Lice Vs Dandruff: How to Know What You Have, Exactly?

Lice and dandruff are two most common hair or scalp conditions. Both of these are often confused with each other. The similarity in size and color and the same itching condition makes it difficult to know the actual problem. Head lice is the infestation of tiny, brown parasitic insects, also known as Pediculus humanus capitis. These tear-shaped parasites stick closely to your scalp and feed on human blood. Dandruff is a different scalp condition (skin eczema). It is also termed as seborrheic dermatitis. Lice and dandruff are completely different things. Both come with varying symptoms. Read on to know more about each.

Types of Lice

Lice comes in many forms, and while people might use the term generically, there are three different types of life that you may be dealing with:

  • Body lice. If you have body lice, you’ll be dealing with lice that often lives on your bedding or clothes. The lice will move from these fabrics on to your skin. Body lice is less common and impacts homeless people most often because the homeless are not able to wash their clothes often or bathe often enough.
  • Head lice. The most common form of lice that people have is head lice. When you have head lice, you have lice that are on the scalp. You can quickly determine if you have head lice by looking over your ears or at the nape of your neck. The lice will often look like small white grains that are the size of a sesame seed.
  • Pubic lice. Pubic lice is often called crabs. The pubic lice will be lice that has invested the pubic hair on the body. A person that has more body hair or thicker eyebrows may have pubic lice enter their chest hair, eyelashes or even the eyebrows.

A person doesn’t need to have bad personal hygiene to have lice. Anyone can get lice, and unless you treat the issue properly, you may have recurring lice that refuses to go away.

Different symptoms between lice and dandruff

1. Symptoms of liceCartoon picture of girl with lice is scratching her head.

  • Severe and continuous itching is the most common symptom of lice. As the eggs hatch, hundreds of nymph lice start to crawl on the scalp and suck blood from it. The lice saliva, while sucking, is the main cause of that intense itching condition.
  • Lice (adult or recently-hatched) cause a moving sensation (when lice crawls) on your scalp.
  • This ticklish feeling might leave you unable to sleep.
  • Areas behind your ears and above your neck are most likely to get infested.
  • Sometimes, excessive scratching might cause red sores on your scalp.
  • Lice are contagious, so it can easily spread from head to head contact.
  • On checking your hair, you will see outnumbered tiny, white specks in oval-shape.
  • On touching these white specks, they will not get off effortlessly. These are glued to the hair shaft badly. Even washing or blow drying lice cannot get it off.
  • The empty nit cases will remain implanted in your hair for a long time.
  • People of any age group can fall victim to lice infestation. But it is more common among the kids aged between 3 to 11.
  • In most of the cases, nits are found near the scalp.

Note: Louse lays eggs close to the scalp area to ensure proper heat for eggs. But in warmer weather conditions, it can lay eggs anywhere on the hair shaft.

2. Symptoms of dandruffThe doctor looks through a magnifying glass at the dandruff on dark female hair.

  • Slightly itchy scalp that irritates you occasionally.
  • The rough-looking dandruff flakes on the scalp are quite visible. Unlike nits (eggs of lice), these white specks are thick and flaky in texture.
  • As you brush those flakes off or comb-through, they would easily fall out on your shoulders.
  • You will find a clear change in your scalp condition. Scalp seems to have white or yellow patches of dryness. On touching it, you would feel it oily or scaly.
  • Red or irritated scalp is yet another symptom of dandruff.
  • Dandruff is noncontagious and does not spread as a result of close contact with anyone.
  • Dandruff, when gets severe, can spread from hair to other body parts including—eyebrows, groin, armpits and sides of the nose.

What’s the difference between lice and dandruff?

Both lice infestations and dandruff are quite different in looks. Observing them closely would surely help you in knowing the difference.

  • Lice eggs/ nits: Nits are as tiny as the grains of sand, implanted like beads, on hair shafts. Their size is about 0.3-millimeter-wide and 0.8 millimeter long. These live lice eggs are caramel or grey in hue. Once the eggs are hatched, this color changes to white or yellowish. As far as live lice are concerned, these brownish louse cannot be seen so simply.
  • Dandruff: Dandruff are thick and flaky patches of dryness in some areas of the scalp. Its color can be yellowish to white. These white flakes look rough and scattered in your hair.

What causes lice and dandruff?

Lice: A close contact with others is the main cause of lice and nits. Live lice are parasites and they crawl (a flightless parasite). So, these can easily switch their places. Using other’s hairbrush, hair accessories, bedding, towel and clothing is the main cause of lice infestations.

You can also get lice through sexual contact. The majority of cases where adults get lice occur when sexual contact occurred. The lice will be transferred during intercourse and are called pubic lice or crabs. If a child gets pubic lice, this is often a sign that sexual abuse has occurred.

