Head lice: all you need to know and do if you find your child has head lice

Source: alamy.com

What are head lice?


Head lice are small insects that infest the scalp. Heat, humidity and darkness are excellent conditions for their reproduction. Itching is caused by their sting. They focus in particular on the nape of the neck, upper neck and behind the ears. They are spread through direct contact with people with pediculosis or indirectly by touching their clothes or sheets, for example. To dispel the myth that lice fly from one head to another and that they are an indication of poor hygiene. More common in school-age children, however, it can occur at any age.

The data relating to the worldwide prevalence of pediculosis say that 6 to 12 million children between 4 and 11 years are affected every year. Head lice can live up to 30 days on the skin, but die after a few hours if removed from lack of nourishment. Their eggs (nits), on the other hand, can survive for up to two weeks, resemble grains of dandruff and thanks to the action of an adhesive substance they secrete they are difficult to remove. They hatch within a week.

How can you tell if your child has lice? Head lice present with intense itching of the scalp; small red bumps on the skin, neck and shoulders that may have scabs and produce fluid; presence of small white dots (nits) on the bottom of each hair difficult to remove.

If you have discovered that your child has head lice, then read on. In the 20-point guide you will find all the practical tips and remedies.


Head lice: 25 things to DO NOW if your child has them

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The child has lice: what to do? What not to do? What are the most useful and fastest tricks? And the harmful ones? Do Natural Remedies Work? 25 things to do NOW if you find that your ...

What must be done immediately at home?

1) Wash the sheets and pillowcases at 60 °. All textiles (clothes, sheets, towels, soft toys, hats…) of the child should be washed in the washing machine at more than 60 ° C. The heat kills the lice and inactivates the eggs. If they cannot be washed, close them in a plastic bag for 15 days, so that the lice present and those that will arise from any eggs, die from lack of nourishment.

2) Wash brushes and combs. It is not yet clear whether there is a connection between sharing brushes and the like, and the spread of lice infestation, but for safety it is better to clean brushes, combs and accessories (headbands, clothespins, ribbons ...) using hot water at 60 ° C and soap, leaving them soaked for at least 10 minutes.

3) No to insecticides for environments. The use of insecticide sprays for environmental hygiene is not recommended and useless. They are ineffective due to the low concentration they reach at the level of the treated surfaces and also contain toxic and irritating substances.

How do you get rid of head lice?

How do you get rid of head lice?

4) The best method is considered the comb. The mechanical removal (combing) using the special metal combs with fine teeth is the most effective method in case of pediculosis but requires patience and perseverance: it must be repeated every two days for at least two weeks. Help yourself with a magnifying glass. Advantages: absence of chemicals, reusable, also suitable for children under two years, pregnant and breastfeeding. To make the transition smoother, you can use conditioner or vegetable oil.

5) Hair dryer and straightener an extra help. Studies show that heat kills larvae and lice and prevents the eggs from hatching. Therefore, dry your hair with a hot hairdryer for at least 5 minutes. Straighteners are useful for eliminating lice and eggs in the hair, but not having to touch the scalp, a place preferred by lice to lay their eggs, they cannot solve the problem alone.

What are the really good anti-lice products?


6) Apple cider vinegar useful for removing nits. It does not kill and does not keep lice away: they cannot absorb or drink it, but it helps the removal of the eggs through the special combs, destroying the adhesive substance that surrounds them (especially that of apples). Do not use pure vinegar on the scalp. Wash your head by diluting it in water and to avoid the unpleasant smell add a few drops of lavender or lemon essential oil.

7) Balm useful as a trap. Balm and nourishing creams immobilize the lice making it easier to remove them along with the eggs. Use a sufficient dose of product according to the length of the hair and with clips / pins divide the hair into sections. Pass the comb several times, especially near the scalp. It takes some time, but has the advantage of not using any anti-lice chemicals.

8) Mix of oils against lice: olive, seed or flax in addition to nourishing and making the hair shiny, they are a good remedy for killing lice. Prepare a cup of oil with 4-5 drops of thyme essential oil, 4 drops of tea tree oil and 3 more of lavender essential oil. Mix and spread on the hair. Wrap in a cap / film and keep on for 2 hours. Wash and use a conditioner to help eliminate dead lice and eggs. Repeat for safety after seven days.

9) Mayonnaise - an old effective remedy. Grandma's remedy appears to work against lice and eggs. It has a dual action: its consistency blocks lice from moving and the vinegar present destroys the sticky substance that holds the nits attached to the hair. To make the mayonnaise softer and easier to spread, add a teaspoon of vinegar. Cover with a cap / film and keep on for 2 hours. Wash several times with shampoo until completely clean.

As for treatments with PHARMACEUTICAL PRODUCTS ...

