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How to Get Rid of Lice? (5 Medication & 4 Natural Ways)

Lice on white background.

Being parents, lice outbreak is one of a few fear-inducing things that you may encounter (And you definitely don’t welcome it, do you?). As your baby joins his kindergarten, there would be several occasions where you would feel grossed out about that notice you get from the school administration, informing you about the lice outbreak in the school. What is the best those panic-stricken parents can do for their kids in such cases? Having a comprehensive knowledge about each and every aspect of lice, including the safest ways to treat it, is the best you can do. Let’s give it a start.

Where do Lice Come from?

Myths link head lice with uncleanliness and poor hygienic conditions. And some suggest it to come from the pets in the house. For some, head lice spread from sharing the same furniture or pools with an infected person.

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These are all nothing but misconceptions. Anyone (no matter how much hygienic) can experience these nasty parasites crawling around in the depths of their head. Head lice live on human blood only (these are ectoparasites). These must not be confused with dog/animal lice.

Lice do not fly neither do they jump or hop around. The basic reason of head lice is a head-to-head contact (in 95% cases). Anyone who gets closer to someone with an infested head, is going to end up with a few of these tiny parasites. As lice lay eggs daily (5 to 6 eggs in a day), so it would not take long in the multiplication of these parasitic insects in the new host’s head.

The second possible cause of head lice infection or pediculosis is using the everyday accessories of the infested person (in 5% cases). These may include—their towel, clothes, hairbrush/comb, bedding, hair ties and so on.

How do I check for Lice?

To check head lice infestation, you need to take a closer look at the affected scalp. To start that, get the hair divided in various sections. The areas behind the ears and on the nape of the neck are most likely to have these tiny buggers. So, it would be better to start from here. Make certain that the room has enough brightness to see things clearly. First, look for nits (tear-shaped specks in greyish white shade). You can find them with your naked eyes (Lice are reddish brown wingless parasites that are hardly visible in the hair, but these can be caught in the lice comb). But for a better and quicker outcome, using a magnifier is highly recommended.

If you have found the white specks, brush them off with your fingers. If they get scattered in your scalp and particularly on your shoulders, it is not lice. This might be dandruff or hair debris. Now the question arises, how would you determine whether its lice or not. If you try to pick those tiny white particles (sized no more than the grains of sand) and they do not come off easily, that means you have nits. Nits are the first sign of head lice infestation.

Using lice comb in these sectioned areas too can help in checking. Once you have done it, look for any sign of nits and lice on the comb. To make it easier, dampen your hair or apply mayonnaise in them (it smothers the lice) before combing. Lice can’t move as swiftly in wet scalp as they normally do.

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Symptoms of Head Lice

If you suspect yourself to be a victim of head lice infestation, look for the following symptoms to confirm it:

  • Continuous itching
  • A moving sensation; you feel as if something is crawling in your scalp
  • Scalp encrusted with tiny white specks
  • Sleeplessness because of intense irritation in your scalp
  • Appearance of red bumps on the scalp, resulted from scratching
  • Tiny blood spots on the scalp (it can cause infection)

Steps to Follow Before Starting the Head Lice Treatment

To avoid re-infestation of lice, there are some supplemental measures one must take, before opting for any pharmacological treatment of head lice. These may include;

  • Don’t just cure the one who is diagnosed with active lice infestation. Also check the scalps of other family members who have been sharing space with the infested person. If any of them shows signs of head lice, they all should be treated together (this is essential to avoid retreatment of head lice).
  • Gather all the household items (pillow covers, bed linen, mittens, headbands, ponytail holders, towel, clothes, hats, scarves)used by infested members in the past two days, before starting the treatment. Wash the infected clothes and bedding in hot water, blow dry them with hot air and then iron them well. Exposing lice to a temperature more than 53.5°C (128.3°F) just for 5 minutes can kill lice and nits effectively.
  • Even your combs and hair brushes should not be spared. Soak them in hot water for 5 to 10 minutes to kill any lingering lice. Washing them with pediculicidalshampoo or vinegar is another handy option.
  • There are certain items that can’t be washed or dry cleaned (comforters, stuffed animals). Seal them well in plastic bags and leave for about 2 weeks. After two weeks, take them outdoor and shake them well to get rid of any dead louse.
  • Next step is to vacuum the furniture, floor, carpet, stuffed toys and mattress used by the infested person. There might be some hair with nits attached to it. Dispose of the vacuum cleaner bag after vacuuming.

