An Internet search will provide endless possibilities of home remedies for head lice that people swear by. There are many lice treatment methods desperate families have tried, and when they are successful, those families are eager to share this knowledge in hopes that they may spare someone the difficulties they may have endured while battling lice. Occasionally, if properly completed, some of these home remedies for lice do work. But many parents wonder how well they work, how hard are they to do, and are they safe?
DIY Home Lice Treatment
The number of home remedies to exterminate lice that are available and recommended can be overwhelming. Not all lice home remedies are safe. So what is the best home remedy for head lice? We'll discuss the most common remedies, the method, and if they are effective or not.
One of the best ways to eliminate head lice is by using, not just a fine-tooth comb, but professional lice comb on lubricated, wet hair. This process is called wet combing. You might think "wet" implies you only need hot water, but oil is a much more effective lubricant.
Simply start combing at the top of the hair shaft, pulling the professional nit comb through the hair to the end. Repeat until all hair has been combed and all live and dead lice and their eggs are removed.
This is one of the best home remedies for lice in hair because it is 100% effective when this process is used to remove all of the lice and nits from the hair. When considering the best option at home, note that no other treatment is more effective than removing the lice naturally.
While wet combing is one of the best home remedies for head lice, the lice comb will inevitably miss some lice and nits. Nits can be too narrow on a fine hair, or too close to the scalp, for even the most fine toothed comb to pick up. Lice infestations may return if no nitpicking is done.
Nitpicking is removing the remaining nits from the hair strand by strand, using the fingers. Although it is the most archaic method of treating head lice, it's also the only way to ensure the lice infestation won't come back. It's completely reasonable to want to outsource this time consuming at home lice treatment, which is exactly why LiceDoctors exists.
Petroleum Jelly or Hair Gel
Petroleum jelly or hair gel has been used for years as one of the go-to home remedies for lice removal. The petroleum jelly is applied to the hair shaft in large quantities to smother and kill adult lice. But petroleum jelly can be too thick to work with, actually inhibiting the effective use of a lice comb. Oil is not as thick, easier to work with, and also safer and more effective than petroleum jelly. Hair gel, while useful in prevention, is not an effective treatment for lice.
Salt and Vinegar
Vinegar (white, red, or apple cider vinegar) is very acidic and can be effective if left on long enough to dissolve the exoskeletons of the bugs. Because of its acidity, it is not recommended and usually not effective because most people will need to wash it off before it can make a difference due to discomfort. Vinegar and salt also will not penetrate nit casings. This means that these home remedies to get rid of lice alone just won't do it.
Essential oils, such as tea tree oil or lavender oil, are some of the more popular alleged home remedies many use when for lice infestations. However, essential oils are expensive and there is no solid evidence they are responsible for getting rid of lice on their own. Oils like tea tree oil will not kill lice, rather tea tree oil can repel the adult bugs, making the user less likely to catch lice.
For treatment, an essential oil can be used along with a carrier oil to aid in the removal of lice and nits. But it is the time consuming removal of lice and nits from the hair that will provide the actual cure, not the tea tree oil itself. In addition, some people are allergic to tea tree oils.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil lice treatment can suffocate the bugs, making tea tree one of the more helpful home remedies for lice. However, tea tree oil is not an answer to eradicating the problem. This essential oil is expensive and may cause skin irritation or other allergic reactions. Like any other essential oil, tea tree oil will not kill nits.
Olive oil is very effective at killing lice as well as helping with the removal of bugs and nits. In fact, because it is a safe, natural option, we use this as part of our treatment protocol. It works by suffocating head lice when left on long enough, ending the lice life cycle. It is also used to slow down bugs and loosen eggs, making wet combing with a professional nit comb much easier.
If you want dead lice, smothering with olive oil is the way to go. While the bugs are coated with oil, they'll be immobilized, so you can just pull them out with a fine-tooth comb. If you use olive oil as part of an aftercare plan, it is an effective way to prevent lice recurrence.
