Effective head lice treatment: What you need to know

How to deal with head lice

Nits. There, we said it. Go on, we’ll wait here while you go ahead and scratch your head for a bit…

It’s kind of amazing how such teeny tiny little creatures have the ability to strike fear in the hearts of even the toughest parents, but they do. And with Aussie stats showing that around 23% of kids in school have head lice at any given time, it’s worth becoming informed on how to cope with the critters.

We’ve put our heads together (not literally, we don’t want nits) to come up with what you need to know about how to deal with pesky head lice. From information about what to look out for, to tips on how to get rid of them, we’ve here to help you survive head lice treatment.

The key facts

Head lice are tiny parasitic insects that live on your head, feed on human blood and are transmitted by head to head contact (they’re wingless, so can’t fly). Head lice multiply when they lay their eggs (known as nits) on hair, up close to the scalp – where the warmer temperature is perfect for them.

It is important to note that head lice do not discriminate – they don’t care how much you earn or how clean you are – they’re equal opportunists!

It is also important to note that while many kids with a case of head lice will be itchy, there are many that may not be. Different kids react differently to the saliva of lice (which is what causes the itching). This is why it is so important to do a weekly check for nits and lice (see below for info on how to do this).

Head lice do not survive away from scalps for long, but you may want to wash bedding, especially pillows, on a hot washing cycle. And remember, head lice only feed on human blood, so your pets do not need to be treated.

What they look like

Tips on how to get rid of head lice

Head lice go through three key stages: they start as a nit/egg, they progress to nymph stage before turning into a mature adult louse. The adult louse is similar to a sesame seed in size and, while it can be seen by the naked eye, it can be difficult to differentiate it from dandruff.

Eggs will not shift easily, whereas dandruff or other debris, such as sand, should. Lice tend to be yellow, tan/brown or greyish white in colour and they can move very quickly, making them tricky to spot. (image via Wikipedia)

Condition & comb

Getting rid of nits with a fine metal comb

One of the best treatments for nits is the condition and comb method.

To undertake, simply grab the cheapest white-coloured conditioner you can find, a very fine-toothed metal comb and let that conditioner stun those little suckers, while you slowly and methodically go through small sections of hair, carefully checking for and getting rid of all head lice and their eggs.

This is the most popular (and usually the cheapest) treatment for dealing with head lice. Parents swear by doing this as a weekly ritual to pick up and deal with outbreaks quickly.

Other treatment options

Insecticide treatments:
These common, over the counter treatments are typically applied twice – an initial application followed 7 days later with a repeat application to catch any newly hatched lice.

Some strands of ‘super lice’ have shown to be resistant to chemical treatment – if you still see active lice the day following a treatment you may want to try another insecticide with a different active ingredient.

Approved insecticidal treatments will be registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration (source: Choice). Use them only as directed.

Natural treatments:
There is some debate about the effectiveness of natural treatments, but more and more products are coming onto the market that contain essential oils that are toxic to lice. As with chemical treatments, use these natural products only as directed.

Electronic combs:
These combs work by zapping and killing the lice. They are an alternative for people who prefer not to use chemicals, but they are unsuitable for use on younger children and babies.

Bring in the professionals:
Is it all too much to cope with? Did you know that you can pay someone to take care of the problem for you? Sounds good for those of us who are super squirmish! Just Google ‘professional lice removal’ and search for someone in your area.

Hairstyles that help

Keep longer hair securely tied back can prevent the spreading of nits

Keep longer hair securely tied back, preferably in a plait or a braid.

Head lice can’t fly, but can swing like Tarzan, from hair shaft to hair shaft, so keeping it tied at the back will help to control the likelihood that your child will pick up any critters from other children.

Finish off any hairstyle with a spritz of hairspray to keep loose hair contained.

Community approach

Whether your community is your family, or your whole school, there are things you can collectively do to try and stop lice infestations. At home, make sure you check hair weekly, using conditioner through the hair and a fine toothed comb.

Most schools have policies that outline what parents should do if their child has lice, but they can also choose to participate in regular screening via a Head Lice Management Program.

Your advice

We opened the topic up to you guys and you came up with a bundle of ideas to hit the nit on the head! Here are some of our faves…

  • Add a few drops of tea tree oil to your shampoo and conditioner, then use as normal.
  • Add a few drops of tea tree oil to a spray bottle, then top up with water. Spray on hair daily as a preventative measure.
  • Keep long hair plaited or braided tightly.
  • Use hairspray or gel to tame loose hair.
  • Got a boy? Keep their hair clipped super short.
  • Encourage your kids not to share hats or brushes.
  • Let the heat from a straightener work its magic; just be careful not to burn their little heads!
  • Soak hair in coconut oil then use a metal comb to remove the lice and eggs.
  • Pop the lice – it is satisfying and you’ll know they are dead!
  • Encourage your kids to give high fives instead of hugging.
  • Wrap some cotton around the teeth of your nit comb to make it tighter.
  • Be persistent in regularly checking for lice and nits.

Want to know more?

Join the conversation over on our Facebook page and ask other mums what works for them… click below!

How to treat head lice