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Lice vs. Dandruff: How to Tell the Difference?

Lice vs. Dandruff: How to Tell the Difference?
Created on 
December 3, 2018
Updated on 
August 11, 2022

One of the hardest things for first-time lice battling parents is telling the difference between nits vs dandruff. However, it isn't that hard once you know a few simple tricks from LiceDoctors.

Lice Vs. Dandruff: What Is the Difference?

What Do Lice Look Like Vs. Dandruff?

Lice and their eggs are very different in appearance from dandruff, especially once you know what you are looking for. A case of lice consists of bugs and their eggs. The bugs are not easy to spot because they hide from light and movement of the hair. They are small, 6-legged, wingless creatures with heads about the size of a sesame seed. They appear grayish, brownish, or even reddish depending on how long ago they had their last meal, human blood from the scalp.

Lice eggs (nits) blend in with the strands of hair. They are uniform in size, curved on one end with a tiny antenna on the other end. Usually, they are found within ¼ of an inch from the scalp on the hair shaft if they are still viable and can appear white, clear, brown, or tan on the hair strand. Removed from the hair and placed against a white background they will appear brown.

Simply put, dandruff is white, flat, flaky, and easily removed from the hair. Usually, flakes of dandruff are larger than nits. Unlike the eggs of lice, if you place these flakes against a white background, they will blend right in.

Difference Between Lice and Dandruff

A common problem that many people run into when checking for a head lice infestation is telling the difference between lice and lice eggs vs dandruff. Adult lice are mobile, so you probably won't see one until an infestation has been present for some time, so start by looking for eggs (nits). Dandruff is a flake that has come from the scalp and can be easily flicked off the hair. Nits will be attached to the strand of hair near the base of the hair shaft. You'll have to look closely because they do camouflage themselves quite well. Here are a few key differences to help you better identify what you might be seeing:

  • Dandruff is easily removed. Nits are glued to and stick to the hair strand close to the base of the hair follicles (hair shaft) and are not easily removed.
  • Dandruff appears white in the hair. Eggs camouflage with the hair and are extremely small.
  • When removed, dandruff will blend in with a white background. Eggs will appear brown against a white background.
  • Dandruff is found on the scalp and in the hair. Nits are only found on the strands of hair - never on the scalp.



Head lice and dandruff are both very common. To provide effective treatment for and prevent future cases of lice and dandruff, you need to identify the cause of your ailment, whether it is lice or dandruff. The causes of a head lice infestation and a bout with dandruff are vastly different, as are their treatment processes and prevention options.


Lice are parasitic insects that live on the human head. A case of lice is caused by an infestation of these parasites that are transmitted from person to person, most often by way of direct head to head contact with an infested individual. While possible, but less common, lice can be contracted by contact with objects that have a louse on them after coming into contact with a lice-infested person.


Dandruff is a skin condition of the scalp. Dandruff is caused by oil accumulation on the scalp, drying of the skin, and sometimes allergic reactions. Oil accumulation is most common from a failure to cleanse the scalp of oils and debris. Drying of the skin is prevalent in dry winter months when there is less humidity in the air, often from running heaters. Occasionally allergic reactions occur when switching hair care products. If you find dandruff after a switch in your hair care regimen, consider whether your scalp may be reacting poorly to the new product.

How To Know If You Have Lice Or Dandruff?

Even if you know what you are looking for, a little more information can help you determine if you have lice or dandruff. As mentioned previously, if you have lice, especially if the infestation of the parasitic insects is new, you likely will not see adult lice. If lice are present, you will find eggs on the strands of hair close to the base of the hair follicle. When removed from the hair, these nits will appear brown in color against a white backdrop. Dandruff (seborrheic dermatitis) will likely be scattered between the scalp and on the hair strands. They will be easy to remove and appear white against a white background. Keep in mind that head lice are highly contagious, while dandruff is not. Also, while anyone can get dandruff or head lice, the former is more common in adults while lice are more likely to affect children.

