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What Are Super Lice? Super Lice Symptoms & Treatment

What Are Super Lice? Super Lice Symptoms & Treatment
Created on 
May 22, 2019
Updated on 
May 5, 2023

Dealing with head lice can be extremely frustrating, but it can be even harder when the new "super lice" are resistant to common treatments. This article provides all the information you need for identifying and dealing with a super lice infestation. With this knowledge of what are super lice vs regular lice, you'll be better equipped to tackle this pesky problem and you'll understand how to get rid of super lice for good.

What Is Super Lice?

The CDC defines "super lice" as head lice that have developed genetically mutated traits, making them resistant to common over-the-counter shampoos containing pesticides. Lice treatments have not evolved much in the last few decades, while the head louse has evolved and is now winning the battle. Treatments that were successful in the past are no longer effective. When families use a lice treatment and the lice infestations come back, they start to wonder, could it be super lice?

Lice vs Super Lice: What Is the Difference Between Lice and Super Lice?

Lice vs. Super Lice

Parents call us to ask, “what does super lice look like?”. They’re looking for bugs that are bigger, darker, stronger, crawl faster, or itchier. They worry about more severe sores, worse scratching, or greater risk of complications like skin infection or disease.

It isn’t possible to tell the difference between lice and super lice by behavior or appearance. They are just a genetically mutated strain of regular lice, so they behave and look the same, except when it comes to their reaction to pesticides.

The most common treatments that families and even doctors start with are still over-the-counter lice shampoos. Because most OTC lice shampoos with pesticides kill only 2% of these chemical resistant bugs, and none of the eggs, super lice treatment is more challenging than regular lice treatment. Parents will often treat over and over, just to see another bug crawling. The futility makes them feel overwhelmed and hopeless.

What Treatments Are Super Lice Resistant To?

Super Lice Symptoms

Historically, head lice treatments involved neurotoxic insecticides such as permethrin and pyrethrin, which killed adult lice, but left the nits unaffected. Consequently, multiple applications were necessary to eliminate newly hatched lice. Super head lice are somewhat immune to these chemicals, so you may only notice you have a resistant strain after multiple chemical treatment attempts have failed. 

Other methods of treating head lice, like essential oils, wet combing, etc, remain equally effective, as do the newer prescription pesticides.

How Have Treatment Resistant Super Lice Developed?

Parasites, just like viruses and bacteria, have an uncanny ability to mutate into more infectious forms. Similar to mutations that make viruses more contagious, or bacteria resistant to antibiotics, head lice mutations make them less sensitive to lice shampoo.

Like all insects, head lice use a natural process of mutation and survival of the fittest to adapt to new conditions as a species. This has caused them to develop resistance to common pesticides used in over the counter treatments.

This process has been accelerated by human behavior, such as overuse and misuse of pesticide shampoos. Pesticide treatments should only be used when crawling live lice are found. But they are often used "just in case", leading to further exposure and more resistance in future generations of head lice.

Super lice have all the symptoms of normal head lice, including:

  • Barely visible tiny nits glued to the hairs within 1 quarter of the scalp;
  • An itchy rash on the head and neck that may seem worse at night.

In addition to these, super lice:

  • Return after OTC treatment;
  • May be observed moving in the hair right after or even during OTC treatment.

Super Head Lice Treatment: How to Get Rid of Super Lice?

Despite their chemical resistance, effective treatments for resistant lice can be done at home:

1. Wet combing

  • Methodical hair combing with nit comb
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Time-consuming, especially for long, thick, or curly hair
  • LiceDoctors can do this for you as our experience enables us to find lice and nits that parents may miss

2. Physical insecticide

  • Some work through dehydration
  • Others work through suffocation
  • Our service will show you how to use these although not chemical insecticides
  • Our favorite is olive oil.

Instead of focusing on how to kill them, focus on how to get rid of super lice: remove them! No home remedies for super lice are completely effective without the removal of all living insects and nits from the hair.

Fortunately, LiceDoctors' head lice removal services helps you avoid potential side effects and inefficacy of chemical treatments.

What States are Super Lice Found In?

Scientists at Southern Illinois University recently demonstrated the presence of super lice in 48 states. But that's probably because they didn't test in West Virginia and Alaska. Worse, in 42 of the states, ONLY chemical resistant bugs were present in the samples collected. No matter your state, you’ve got a significantly higher chance of having super lice than regular lice nowadays.

How to Identify Super Lice: Common Symptoms

insecticide treatments

Resistant strains share the symptoms of normal head lice, including:

  • Allergic skin rash on scalp and neck which may cause itching that's worse at night;
  • Feeling of tickling or movement on the scalp that may disturb sleep and lead to irritability.

You can have NO symptoms from a lice infestation. In that case, you'll still eventually find:

  • Barely visible tiny nits glued to the hair shaft near the scalp.