10) Prefer dry products to shampoos. In the pharmacy there are several products that must be applied evenly on the scalp and for the entire length of the hair, insisting on the nape of the neck and behind the ears. They are divided into: natural pyrethrins (eg Milice); synthetic pyrethrins (eg: Mom); with malathion (ex: Aftir); natural (ex: Paranix - mix of essential oils). Dry products are more effective due to the longer contact time and less dilution during use.

11) Natural pyrethrins pros and cons. Obtained from some species of Chrysanthemums. Well tolerated, cases of rhinitis / dermatitis are rare. They do not give phenomena of resistance. Their activity ends after removal. To increase the effectiveness, piperonyl butoxide is added, a substance that facilitates the accumulation of the active ingredient in the parasite, increasing its effectiveness and allowing its percentage to be reduced. Not to be used under the age of two, during pregnancy and lactation unless indicated by a doctor. The eggs must be removed manually.

12) Synthetic pros and cons. They have the same mechanism and effectiveness as natural ones. They have a more prolonged action even after removal which can lead to local irritation and itching that disappear within a few days and to the phenomenon of resistance. It is necessary to repeat the treatment after a week because it is not very effective on eggs. Not to be used under the age of two, during pregnancy and lactation unless indicated by a doctor. The eggs must be removed manually.

13) Malathion with caution. This substance causes the respiratory paralysis of the louse and has greater and more marked side effects than pyrethrins (increase in: sweating, salivation and intestinal motility). The scalp and skin of children absorb more than adults and for this reason it is not recommended in pediatric age. It is prescribed in case other remedies have not worked. The eggs must be removed manually.

14) Dimethicone a valid alternative. Its action is physical and not chemical (eg Hedrin). It forms a sort of film around the louse, immobilizing it. Dimethicone is not absorbed by the skin making it less irritating than other treatments. It does not develop resistance. It should be applied dry, waiting for it to dry without using a hairdryer. After eight hours, rinse off. Repeat after seven days. The eggs must be removed manually.


15) Neem oil is not enough on its own. Obtained from a plant native to India (Azadirachta indica), it has an anti-parasitic action, hindering the insect's reproduction and nourishment processes. It can be used in pregnancy, lactation and on animals. Often associated with Tea Tree Oil, Bach Flower Remedies and lavender oe. It should be used together with other traditional remedies because alone it is not enough. The eggs must be removed manually.


Head lice: treatment

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They infest the heads of children and seem resistant to any attempt to prevent their unwelcome arrival: they are head lice, now ubiquitous in schools and communities as kindergartens ...

Here are the REMEDIES TO AVOID ...

16) Ineffective dyes, henna and masks. There are no data and studies that confirm the anti-lice action by suffocation of cosmetic hair products such as dyes (natural or containing ammonia), henna and nourishing masks. In any case, however, the eggs are not damaged and must be removed manually using the special comb.

17) Aspirin packs? To be avoided. On the net you will find advice on the use of acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) as an excellent anti-lice treatment. The package insert of this drug (and its generics) does not provide for its use in the skin (topical use) and there are no data / studies that confirm this activity and its harmlessness when used as a pack / shampoo. So no to improvised experiments on the heads of their children.

18) Spray mouthwash? Better not. On the net, mouthwash sprayed directly on the hair (emphasizing one brand in particular) is proposed as an infallible home method against lice. There are no studies that confirm this activity hypothetically attributed to the essential oils contained (eucalyptol, menthol and timolol), highly irritating substances for the eyes and respiratory tract.

Are there any treatments for prevention? NO

19) The method of prevention par excellence is the continuous and scrupulous control of the hair by means of a comb, being able to intervene promptly in the event of an infestation. Studies do not demonstrate the preventive effect of shampoos and cosmetic supplements that are labeled "create an unfavorable environment" compared to normal products. The continuous and unnecessary use of anti-lice products leads to the phenomenon of resistance.

In the end ...

20) Cutting the hair makes removal easier, but does not eliminate the problem. No to unnecessary and excessive washing: it is easier for the louse to infest clean hair, compared to dirty ones rich in sebum. No to mixes of anti-lice products. Beware of the Internet where you can find information and objects of all kinds that could be ineffective but above all toxic and dangerous. Teach children not to pile up their clothes and not to exchange personal items such as combs and accessories, hats and scarves.

Sources: Ministry of Health document on pediculosis;

Head lice medications. The Medical Letter 2005; XXXIV, 20: 82-4.

Frankowski BL, Weiner LB, et al. Head lice. Pediatrics 2002, 110:638-43.
Roberts RJ. Head lice. N Engl J Med 2002; 346:1645-50.
Headlice and nits: a Guide for School Communities. New Zealand Ministry of Education.

Updated on 05.04.2022

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