Lice Symptoms


Aside from the obvious presence of something living on your head, there are a few head lice symptoms to be alert to:

  • Itching caused by lice bites
  • Crawling sensation on the head
  • Red itchy bumps on the head, neck, and ears
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Presence of lice or eggs.

One of the first things people take note of when they have lice is intense itching. Many people have had dandruff at some point in their life, but the itching from lice can feel somewhat different. It may be caused by feeling the adult head lice crawl around, or from a reaction to the saliva from the lice biting you as they feed on human blood from the scalp. Because of these bites, another symptom may be the presence of itchy bumps on the scalp, ears, or neck. All of this intense itching may bring about another symptom, which would be irritability as well as difficulty sleeping. The good news is that the itching will go away once the infestation is properly treated. Some people do not feel a thing, so be sure to keep a close eye out for nits and/or bugs that will be present with an infestation.

Dandruff Symptoms

Symptoms that may indicate you have dandruff include:

  • Itchy scalp
  • Flakes on the scalp and hair
  • No eggs or bugs on the head.

Like a case of head lice, in many people dandruff causes itching. However, this type of itching will be more persistent and long-term. People have bouts with dandruff that may be seasonal, especially due to dry weather, and some people just may be more prone to having dandruff. In either case, you may notice itching when you have dandruff. Accompanying the itching will be flakes of dandruff or flaky skin on the scalp. It is seborrheic dermatitis that causes the skin on the scalp to peel off in dry and flaky small patches. Dandruff flakes are irregular in size and shape and fall off of the hair quite easily; these flakes are generally larger and more visible than lice nits. In addition, with dandruff, there will be nothing alive on your head.

Dandruff Treatment

The best treatment for dandruff depends on the cause. For dry scalp, try using a shampoo that provides more moisture or dandruff shampoos that can be purchased over the counter. Regular usage of an anti dandruff shampoo can help you manage your flaky skin which may be a chronic skin condition; there are several OTC anti dandruff shampoos on the market. When dealing with oil accumulation, as is the case with cradle cap, you can use a shampoo that is formulated for oily scalp. If the cause is due to an allergy, switch to a product that your hair and scalp are used to. There are some home remedies that can also help ease the discomfort from dandruff or oily scalp. Dandruff will not get better with the use of over-the-counter lice remedies.

Lice Treatment

lice tips treatment dandruff get rid lice

If you find nits, then lice have been and probably still are in the hair. This is definitely the time to seek out a treatment option that works because of this very simple truth: each female louse can lay up to 70 eggs in a week and these nits hatch in a matter of days. They exponentially expand in number in a very short period of time. Lice cannot be treated with dandruff shampoos. The best treatment for lice is manually removing nits and lice from the hair. The National Pediculosis Association, a national watchdog organization, corroborates this.

At LiceDoctors, your technician will do lice and nit check on family members and she will not use any chemical lice remedies purchased over the counter or prescription medication for lice. She will be able to definitively diagnose lice vs dandruff. She will apply oil, thoroughly comb, and if you have lice and/or nits, she will then meticulously remove all remaining, visible ones. The last step involves nitpicking by hand and requires a lot of expertise in order to get out all of the nits. This is the key step to eliminating lice permanently. She will go over a basic aftercare plan that makes sure that the lice do not return. We have an unequaled 99.6% success rate of getting rid of lice and nits, and all-natural nit-picking means no side effects, either short-term or long-term.


While head lice and dandruff can cause similar symptoms, their causes and treatments are not similar in any way. When you discover lice in your family, that is the best time to contact us at 800-224-2537. Whenever you have lice, you have to get out all signs of nits to prevent your case from recurring. LiceDoctors will take care of your problem for you and will do so right in the security and privacy of your own home. There is no need to subject yourself to the risks of a lice salon or lice clinic. And LiceDoctors all natural treatment for lice is less expensive than most other lice centers, as we do not have the overhead of a lice place.

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