Coconut oil is usually well tolerated by those who use natural remedies for lice. Coating hair with coconut oil helps to suffocate bugs. Coconut oil also aids in the removal via a methodical comb-out process. Unfortunately, coconut oil tends to not be as easy to work with as other oils as it hardens when it is cold out. Coconut oil also absorbs into the hair shaft, whereas olive oil coats the outside of the hair shaft where it is more effective. Using coconut oil for lice smothering isn't as effective or comfortable as olive oil.
Lavender oil has many practical uses, one of which is to repel head lice. While lavender oil will not kill the lice eggs or bugs, it is sometimes used in conjunction with a carrier oil to help treat head lice. As with other essential oils, be careful to not use too much and be watchful for any undesirable side effects or allergic reactions.
The use of garlic to treat head lice was a new concept to us. The claim is that the strong smell of garlic will terminate lice, but no research proves this claim. This option is said to involve making a paste of garlic with oil, applying it to hair, and washing it off after 30 minutes. In our opinion, this would likely repel people, and its effectiveness against head lice is not convincing.
The use of mayonnaise to get rid of lice is a common method many families have tried. The concept behind the use of mayonnaise to treat lice is identical to the use of other oils. When applied correctly, the mayonnaise is thick enough to suffocate bugs, however, it is very difficult to work with and after it dries, it can be especially hard to wash it out of the hair. Using olive oil would be a better option.
Blow Dryer or Hair Straightener
Does heat kill lice? Using a blow dryer or hair straightener to treat lice comes with risks of burns; in addition, its effectiveness is not proven, so it is not a home remedy we recommend to treat lice. If these tools worked, there would be a lot fewer cases, since many families use these tools daily to style their hair.
Using herbal shampoos will not work to rid you of lice and nits. Some are formulated with specific scents or essential oils that can help to repel lice, like our mint-scented sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner. Yet this effective repellant shampoo is no more useful in head lice treatments than any other shampoo. Some scents do repel head lice, so they may be an effective deterrent to getting a case of lice, but they will not kill lice or treat head lice infestations.
Benzyl Alcohol Lotion
Benzyl Alcohol Lotion is a prescription chemical that is no longer in use in the United States. Historically, this lotion was used as a topical treatment to get rid of head lice. When applied to the hair as directed, this treatment would kill live bugs on the head, but not all of the adult lice.
However, Benzyl Alcohol is not an ovicide, meaning it does not penetrate the nit shell. So either all of the eggs will need to be removed, or a second, and sometimes third, treatment would be required to ensure a case of lice is completely eradicated. In addition, this treatment option carried a hefty price tag and could irritate the scalp.
Cetaphil is a home remedy that can be purchased at any local grocery store. It is a lotion that is used to treat lice in much the same way as oils or mayonnaise are used. The lotion would need to be applied and combed through the hair and left on the hair long enough to suffocate the lice on the scalp. However, you'll still need to remove all of the nits, and this lotion can be thick, making the hair more difficult to comb out with a fine-tooth comb.
What Is the Best OTC Lice Treatment?
Over-the-counter medicines purport to eliminate lice, but modern super lice have grown genetically resistant to these overused chemicals, diminishing their efficacy. Also, because over-the-counter chemicals cannot penetrate the nit casings, they'll never be effective in just one use.
Pyrethrin is a pesticide treatment used by families to get rid of lice. This is the active ingredient in many OTC products like RID. By following the instructions included, you can potentially eliminate some adult lice, however, it is losing its effectiveness, as the bugs have become resistant (look up “super lice”) and it does not kill lice eggs. It can also come with undesirable side effects.
We receive many calls from parents who have followed the instructions exactly, but have still been unable to find relief from their lice infestation, leading them to seek out alternative head lice solutions like natural treatments or hiring a professional service.
Lindane can be prescribed only after other safer options fail. If this is prescribed to you or a family member, it is important to follow the instructions provided by the prescribing physician. We do not recommend these pesticide treatments because there are safer alternatives available. All pesticide treatments come with potential risks and side effects, but there are some pretty hefty side effects and warnings that come along with this particular treatment. Some of these side effects include seizures and death. Be sure to do research and ask your provider any questions you may have.
