It’s only one nightmare phone call from their school away. Or maybe a few itches and red bumps that seem a little suspicious and too frequent. If (and when) your kid gets head lice- it’s far from the end of the world. Sure, you’re going to have to set aside an evening that could absolutely be used on way more fun activities together but… you’re making a kind of memory together. And yes, you’ll definitely have a lot of laundry to do to handle the situation (think all kinds of bedding, pillowcases and hats) but… you get to spend this time together?
As gross as it is to think of removing bugs from your child’s hair, just know it’s as hard for you to do as it is for them to sit still this long. Doesn’t that make it seem more fair? Fine, removing head lice is still far from fun but it happens and it’s gotta be handled and it doesn’t mean your child is dirty or gross. Actually, head lice prefer very clean hair since it’s easier to stick to. It’s a compliment. Yeah, not a great compliment but… whatever, let’s just get into what to do and how to spot these suckers.
20 Notice When Your Child Is Extremely Itchy
Itching is the first sign that there’s a live infestation of head lice in your child’s hair. Retroactive trigger warning: sorry about some of the grossest words to hear in association with “your child”. Just because you’re a parent doesn’t make you a pediatrician and the idea of bugs nesting and breeding on your kid’s head is… well, I’ll stop.
The point is that intense itchiness is one of the first indicators of a case.
So there’s head lice, which as their name suggests, live in the head hair, and then body lice which start out on clothes and migrate to bodies. We’re talking about head lice here.
19 Especially Around The Neck, Temples and Ears
It’s pretty disgusting to try to “think like a head lice”, especially when their survival is dependent on exploiting your child’s body. So bear with us. The best parts of a head to live on for head lice are the breeziest parts. That means around the nape of the neck or the temples or the ears. Different hair lengths and hair styles might mean that those areas aren’t as open as they are for others but these are the areas that become especially itchy with head lice. That’s especially useful information if your child is pre-speaking and can’t tell you what they’re feeling beyond gestures and actions.
18 Eliminate Other Possibilities
Here’s the deal: not all itching means hair lice, but all hair lice mean itching. So what that means is that it’s entirely possible your child has an allergy to a shampoo they’re using or some other chemical in their environment.
Before you bust out the metal combs and the over-the-counter treatments, keep an eye out for if there’s a time of day or part of their routine after which they're itching.
If it’s an all-day, constant itch, it’s less likely to be some kind of skin allergy but still, it’s worth pausing for a minute and eliminating.
17 If The School Puts Out A Warning, Definitely Check
Sometimes you have to rely on your own parental instincts and sometimes the universe delivers a big, fat sign on your doorstep. Like a mass call to parents that there are some concerns. Now, different children have different tendencies towards getting lice. For instance, White children with silky hair are most at risk since that’s the type of hair the lice prefer living in. That said, children of Latino or African-American descent are still at risk if they have similarly smooth hair. Whether naturally or if you’re North West and you have your hair straightened at a super young age, it’s not that lice see race, just environments.
16 Wet Their Hair To Slow Down The Lice
The first step is wetting your child’s hair. Not only does it slow down the lice (think of how much slower you are walking in water than on land), but it makes them easier to spot. Break out some towels because bath time is coming early today.
Also, most methods for lice removal come down to combing in one form or the other so wet hair will definitely make that easier.
There’s plenty of other methods that involve “smothering” lice in other substances- and they have different levels of effectiveness- but with most medically approved techniques, it all starts with some water.
15 Use A Fine-Toothed Comb To Get The Hair Tidy
Whether you’re removing the lice or just figuring out whether your child even has them, their hair will need to be tidy. You’re going to literally examine each strand (does that sound way too time consuming? There are some alternatives, but you might not like them- that’s later) to find live lice and their eggs. So you’re going to have to be able to separate the strands. There are metal combs specifically meant for hunting lice and there are also your typical extremely fine-toothed combs. Of course, there are also a wide range of tender headedness in children so that will definitely make your job easier or more difficult.
14 Shine A Bright Light On The Scalp
In the age of smart phones in everyone's pockets, you might not need your partner to awkwardly angle a flashlight on the top of your kid’s head. Then again, they can still hold the phone- get the whole family involved. Everyone’s night can be slightly ruined from this pest.
Because so much of the work you’re about to do involves identifying size and color of tiny blobs, you’ll need a good light source to help you out.
If you’re in a very well lit room, that can work but don’t deny yourself that little extra aid of an iPhone flashlight.
13 You Can Even Use A Wood's Lamp
Yes, there are specific types of flashlights that can make this much easier. Yes, they might be expensive because they’re essentially small black lights. That said, if you have a lot of kids or seem to have threats of head lice breakouts often, the investment might be worth it. Wood’s lamps use blacklight to show changes in skin pigmentation, which could be useful if your child also suffers from skin allergies. Or just find your best parent friend, go Dutch and have a weird, cool new toy to shine around. Might as well get some cool spy gear to go along with your night looking for bugs.
12 Judge The Color Of The Nit
Maybe you don’t personally care about what stage of life these lice are at, but it does matter. For instance, the adult lice aren’t what really matters (as gross as they sound) so much as the eggs because they're what keeps the problem going. This is why you’ll want to spot the eggs near the scalp.
There is a difference between a living nit and a dead nit, which is empty.
If the nit has a caramel color, is bright and is located near the base of the hair within half a centimeter to one centimeter of the scalp, this is a live nit.
11 Use A Magnifying Glass To Look For Bumps On Hair Strands
So while the adult lice are about the size of a sesame seed and move, the eggs are even smaller and are practically glued on to the hair strand. Yeah, it’s a pain in the butt but apparently lice aren’t that bad as parents. I mean, we don’t have to feel empathy for them but it’s nice to know… okay, never mind. Back to exterminating them. The reason you’ll need to metaphorically and literally comb your child’s hair for bumps as well as seed-like spots is what may seem like a normal bump in the hair follicle is actually an unhatched egg.
