How To Treat Head Lice Without Using Harsh Chemicals

Oh, head lice! A nuisance and a nightmare for parents everywhere. A tiny insect that lives on the scalp and feeds off human blood, head lice are a common problem among school aged children. Head lice are typically spread from head to head contact, with some risk from sharing hats or textiles such as towels.

Head lice are very small (approximately 1/3 of the size of a sesame seed) and can be extremely difficult to see. The lice lay their eggs on the hair shaft, and the most common symptom of a head lice infestation is an itchy scalp.

A head lice infestation isn't the end of the world, but you'll want to make sure you rid yourself of the problem quick. There are many treatments available, but a lot of commercial remedies use chemical-laden insecticides. Despite the fact that many people simply don't want to use treatments that are full of harsh chemicals (Especially on small children), there's also been evidence that lice are becoming resistant to these treatments.

However there's no need to panic. There are many alternative treatments that don't involve the use of harmful chemicals. If you end up with a lice infestation, try one of these chemical-free methods:

Wet Combing

head lice
Credit: iStock / Kliim

Wet combing is a method of picking out the lice from the hair strands individually, using a special tool called a nit comb. For this method, wet hair is sprayed with conditioner and then a nit comb is pulled through the hair strands removing the lice. If necessary, the use of a magnifying glass can helpful for spotting louse and eggs in the hair. Wet combing can be an effective way of treating head lice, however it can be difficult and time consuming. It is recommended that if you are using this method, the process is repeated every few days for up to a month to ensure any nits that hatched from remaining eggs also get removed. A study by the British Medical Journal found this method to be effective, with 53% of the children in their study not showing signs of infestation after an initial wet combing treatment.

Smothering Treatments

Another chemical-free method for lice removal is to smother them and then use a nit comb to remove the lice and any eggs. There are a few different substances that can be used for this method, including mayonnaise, conditioner or coconut oil. The process is simple, take your smothering substance and apply liberally to the hair, completely covering all strands. Then, use a shower cap to cover the hair for a lengthy period of time, preferably overnight. In the morning, use a nit comb to comb through the hair, dislodging any nits or eggs. After this has been done, wash the hair as usual until clean. Like wet combing, this method should be repeated to ensure all lice are removed.


vinegar for head lice treatment
Credit: iStock / ThamKC

Vinegar can be an effective lice treatment if used properly. It cannot kill adult lice, however it can help dissolve the glue that holds the eggs to the hair shaft. It may also help kill baby lice, known as nits. If you plan on using vinegar, it's best to use a mixture that is half vinegar and half water, and then proceed to using another method such as wet combing. Repeat this process every 2 days until you see no more signs of lice infestation.

Other Considerations

Although treating the infested person's scalp is the main priority when getting rid of lice, there are other things you can do to help you fight lice.

A Hot Blow Dryer

A blow dryer on its own is not an effective treatment for getting rid of lice. However, using a blow dryer on the highest heat setting can kill baby lice. This makes it a useful tool for fighting a lice infestation, alongside your initial lice removal method.

Deep Cleaning

Due to the fact that lice can survive off the scalp for up up to 2 days on textiles and fabrics, cleaning these items is a major component of addressing your lice infestation. You can clean bedding, towels, and hats and dry using the highest heat setting. Plush toys should be dried on high heat and then sealed in an airtight plastic bag for two weeks.

head lice treatment
Credit: iStock / Martinbowra

Tea Tree Oil For Prevention

Although some people swear by the efficacy of tea tree oil for treating a lice infestation, many medical institutions such as the Mayo Clinic think there needs to be more research. That being said, a research study published in BMC Dermatology showed that using tea tree oil as a preventative measure helped repel lice from infesting children in their study in the first place.

Although it's a pain getting the news that you or your children have been exposed to lice, you can rest easy that there are effective treatments available that don't involve the use of harsh chemicals.

READ NEXT: How To Spot And Treat Lice

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