Medication for Head Lice

When it comes to curing the head lice epidemic, markets are flooded with over-the-counter shampoos, lotions, and crème rinse. There might be severe cases, when such products do not work effectively. To deal with such situation, doctors may prescribe some OTC medicines. Some of the them are;

1. Malathion Lotion (Ovide)

It’s one of the most recommended head lice medication (for topical use only). Apply it for about 8 to 12 hours in the scalp. Then rinse it off well. Keep checking the scalp for the retreatment of lice. If lice reappear, reuse the lotion.

2. Ivermectin Lotion (SKlice)

Approved by FDA, this anti-lice lotion is safe for the babies aged six months and more. All you need is to keep it in the scalp for about 10 minutes. And then rinse it off. The product is so good that you don’t need to use a nit comb after using it.

3. Spinosad Topical Suspension (Natroba)

Spinosad topical suspension is an easy and simple cure for lice infestation. Cover the scalp, using about one bottle of it. Leave it in your hair for 10 minutes and then wash hair well. This medicine is safe for patients aging 4 years and on.

4. Benzyl Alcohol Lotion (ulesfia)

Yet another effective non-toxic topical lotion for head lice. Its main function is to kill lice by depriving them of oxygen. Apply it on the scalp and leave it for about 10 minutes. Then rinse off. This product is not suitable for the kids under 6 months of age.

5. Lindane

It’s an anti-lice shampoo that comes with a number of side effects. It is not suitable for general use. Doctors recommend it only, when all other remedies fail. Keeping in view the risks, American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend it for children. It’s also not suitable for nursing or pregnant women and patients of HIV aids.

Possible Side Effects of Prescription Treatment

Each of the prescription anti-lice item has some side effects. The most common reactions may include;

  • Dandruff
  • Roughness of hair
  • Redness of eyes
  • A burning sensation in scalp
  • Irritation or itching in eyes, scalp or skin

Natural Ways to Treat Head Lice

As prescription medicines come with side effects, trying natural head lice remedies is a safer option.

  1. Essential Oil Treatment

Plant-based oils are known to have toxic effects on nits and lice. Tea tree oil is an essential oil known for its insecticide properties. It must not be applied directly, the best way to use it is by adding olive oil or coconut oil in it. For head lice, add tea tree oil with some natural shampoo (1 ounce) and olive oil (3 tbsp.). Mix it well and apply on your scalp. Cover your head with some towel or piece of cloth. Leave it in your hair for about half an hour and wash your hair with hot water. Now use a lice comb to remove the dead lice bodies from your hair.

  1. Smother the Lice

Lice move swiftly in the scalp, making it tough to catch it, even in the lice comb. Slowing down lice’s movement or suffocating them by smothering the lice is an effective method. For smothering, greasy items like mayonnaise, olive oil and petroleum jelly work the best. Their oily texture tends to block the several breathing holes found on lice’s body. Don’t forget to put on a shower cap while wearing the greasy product on your scalp.

  1. Using vinegar for Lice

Acetic acid is the main ingredient in vinegar (apple cider vinegar or white vinegar) that aids in getting rid of nasty nits (it does not kill adult head lice). Vinegar lice treatment is helpful in removing the exoskeletons of the head lice eggs and you don’t have to spend hours in removing the glued nits from hair shafts. Make sure the quantity of acetic acid in vinegar is no more than 5-7% (each item contains different quantity). Apply vinegar directly on your scalp and leave for about 10 minutes. Now comb your hair with a nit comb to remove nits and rinse well.

  1. OTC Treatment for Kids

For intense head lice problem, OTC treatments are a good choice, especially for your kids. It relieves your kids from pesky parasites. The safest OTC treatment for kids can be the anti-lice shampoos or cream rinse. Permethrin 1% cream is considered the safest for the kids aged 2 and more.

What to do After Treatment?

In most of the cases, you have to repeat the treatments for a permanent cure. Products must be reused according to the instructions given on the label or according to the doctor’s advice. Even after completing the head lice treatment, keep checking the infected scalp, once a week, for any lingering lice or nits. This is an essential step to avoid the retreatment of lice. A fine comb or tweezer are the most recommended tools to do that (you can also use your finger nails to pluck those glued parasites out).

What if the Treatment doesn’t work?

This is another possibility. Many times no treatment brings the desired results on your scalp. If you experience a situation like that, avoid overusing the medication (don’t use 1 product more than three times). This happens when your body has resistance against this particular medication or when you are not using it according to the instructions on the label. If something like that happens, consult your dermatologist. He might refer you some other cure (maybe some anti-lice pill to ingest).


Being parent, you must not feel embarrassed or reluctant in discussing the head lice issue with the school administration. While you are playing your part in head lice removal of your kid, school officials must be informed about it. It would be a great help to avoid spreading of lice in other students and people who come in close contact with your kid in school.

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