This past summer my daughter ended up with a head-lice infestation. She probably caught them during the last weeks of school, right before we headed to Sweden for our holidays. We discovered the lice while we were in Sweden. It was the first time this has happened to me and my kids, and it took a while for us to REALLY get rid of them. During this ordeal (and it was an ordeal) I learned a lot. This post is based on my personal experiences and what I learned on the internet and elsewhere while we were battling the lice.
My top 7 tips for dealing with head-lice:
1. Prepare for the fact that it might take time to get rid of them
Head lice have been around for thousands of years and are specialists at living in human hair on the human head. They live nowhere else. So, no surprise, they are persistent and tough to get rid of. After treating the hair, comb it every day for two weeks, several times a week for one more week, and if you don't find any more of them you're probably out of the woods by then.
2. Use products that are applied to wet hair, preferably a silicone treatment
We used a shampoo treatment at first, but I don't think it worked that well. Not because the actual ingredients don't kill lice, but because it's hard to know where it goes and how much of it goes there when you apply a foaming product in wet hair.
The pharmacists I spoke to in Sweden said they don't even recommend the old, toxic treatments anymore because the lice are getting resistant. So skip those.
My recommendation, based only on my own experience, is to use the newer silicone-oil treatments. These work by suffocating the lice AND their eggs. Most other treatments do not affect the eggs at all, which is why you always treat a second time (8-10 days after the first treatment) to get rid of any lice that hatched from the eggs. These treatments are non-toxic and lice can't build up a resistance to them.
We used NYDA Head Lice Treatment NYDA's treatment (available now in Canada - I found it at Shoppers Drug Mart), and Hedrin Once Liquid Gel (available in Europe). You apply these products to dry hair, wait for the specified amount of time (an hour, or over-night, depending on the product), and then wash it out. Hedrin is the best in my opinion, but it is also rather hard to wash out. However, that is a minor problem compared to the lice. So, my top recommendation is to use Hedrin Once, if you can get a hold of it (which might not be easy outside of Europe). Hopefully it will become available everywhere at some point.
Also, even though some of these treatments say that one treatment is enough, I would still highly recommend re-treating 8 to 10 days after the first treatment. But then I am highly paranoid like that.
The 8-10 days is because that gives the eggs enough time to hatch, but not enough time for the new lice to start laying eggs on their own.
I'm sure there are other treatments that other people have found to be effective, but these are the ones that seemed to work best for my family!
3. Get a good lice comb and learn how to use it
It should be metal. You should read up about how to use it properly. Here is a good website for information on the combing: Hedrin's Guide To Combing. You should use it every day for the first two weeks after treatment to check for lice. If your child does not have head lice, you can use the comb once a week while they're at school to check for lice.
Lice especially like the area around the ears and at the back of the neck. Also the top of the head, if our experience is anything to go by.
You will be looking for eggs and for lice. Eggs are white/yellowish and stuck (really stuck!) in the hair. If it's an ongoing infestation, the eggs will be found right next to the scalp. Since eggs and empty egg-"shells" don't fall off by themselves, you might see them for a long time. Head lice are small, whitish gray/yellowish and almost translucent - they will look darker after sucking blood. They live on the scalp and on the hair shaft, and if you catch live ones in your comb, they will wiggle. I wish I didn't know that, but I do.
To disinfect the comb if you're using it on more than one person, put it in a bowl or cup and pour boiling water on it, then let sit for a few minutes.
4. Use your vacuum, hot water, and the dryer
According to research, head lice and their eggs do not fare well when they are off your head and will not live long there. (According to most research I've read, all head lice will definitely die after 48 hours is they are not on a human head and their reproductive systems are damaged well before that.) Still, if you've got them in your house, you will want to do some clean up. Vacuum floors, vacuum couches and chairs, vacuum those things were in contact with human hair and human heads and that can't be put in a washing machine. Don't forget car seats! (Also vaccuum closets and drawers where clothing has been kept. And stuffed animals, if they can't be washed.)
Wash clothes, towels and bed linens in hot water, if possible. Otherwise, wash and at least use a high temperature dryer setting.
5. Treat everyone at the same time & don't just check the kids
Kids can get head lice, but so can adults. Check your own head and other adults in your home too. Treat everyone at the same time to reduce the chance of re-infestation. Tell friends and relatives you have been in contact with, so they can check their hair too.
6. Use treatments that are proven to work
There are so many whacky theories and home remedies floating around the internet when it comes to treating head lice. Many are messy (putting mayonnaise in your hair), potentially uncomfortable (putting mouthwash in your hair), and whether they work or not... well... who knows. It sucks to get head lice, and you want to deal with it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Go to your local pharmacy or drug store and get something there. You don't have to use the harsh toxic treatments anymore - go for something that suffocates head lice. The lice can't get resistant to those treatments, so you can treat with a lot less worry and pain.
7. Expect to be paranoid for a while
I'm still paranoid about the lice. I'm surprised I haven't gone bald myself from all the combing, or driven my kids nuts. Depending on your inborn sense of paranoia, you might be fretting and combing excessively for weeks or even months. I limited myself to combing the kids once a day, and gave them incentives like candy, so they'd sit still for me. (Bribes are good sometimes.) As for my own head, I'm still trying to get over it and limit my own combing. It's a struggle, but it is getting better.
- Head lice do not spread disease, though they can make you itchy and gross you out.
- Lice live in dirty hair and clean hair. Your level of hygiene doesn't matter.
- Head lice ONLY live in human hair and only in the hair on your head.
- Head lice can live in short and long hair, but because they're often transferred from hair touching hair, it's easier to get them if your hair is longer.
- Don't share clothing items, hats, or brushes and combs. Tell your kids not to share such items at school.
- Head lice can be defeated, but you have to be ready to fight them off for a while.
- It is common for people to get head lice back after a first round of treatment. My guess is that this is because the eggs are hard to kill and easy to miss, leading to new head lice being born and starting the cycle all over again.
- Find out more about head lice here: Health Link BC.