If you've determined your child has head lice, you'll need to know the treatments. First, the girls...
10 Benzyl Alcohol Lotion
Benzyl Alcohol Lotions are one of the oldest, most trusted head lice treatments. For one thing, head lice haven’t been found to be resistant to the chemical (more on that later) and for another, the treatment doesn’t poison lice so much as it suffocates them through dehydration. This can be a huge relief to parents who don’t want to expose their children to harmful chemicals in the process of killing these lice. That said, there are other at-home treatments intended to suffocate the lice- ones that might have less threatening names for some parents. However, this lotion takes a matter of minutes whereas some of these treatments take hours.
9 Lindane Shampoo
Lindane shampoo is some serious stuff. It’s not a chemical most of us would want our children getting cozy with. Actually, the labels explicitly say that this is a treatment for cases of lice resistant to other treatments. It’s a self proclaimed “less safe treatment” for folks who have tried a bunch of other things to remove lice without success.
That’s because it’s poison- it’s meant to kill the lice through poisoning, not suffocation or something else.
At that point… there are definitely options that are a little harder for vanity but don’t involve lindane. And are also super temporary depending on how fast your child’s hair grows… we’ll get to that.
Yup, we’re getting deep into those chemical names that seem to have little if no relationship to normal English. Malathion is another topical treatment for removing lice… that’s also a skin irritant. This stuff is harsh. It’s flammable, it’ll irritate areas of the skin that aren’t the scalp and don’t get it near the eyes. It shouldn’t be kept in moist environments and it definitely shouldn’t be within a child’s reach. Plus, if lice are seen up to a week after using it, there’s a need for a second treatment. All that said, this is fairly common practice for many so it’s still some parent’s go-to.
7 Home Remedies
What home treatments like olive oil, vinegar or mayonnaise can claim in convenience (one less trip to the pharmacy, one extremely short trip to the pantry) they miss out on in debated efficiency.
Some people prefer essential oils diluted with shampoo to smother the lice, some cake on the mayonnaise and set a timer.
It really depends on what you have around. The point of these treatments is to stun or suffocate lice so that they may be easily combed out. And while pediatricians don’t back them up, these are also techniques that don’t financially benefit pharmaceutical companies so… it doesn’t mean that they don’t work. Just that they don’t profit everyone.
6 Consult Your Pediatrician About Your Local Lice
There’s something to be said about just taking whatever approach your parent used when you were little. But there’s also something to be said about working smarter and not harder. The issue is that in certain regions, certain lice are resistant to certain chemicals. Yup, that’s the trouble with killing something again and again in the same way- it finds ways to survive. That’s literally its only job. So before you undertake a time-consuming and potentially chemically laden technique, give your pediatrician a ring. They’ll know what’s worked in the past and what to avoid. If you feel like your life has been taken over by these darn lice, at least there’s someone whose literal job it is to stay abreast of these bugs.
5 Wet Comb The Hair After Treatments
So many treatments, whether FDA approved or at home treatments, all come down to thoroughly combing out your child’s hair. It’ll take time and patience and possibly some bravery for the tender-headed among us, but it’s the comb that forcibly removes the live lice from the hair strands.
The eggs may take more work, but every section of the wet hair should be combed, with the comb being run against a paper towel or light colored towel in between.
That way you can see who you caught in your haul. Or laugh in the faces of your victim- really depends on your mood during this.
4 Pick Out The Nits By Hand
Yeah… this is no one’s idea of a fun Thursday night. A very fine-toothed comb may remove the majority of adult lice, but there are still the eggs to worry about. That’s a whole new generation to make your kid’s head itch and then breed and then die in their hair (wow- this is so gross). The children are our future and it’s time to ruin the lice’s future… while protecting your children. Yeah, weird time to bring up ethics but the point is, it takes some serious eagle-eyed skills to check each strand for the lumps of a future lice.
3 Use Heat Styling
The entire philosophy behind all of these treatments is to make the lice’s environment (your child’s hair) unlivable.
So that may involve poisoning the hair strands or coating them with a layer of mayo no one can respirate through, but it can also involve just toasting the lice.
However, if you’ve previously used a treatment that may be at all flammable then your child’s hair needs to be thoroughly rinsed and washed before trying this. Also, not all children (or parents) will be comfortable having hair exposed to extreme temperatures, whether because it’s felt on the scalp or because of hair damage.
And now treatments for boys....
2 Going Total Buzz Cut
We’ve talked about a lot of difficult ways to remove the lice but not about how easy it is to just shave their hair. Most parents will feel sentimental attachment to their child’s hair but have you asked your child? Even regardless of gender, they might see the new hairstyle as a novelty. There’s the feeling of the breeze on their skin and what better time to go crew-cut? Like, in terms of their young age but also in terms of the year we live in. Little girls may be mistaken for little boys without their hair, but does it really matter?
1 Hair Gel
It’s another form of suffocating lice or making their habitat “unlivable” but one of the few ways to style little boys' hair while also getting rid of these pests is with hair gel. It also may be something parents are more comfortable with than using a straightener to handle lice- or just more in line with what the child is comfortable with. This is, assuming a little boy has relatively short hair.
While most do, those with longer hair should probably use the techniques laid out for girls.
It has nothing to do with gender, just how much hair you’re going to have to spend your evening fishing through to get these menaces out of your kid’s hair.
Sources: Webmd.com, Patch.com, LiceClinicsOfAmerica.com, HeadLiceCenter.com, Healthline.com, Instagram.com