Malathion lotion is another prescription pediculicide that can be prescribed by a doctor for the treatment of head lice. This works by killing live baby and adult lice that are in the hair. One or two treatments are typically performed. This treatment is applied thoroughly to dry hair and left on the hair for several hours before being washed out.
Again, we do not recommend pesticide treatments because of the potential side effects and the fact that they are losing their effectiveness. In this case, we believe using olive oil or another oil would be a better alternative due to the fact that it can be done without the potential risks that come with this prescription head lice remedy.
Permethrin is the active insecticidal ingredient in the over-the-counter head lice treatment commonly known as Nix. These OTC treatments are supposed to work by killing all of the live bugs in the hair. Even if it is effective, however, all of the eggs still need to be removed from the hair since this treatment is not effective at killing nits.
We say “supposed to work” because over time, lice have become increasingly more resistant to these protocols. Nowadays, the treatment may kill all, some, or none of the live bugs on the hair. If this remedy does not kill lice, then you are most likely dealing with a case of super lice. We don't recommend pesticide products because of this, especially if you have a case of super lice (which most cases in the US are).
Things to Avoid During Lice Treatment at Home
While many chemical-free remedies are harmless, we recommend against most, because they're ineffective or have side effects.
We do NOT recommend using the following.
- Salt and vinegar, alcohol, high heat or hot water, or essential oils like tea tree oil or lavender oil as a home remedy for head lice. These natural remedies aren't completely effective on their own, often only end up irritating the scalp, and little kids may develop unpredictable allergies to tea tree oil.
- Listerine, mayonnaise, or petroleum jelly for treating lice. While they can be effective if completed correctly, they are messy and challenging to work with. Other treatment options will prove way less troublesome and better for the scalp.
- Pesticides in OTC treatments, or medical treatment with prescription pesticides like Lindane, Benzyl Alcohol, and Malathion. These may carry side effects and irritate the scalp. It's very common to use them incorrectly, which only leads to an ongoing infestation with even more chemical resistance.
- Pesticide sprays designed for killing lice in house or furniture. These obligate parasites are spread through direct head to head contact in over 90% of cases, and they won't survive long enough off a human scalp to warrant additional chemical exposure.
What Is the Best Home Remedy for Lice?
No matter what home remedy you choose for your family, it is important that the proper lice removal techniques are used. The best lice removal technique involves a combination of wet combing and picking nits and live bugs out of the hair. You must know both how to use lice comb and how to remove lice eggs from hair home remedies like nitpicking are most effective. There are no shortcuts.
We recommend using olive oil to lubricate the hair, and using a professional-grade lice comb to speed up the process. After you've done a thorough comb through, manual removal of any remaining eggs is vital to treating head lice successfully.
Learning how to prevent infestation can save you the headache of having to experiment with various home remedies for head lice. There are a few practical steps that you can implement to prevent lice, that will help you and your family avoid having to deal with a case of head lice.
- Keep long hair up in a ponytail, braid, or bun with hair accessories;
- Avoid head-to-head contact with others;
- Keep the hair artificially dirty — like with hair spray, gel, or mousse;
- Avoid sharing hair accessories and grooming items;
- Do not share helmets or other headgear when participating in sports;
- Educate yourself and your family on how head lice is transmitted.
Keep in mind that these suggestions will reduce the chances of contracting head lice, but they are not a guarantee. Head lice are very contagious and prevalent, and the only ways to absolutely prevent lice is to remain isolated from other human beings or be completely bald.
When thinking about how to get rid of lice or how to treat lice at home, remember that help is available! Do your best to prevent getting infested, but if you do encounter a case, don't panic. Natural remedies will never lose their effectiveness the way that pesticide medications already have.
If you lack the patience and know-how (it takes a lot of practice!) to deal with home remedies for lice, call LiceDoctors at 800-224-2537 to schedule an appointment for an all-natural, guaranteed treatment option in the comfort of your home.