Your child complains of an itchy scalp, so you grab a flashlight, comb through his hair, and make a devastating discovery: a lice infestation. These pesky insects are common, with six million to 12 million children affected each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Some parents rely on over-the-counter medications to treat lice, but many options (like Nic and RID) aren’t completely effective – partly because lice have developed a resistance to them. Another common treatment is prescription medication. As a downside, many prescriptions contain pesticides, and they’re also associated with negative side effects like irritated scalp.
So what’s a concerned parent to do? Turn to one of these home remedies for head lice, which rely on natural ingredients you probably have on hand!
Perhaps the most popular of the home remedies for head lice, nit combing is effective at removing the pests. You’ll need to douse the hair in conditioner and (if the hair is thin) baking soda. Then, working in small sections, run a nit comb through the strands at a 45-degree angle; we recommend the LiceMeister comb. Repeat this process every day for at least two weeks, combining with other methods listed here for best results. Check out this article for more in-depth nit-combing instructions.
Many parents claim that olive oil, butter, petroleum jelly, Crisco, and mayonnaise have cured their child’s lice infestation. There are many methods for using these items, but they generally involve nit-combing, dousing the hair and scalp with the substance, leaving it on overnight under a shower cap to suffocate lice, and repeating the process at least twice. But keep in mind that these greasy items can be difficult to remove, so serious shampooing afterward is necessary.
Dermatologist Dale Pearlman, M.D., of Menlo Park, California, published a study in Pediatrics about a lotion found to be 96 percent effective in curing head lice. He later explained that the lotion was the gentle facial cleanser Cetaphil. While some have criticized his study and Cetaphil hasn't been evaluated by the FDA for head lice, Dr. Frankowski has found that it works in most cases "if the family follows all the directions properly."
The jury is still out on using essential oils as a home remedy for head lice. Some studies have suggested that some oils contain anti-lice properties, but opponents point out they’re not approved by the FDA. What’s more, eucalyptus and other oils can be toxic, causing irritation if used improperly.
Want to try essential oils as a natural lice treatment? Alan Greene, MD, FAAP, who works as a clinical faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine, recommends using regular shampoo as a base. He then mixes in olive oil (three tablespoons), tea tree oil (one teaspoon), and eucalyptus or rosemary oil (one teaspoon). Finally, he applies the solution to the hair, lets it sit for about 30-60 minutes under a shower cap, and rinses well.