Headlice Guide - Treating Headlice

What Are Head Lice?

Extremely common when children return to school from their summer break,head lice are tiny insects which cause intense itching. In fact, most cases of head lice are discovered when a child keeps scratching his or her head.

Living on the human scalp and feeding on blood, just the thought of head lice and their eggs (nits) is enough to make you feel itchy, but they do not spread disease, are not a health hazard, and do not reflect a poor standard of hygiene. Any child can ‘catch’ head lice, and having them is nothing to be ashamed of.

Where Do Head Lice Come From?

Common questions we hear from concerned parents are Where do head lice come from?How do you get head lice and how does lice spread?

Head lice are not like fleas, hiding in carpets or woodwork and lying in wait for an unsuspecting pet or child to walk by. Rather, they are spread by direct head-to-head contact and only infest humans. Head lice that have fallen off their human host rarely survive for more than 24 hours.

Head lice are wingless insects which cannot hop, jump or fly and are rarely spread by sharing articles such as brushes or head gear. This is because they are more interested in holding onto the hair shaft of their host than taking off on an adventure into unknown territory.

These tiny, persistent insects have been around for thousands of years, and likely find new heads to infest when children come in close contact with one another. It only takes one infected child sitting close to friends at school for an outbreak to occur. Younger children spend a lot of time with their heads together, working or playing and, in recent years, the practice of taking selfies with friends makes older children also prone.

The female head louse is prolific, laying three to eight nits every day. The nits take

six or seven days to hatch, and another 10 or so days for the females to mature and start laying their own eggs. 

Before we move on to how to prevent head lice, and head lice treatments, let’s take a look at how to recognise an infestation.

What Causes Headlines: Signs

So what causes head lice and nits? Since the obvious sign of infestation is itchiness, you should check your child’s hair if he or she is scratching. Since lice are half the size of a sesame seed and hard to spot, people are usually urged to look for nits. These tiny eggs are laid along the hair shaft, close to the scalp, and are hard to see when they are alive. As soon as the louse has hatched, however, the tan-coloured eggs turn silver and are much easier to spot. They are particularly evident if your child has dark hair.

Nits are most often laid on the hair at the back of the neck and behind the ears, where the temperature is warmer.

Since lice spread quickly among family members, be sure to check everyone’s hair—including your own—and remember that age is no barrier. Grandpa and grandma, as well as the newest family arrival, may also be affected.

Head lice do not remain alive for long after losing contact with a friendly scalp, so your household to-do list will be a short one. Simply wash the bedding of all family members being treated for lice, and wash all clothing worn in the past 48 hours in water of at least 60° C. Soak brushes and combs in disinfectant, then rinse in boiling water. All carpets, rugs and fabric chair-backs should be thoroughly vacuumed.

What Is The Best Head Lice Treatment On The Market?

Natural Chemist staff are often asked how to get rid of head lice, and what is the best head lice treatment on the market. Some parents are eager to use a natural treatment for head lice, and others want to use the fastest and most lice effective treatment.

Let’s take a look at the most commonly used and effective natural head lice treatment.

Conventional treatments: The most popular conventional treatments are an insecticide made from the extracts of chrysanthemums (pyrethrin), or a synthetic version of this insecticide (pyrethroid). These are available in shampoos and conditioners.

The package insert will provide concise instructions regarding use, including how long to keep the product on the hair. Most conditioners should remain on the hair for over 15 minutes, after which you can use a special nit-comb to remove the nits and any dead lice.

This lice treatment process should be repeated as often as indicated on the insert, to make sure all lice and nits are eradicated. You should continue to use a nit comb every two to three days (or daily if you are more ambitious). We recommend using a nit comb with three rows of teeth for this purpose, as the lice are more easily caught between the rows of teeth.

Unfortunately, some varieties of head lice have become resistant to pyrethrin and pyrethroid treatment.

If these treatments don’t appear to be working, you should intersperse their use with a treatment that dissolves the louse’s waxy exoskeleton, causing it to die from dehydration. Coconut oil works well to accomplish this.

How To Get Rid of Head Lice Naturally

The most popular natural head lice treatments include the use of oils that coat the hair shaft and kill the lice by dehydrating them (often referred to as ‘suffocating’) and/or causing them to lose their grip on the hair shaft. Coconut and tea tree oils are commonly used to treat head lice and have stood the test of time in terms of safety. However, they are not always the most popular treatments for head lice! For example, coconut oil should be left on for eight hours and is messy. Also, oils do not kill nits, necessitating repeat treatments.

One treatment we have found effective is using hair conditioner to ‘stun’ the lice, then taking a three-row nit comb and combing through the hair in sections. This will remove the lice, however, the treatment will need to be repeated a few times. To use this method of removing lice, you will need the following:

Begin by covering all of the hair thoroughly with conditioner, then detangle the hair with normal comb and separate it into sections. Cover your child’s shoulders with a towel to catch the excess conditioner. Then, pass the metal nit comb through the hair in

sections, paying attention to the area closest to the scalp, where lice and their eggs (nits) are most likely to be.

The conditioner does not kill lice but causes them to remain still for about 20 minutes, enabling easier removal. The metal comb will easily remove the stunned head lice.

After each pass through the sections of hair, wipe the comb on the white paper towel or tissue and check for any lice or nits. (Discard these afterwards.)

Keep combing until no more lice can be seen on the towel/tissue. This may take up to half an hour on the first day, but will be much quicker on subsequent days.

This treatment method should be done every second or third day until no nits and lice remain, usually about 7 to 10 days. Wash the conditioner out of the hair after each session, and wash both combs well.

How Can Natural Chemist Help?

Products that you can use to treat head lice.

Thursday Plantation Tea Tree Conditioner Organic 200 ml

Although not formulated specifically to treat head lice, tea tree oil is a natural antiseptic that may help repel head lice. This conditioner is ideal for our “tried and tested” treatment outlined above.

Neutralice Advance M3 nit comb

This specially designed comb has three rows of teeth—fine and extra fine. The patented three-row technology increases the effectiveness of lice and nit removal. The outside rows of teeth glide through the hair removing larger head lice, while the extra fine row removes any smaller head lice and eggs (nits).

If you are feeling confused about the best way to treat head lice, please consult with us at the Natural Chemist T: 1300 882 303. Head lice are wily creatures and it may take a combination of treatments to successfully remove them.

i. Canyon, Deon V, Speare, Rick, A comparison of botanical and synthetic substances commonly used to prevent head lice (Pediculus humanus var. capitis) infestation.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-4632.2007.03132.x       

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