Dandruff: A natural microbe called Malassezia globose is the main cause of dandruff. It all gets started with an irritated skin. That continuous irritation starts a skin shedding process. As a result, you end up with skin flaking, dryness and itchiness. Scalp that is too oily or too dry can also cause dandruff. Some other causes may include;

  • skin yeast, eczema or fungus (malassezia)
  • genetics
  • some cosmetics products with unsuitable ingredientsRemoving lice on human hair as an infestation of parasitic nits or eggs hatching with a wiper wiping away the parasites with 3D illustration elements.

How do you treat lice?

Check out the most effective ways of getting rid of lice and nits.

1. Pesticidal lotions

These anti-lice lotions are the most recommended and effective way to treat lice. The toxic ingredients in these lotions kill those parasitic insects in a couple of uses. But these lotions are not suitable for everyone, especially for kids under 3. Even for the kids above 3, it must be used under adult supervision. For a safer experience, Sklice lotion is a recommended product. It can be applied on a baby as young as 6 months. To use pesticide lotions safely, here are certain points to keep in mind;

  • These are not safe for pregnant and nursing moms.
  • In case of any accidental ingestion, consult your doctor immediately.
  • It must not be contacted with eyes or else you will end up with severe eye irritation.
  • These lotions may cause some side effects. It is advised to read the instructions (given on packaging) before using them.
  • Those having allergies or some skin conditions, must not use it without dermatologist’s advice.

2. Prescription shampoo

Cartoon pictures of boy with lice is removing lice step by step.The medicated anti-lice shampoos containing permethrin and pyrethrin, are yet another result-oriented cure for nits and lice. To get the best results, follow the instructions given on the packaging. These special shampoos should be reused after 7 to 9 days of the first use (to kill any remaining lice). Don’t forget to brush your hair with a louse comb after using them. It helps in removing lice and empty or dead nits. Besides shampoo, anti-lice hair creams are also available. They work in the same manner. Furthermore, washing your scalp with vinegar (after shampooing hair) or applying tea tree oil in the scalp, are some of the best nonmedical remedies for lice infestation.

Note: Permethrin and pyrethrin both are toxic ingredients, even to humans. It must be used carefully.

Lice can often be treated by purchasing a nonprescription shampoo that is specifically formulated to kill lice. If you have used the shampoo and the condition has not gotten better, you will want to call a doctor.

The doctor will have access to a stronger, prescription shampoo that is able to kill lice more efficiently.

If you’re pregnant, you will not want to use a prescription or nonprescription shampoo without first contacting a doctor.

Lice cause you to become itchy, and if you have itched to the point where you have skin abrasions or infected hives, you will want to call a doctor to have antibiotics prescribed.

How to treat dandruff?

Using anti-dandruff shampoo is the easiest cure for dandruff. For severe cases, use them on daily basis. For minor dandruff, using weekly is what dermatologists advise. While picking the shampoo, look for the ingredients like—salicylic acid, selenium sulfide, coal tar and ketoconazole. Besides using a special shampoo, tea tree oil is an effective item for cooling down the itch. For treating dryness of scalp, use the best moisturizing shampoo and conditioner. Those who are suffering from extreme cases of dandruff, there are steroid lotions for it. But they must be used under professional supervision.

1. Prevention for lice

  • Don’t delay the treatment of lice. The sooner, the better.
  • Instruct your kids (or anyone who is infested) to not to share their personal items (scarf, comb, clothing) with anyone.
  • Wash the bedding and clothes of infested person in hot water after using any anti-lice product.
  • Vacuum your furniture, car seats and carpet
  • Reducing contact with others is highly recommended.
  • Keep a close watch on the infested person’s scalp for about a month to ensure a clear head. Keep on brushing the hair with a louse comb is the best way to do that.

You can purchase conditioners and shampoos that are designed to repel lice. When children go on a major trip with their school or on an outing, it’s often a good idea to use one of these products.

Kids who play sports should also use a shampoo or conditioner to repel lice. Organic, natural products are available. Most of these products are leave-in products that will be able to be applied and left in the hair to keep lice from entering the scalp.

Studies are being conducted on the efficacy of tea tree oil, rosemary and coconut oil for repelling lice.

Kids will also want to avoid head-to-head contact during school and other activities. Kids will transmit lice to one another, and this is the main cause for head lice continuing to spread.

2. Prevention for dandruff

  • Regularly moisturize your scalp (especially with hair oils and conditioners).
  • Control your stress levels
  • Avoid dying and spraying your hair as harmful chemicals in them might damage your scalp.


Both hair conditions are quite different. And each of it requires different ways to cure. To get the right treatment, it is essential to learn to differentiate between lice and dandruff. We hope after going through this article, it would not be a problem for you anymore.

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