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 that can be successful. Some of these methods, such as benzyl alcohol lotion, may have some effectiveness, while 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 recounted to us as the caregiver explains to us all of the things they have done to try to eliminate it, and yet they have failed. One of the more common techniques that we have heard relayed to us is the use of alcohol-based remedies. Some even ask can rubbing alcohol kill lice eggs? With this product in so many household items, and readily accessible, which ones are effective at killing head lice? Can you use Listerine and vinegar for lice? Is benzyl alcohol lotion effective and safe?
WILL ALCOHOL KILL LICE?
Does alcohol kill lice? While the answer to the question is technical yes, the type and strength of the product 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 lotion for undefined business reasons. This is a specific product to put an end to an outbreak that had to be obtained at a pharmacy with a prescription that would be provided by your doctor. Like other medications, this medication was a pediculicide, meaning it was only effective on 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 lotion was unable to penetrate the outer shell of the nits to get to 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 remedies, it was not 100% effective. In addition to this, the 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.
Does Rubbing Alcohol Kill Lice?
A different kind of product 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. What is the best way to treat using rubbing alcohol? After all, there are many sources online that recommend disinfecting or soaking brushes or other hair accessories in alcohol to eliminate any bugs on them, so it would be reasonable to conclude when pondering "can you kill lice with rubbing alcohol", that the answer is yes. Right? Wrong. The keyword here is soaked.
Rubbing alcohol and these insects 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 head in rubbing alcohol for a long enough time to know that you can use it successfully, without putting the person being treated at risk. So will rubbing alcohol kill lice? The answer is effectively no.
How Different Types of Rubbing Alcohol Work
You can see that different types of alcohol have varying degrees of success when getting rid of this problem, both newly hatched and mature bugs on children and adults. Let's look at some different types:
- Benzyl Alcohol - While data showed that this medication had some success in eradicating infestations, it is no longer marketed to the public, for undisclosed reasons. You can no longer find the product, Ulesfia, designed for treating head lice.
- Isopropyl Alcohol - This product is clear in appearance and is typically used as a disinfectant. Some parents have tried this on their child at 70%-90% strength but our experience is that it is not effective. Even with a second treatment, the bugs can remain alive.
- Ethanol Alcohol - This disinfectant is also used as a solvent and preservative as it has antimicrobial properties. It kills organisms by dissolving their membranes. We do not recommend using this on your scalp as it is too strong, especially for a child, and can cause irritation.
How to Kill Lice with Rubbing Alcohol
Some folks think that using rubbing alcohol is the answer to this problem. Ironically, the method that is usually used to try and remove lice with rubbing alcohol involves combing; including all of the hair shafts down from the follicles. It is the combing that wipes out the problem, not the alcohol. Since there is no evidence that the little bit of alcohol that is used to facilitate the combing out of lice is significant, the natural conclusion is that it is not the alcohol being used, but rather the combing technique that eradicates an infestation.
What Are Possible Dangers Associated with Using Rubbing Alcohol to Kill Lice
Some parents assume that rubbing alcohol to kill lice is the way to go when it comes to lice treatment. They assume that because it works to eliminate germs it is a good idea to try it on these parasites. We do not recommend this route.
Prolonged and/or direct exposure of the skin to rubbing alcohol can cause many undesirable side effects which include:
- Dryness or dehydration of the scalp - Alcohol is drying and may strip natural oils from the hair thereby exacerbating itchiness.
- Burning on the scalp - Using rubbing alcohol for head lice removal can delay the healing of any sores that might be on the head from bites having been scratched. Have you ever poured rubbing alcohol on the scalp where there are open wounds? If you have, you no doubt understand that those scratches are going to burn very badly and cause severe discomfort.
- The product is flammable - On the chance, that your child comes in close contact with fire, having alcohol on the scalp could create a disaster. It is not worth the risk of your getting chemical burns when there are other less dangerous and more effective paths to take.
- Allergic reactions - Possible reactions are itching, burning, stinging, and rash on the scalp, all of which are uncomfortable and will add to the negative experience a child associates with this common problem.
- Hair and skin damage risks - As this product strips oils from the scalps it can have a deleterious effect on the hair and skin. Too much will make your locks brittle and can really irritate the skin. You will see that the answer is yes to does rubbing alcohol damage the hair.
- Potential damage to the eyes - If this product drips down into the eyes, that would be extremely uncomfortable, potentially even dangerous. Sometimes the fumes are enough to cause redness and discomfort to the eyes.
DOES MOUTHWASH KILL LICE?
Another alcohol-based product that clients have reported trying in the past is mouthwash for lice. This technique is widely known and many families with extensive experience have tried this method some claim to have had some success. So can you use mouthwash for eliminating these parasites?
The instructions most people familiar with this remedy 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 repeated combing. The key to ending an infestation lies in the ability to eliminate all of the bugs and eggs. Left behind, two eggs can start up the case 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 eradicate all of the bugs and eggs.
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 could be an effective product that kills lice. It would be inexpensive and useful, especially for those late-night discoveries. The active ingredient is, you guessed it, alcohol – either isopropyl alcohol or ethyl alcohol. The claim to this method is that it stuns the bugs 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 does not claim to have the ability to slay newly hatched lice and nits, rather, it may serve to temporarily stop them from crawling around, potentially making it less difficult to comb out the live bugs.
As with all effective forms of treatments, something must also be done to address the eggs that would remain, 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 eradication, an infested person would have to either comb and handpick or repeat the treatment on set days so the live baby bugs can be combed out after they hatch.
Therefore, with this method of removal, while potentially effective when followed up on correctly, it is not anything else in the hand sanitizer that wipes out the case. Rather, it is the repeated combing that may ultimately remove lice. Noticing a pattern?
DOES VODKA KILL LICE?
Another option that some claim to have found to be effective is vodka. The alcohol in vodka is ethanol. When clients hear that this alcohol based lice treatment may be effective, 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, some have tried using vodka to clean out their family's unwanted bug house guests. Like the other remedies that have been used and documented on the internet, the claim to vodka's effectiveness lies in its ability to make the bugs 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 this active ingredient in these products that kills the lice, rather it is the combing process that may serve to get end the lice problem. So if you are wondering how to get rid of head lice with vodka or other alcohol, you will need to apply it to 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 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 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 vanquish lice? After all, like all of the other alcohol-based treatments, there is alcohol in beer as well. Of course, the 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…maybe?
The content in beer is ethanol or ethyl alcohol. The process using beer would be the same as other ethyl or ethanol-based treatments. Start by saturating the infested person's head with beer so that the bugs 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.
However, as is the case with all of the other treatment options outlined here, there is no evidence that beer kills the bugs – combing is the key to success. To get rid of bugs using beer time will need to be spent combing 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 all over again.
USING LISTERINE FOR HEAD LICE TREATMENT?
Another alcohol-based head treatment that individuals investigate is Listerine to treat head lice and Listerine for prevention. It's reported that yellow Listerine 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. As with similar products, the use of this particular method can irritate the drying of the scalp and cause potential chemical burns.
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 kills lice product that has been proven to be effective is benzyl alcohol 5%, which has been discontinued. While this treatment was proven to kill live bugs, it did not penetrate the shells of eggs (nits), therefore repeat applications were necessary to ensure a case 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 them but they do not get rid of lice. 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. We can make an appointment for treatment for head lice for you and your children at any time and your technician will use a process that works with no pesticides. That is a guarantee!