In addition to these, super head lice specifically:

  • Return after OTC treatment;
  • May continue moving during OTC treatment.

How Do Super Lice Spread?

Human head lice are spread by direct head to head contact about 95% of the time. Direct contact are the main risky activities where heads touch, like:

  • Carrying a child
  • Hugging
  • Selfies
  • Playground-type physical play with other children
  • Hair styling
  • Contact sports.

Although these bugs may laugh in the face of lice shampoo, they are NOT so super in other ways. In other words, super lice still cannot fly, jump, or live anywhere other than head hair attached to a human scalp. Head lice can't live more than a day or so on pets, clothing, bedding, brushes, combs, hats, or toys. They cannot cause an infestation in schools or homes.

A louse can only lay its tiny egg on the hair shaft. They tend to congregate behind the ears and on the nape of the neck. An egg cannot re-attach to the hair shaft and is not contagious when removed from a person. You might find a grayish white empty eggshell further than 1/4" from the scalp, which is not dangerous and doesn't need to be treated. Some lice treatments can cause reactionary dandruff and itching, which can be mistaken for ongoing lice bites.

What Does Super Lice Look Like?

When we hear questions like "what color are the new super lice", or "do super lice fly", it reminds us that most people don't really understand the concept well. Super lice look like normal lice. What does lice look like? An adult louse is about the size and shape of a sesame seed, translucent grayish white, with a dark brown abdomen and six legs. Super lice nits look like nits; clear, tan, or brownish teardrops, glued to the hair near the scalp.

You cannot tell them apart from regular lice visually, they can be identified only because they've become resistant to chemicals.

Are Super Lice Eggs Different?

head to head contact

Super lice eggs do not differ from regular head lice eggs. At home head lice treatments are not very effective at killing lice eggs, whether they are regular or treatment resistant lice eggs. The most effective way to eliminate nits is to use a long-toothed metal nit comb and some oil or conditioner to remove them. The conditioner or oil will make it easier to comb through the hair and remove the eggs, which are firmly glued to the hair shaft.

Comb thoroughly and repeatedly, since you will probably miss some nits during the first combing. Once the eggs are detached from the hair, they cannot hatch. Ensure that you schedule additional nit combing sessions to remove all the eggs that were too undeveloped to see during the first treatment.

How to Check for Super Lice?

Most families realize they have a super lice infestation when they apply an at home treatment and the adult lice keep moving.

The steps for how to check for lice on yourself and your family members:

  • Saturate hair with oil or conditioner;
  • Use a metal nit comb, wet combing each section of hair in bright light;
  • If you find even one head louse or nit, assume the child has a case, even without an itchy scalp.

Many infestations in the US have resistance to traditional treatments nowadays. If more than one application of lice treatments are not effective, suspect head super lice.

Steps You Can Take To Prevent the Spread of Super Lice

know about super lice

Since these chemical resistant strains are harder to kill, it’s more important than ever to prevent them. What are super head lice prevention tips that are actually helpful?

  • Wear hair tied back at school;
  • Apply products like gel, hair oil, or hairspray;
  • Use LiceDoctors' safe and natural lice-repellent products every day before school;
  • Teach your child not to share items like hats, helmets, combs or brushes;
  • When you do get head lice, warn any other family with whom you’ve had recent contact, so they can stop the spread and don’t give it back to you later.

Contact LiceDoctors to Help You Treat Super Lice

Super Lice Treatment

Now that you know about super lice and their resistance to the active ingredients in over the counter and some prescription insecticide treatments, you may decide to put aside traditional treatments and opt instead for professional removal.

This non toxic process can be tricky, but help is available! Call LiceDoctors at 800-224-2537 day or night to book an appointment. We can help you eliminate lice, super or otherwise, in just one appointment.


Why is my head lice treatment not working?

Over the counter head lice treatments can fail due to various reasons other than chemical resistance, such as improper follow-up, failure to remove all nits, re-infestation from someone else, and misdiagnosis in the first place.

How long do super lice live off the head?

A louse can survive only up to about 36 hours without feeding on human blood, which is why they live their entire life cycle on the head. Nits usually can't hatch once removed from the head. Even if they did, the nymph wouldn't survive more than a few hours without a human host to feed from.

Are super lice much worse than regular lice?

Chemical resistant strains are only as harmful as normal strains; neither parasite can transmit other blood-borne disease, neither causes a stronger allergic reaction or more itching. They only have a genetic mutation that can resist OTC treatments, and thus it can feel much harder to get them successfully treated.

What percentage of lice are super lice?

Over 99% of head lice infestations in the US have some insects that have adapted to become resistant to pyrethrin and permethrin-based lice treatments. Even if it’s not all the lice at first, if any lice survive, the next generation will be more chemical resistant.



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