiple times over a week or more, if you remove every single nit (not easily done by a novice), will get rid of all of the bugs and eggs, ending a lice infestation.

Does Hand Sanitizer Kill Lice?

Hand sanitizer is something most of us have with us at all times these days, so it would be convenient if something most families have readily available to them could be effective at treating head lice. It would be inexpensive and useful, especially for those late-night lice discoveries. The active ingredient in hand sanitizer is, you guessed it, alcohol – either isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. The claim to this method of treating head lice is that it stuns the lice for a period of time which will allow you the opportunity to remove them with a nit comb. Notice – this method of using isopropyl alcohol for lice treatment does not claim to have the ability to kill lice, rather, isopropyl alcohol or other alcohols may serve to temporarily stop lice from crawling around, potentially making it less difficult to comb out the live bugs.

As with all effective forms of head lice treatment, something must also be done to address the eggs that would remain in the hair, and this product does not penetrate the shell of the egg to kill the baby bug (nymph) inside of it. Therefore, for this method to be an effective form of lice eradication, a lice-infested person would have to either comb and handpick all of the eggs out of the hair or repeat the treatment on set days so the live baby bugs can be combed out after they hatch.

Therefore, with this method of lice removal, while potentially effective when followed up on correctly, it is not the alcohol in the hand sanitizer, or anything else in the hand sanitizer for that matter, that kills head lice. Rather, it is the repeated combing that may ultimately kill head lice. Noticing a pattern?

Does Vodka Kill Lice?

Another option that some claim to have found to be effective at killing lice, or treating lice, is vodka. The alcohol in vodka is ethanol. When clients hear that alcohol may have some effectiveness against head lice, they likely start searching around the house for anything that might have some alcohol in it so they can start with the treatment they found on the internet which may lead them to the home’s liquor cabinet. While not the cheapest form of alcohol, some have tried using vodka to get rid of their family’s unwanted lice house guests. Like the hand sanitizer and mouthwash remedies that have been used and documented on the internet, the claim to vodka’s effectiveness in the war against head lice lies in its ability to make lice drunk or stunned, to make it easier to remove live bugs with a nit comb. While we are on this subject, the same applies to beer; the alcohol in the beer will not penetrate the shells of the nits.

Again, as in the case with other alcohol-based lice treatments, it is not the active ingredient of alcohol in these products that kills the lice, rather it is the combing process that may serve to get rid of a lice infestation. So if you are wondering how to get rid of head lice with vodka or other alcohol, you will need to apply the alcohol to the hair and perform a thorough comb-out process (or you can leave out the vodka and just comb, comb, and comb). One session with this method will likely not be sufficient to ensure a case of lice is gone. Eggs that are laid the day of and before a head lice treatment are microscopic and are therefore not able to be seen or removed. To improve the chances that this protocol will be effective and the microscopic eggs will be removed, you will need to re-treat the infested person for lice again in about a week and again about a week after that.

Does Beer Kill Lice?

Sometimes if clients do not have hand sanitizer, rubbing alcohol, vodka, or mouthwash at home, or maybe it was too late to get in with the pediatrician….they may wonder does beer kills lice? After all, like all of the other alcohol-based treatments, there is alcohol in beer as well. Of course, the alcohol content in beer is lower than all of the other alcohol-based treatments we have already discussed, but is it enough to have the same effect? Better yet, since it is different, maybe it will have different, more favorable effects on a case of head lice…maybe?

The alcohol content in beer is ethanol or ethyl alcohol. The treatment for head lice using beer would be the same as other ethyl or ethanol-based head lice treatments. Start by saturating the infested person’s head with beer so that the lice will then become stunned. Once they have been affected in this way by the beer, it would theoretically make it easier to comb all of the bugs out of the hair.

However, as is the case with all of the other alcohol-based lice treatment options outlined here, there is no evidence that beer kills lice – combing is the key to success. To get rid of lice using beer time will need to be spent combing the hair thoroughly to remove all of the live bugs and eggs. Subsequent treatments are also needed to get out any remaining eggs or bugs before they mature and begin to reproduce – starting a case of head lice all over again.

USING LISTERINE FOR HEAD LICE TREATMENT?

Another alcohol-based head lice treatment that individuals investigate is Listerine for head lice and Listerine for lice prevention. It’s reported that yellow Listerine for lice treatment has the greatest effectiveness, but in reality, Listerine is not an effective treatment or preventative. The instructions for how to use this product for head lice eradication are identical to the instructions for using other alcohols for head lice removal. As with similar products, the use of this particular lice treatment method can irritate the drying of the scalp and cause potential chemical burns.

Conclusion

There are many other alcohol-based home remedies that families and individuals have used and claimed to have had success when treating cases of head lice. However, the only alcohol-based treatment that has been proven to kill lice is the prescription lice product, benzyl alcohol 5%, which has been discontinued. While this treatment was proven to kill live bugs, it did not penetrate the shells of lice eggs (nits), therefore repeat applications were necessary to ensure a case of lice was gone. Because this medication was by prescription, the cost added up quickly for doctor’s visits and the actual cost of the treatment, so for some families, this option was cost-prohibitive. In addition, it causes undesirable side effects.

Other more cost-effective sources of alcohol that most people have either in their homes already or easily accessible like rubbing alcohol, mouthwash, hand sanitizer, vodka, and beer (to name a few) may aid in the removal of bugs by temporarily stunning or immobilizing live head lice, but they do not kill the bugs. Like benzyl alcohol, the eggs are not affected by these products so repeated treatments and effective combing and picking techniques are necessary to ensure that the infestation is completely gone for good.

The bottom line is there are other mediums that we recommend over alcohol to aid in the combing of the hair to eradicate lice. We prefer a viscous oil that allows the comb to go easily through the hair and does not dry out the scalp. Whatever option you choose, remember it is the combing that is essential.

For additional information, you can call at call LiceDoctors at 800-224-2537 and we will provide your family with valuable knowledge about head lice and how to prevent getting future cases of head lice.

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