What started out as a good Monday morning, turned out to be lousy…literally.
Breakfast dishes cleared away, lunches made, bag packed, uniform on, teeth cleaned… we were walking out the door with time to spare when the little fella said, ‘my head is itchy, mum.’
There they were, little bloodsuckers fleeing from the light of day (or so it seemed) as I parted his hair to have a look. And much to the little fella’s delight, a day off school to watch DVDs while mama-monkey meticulously picked through his hair.
I now fully appreciate the origin of the phrase ‘nit-picking’. At the end of the day, nothin’ gets those eggs out like mum’s fingernails of death.
According to the Better Health website, head lice are very common and (fun fact) have been around so long, they predate human evolution. They are not fussy and don’t discriminate between heads, despite the old wives tale, it doesn’t matter how clean or dirty your hair is, if you rub heads with a lousy friend, you’ll probably become lousy yourself.
So once infested, how do you get rid of head lice?
I put the question to Frugal and Thriving readers on Facebook and the response was almost unanimous: avoid the expensive chemical treatments, the best way to treat head lice is the comb and conditioner method.
I have tried everything ever Sunday (at least) over approx. a 3 year period. Nothing is magical…I just consistently comb with conditioner now.” Anneka
And the experts are backing up what mums know best. Numerous official websites including NSW Department of Health website and the Better Health Channel argue that the comb and conditioner method is best for treating head lice.
[The comb and conditioner] method is the preferred way to detect and treat head lice because it is effective, does not contribute to insecticide resistance in head lice and also presents a low risk of skin irritation.” [source]
Chemical treatments are not always the easy or reliable solution we hope for, because lice have built up a resistance to the chemicals and may not be killed.
So what is the comb and conditioner method of lice removal?
This method of removal involves smothering the hair with a cheap conditioner and then combing the lice and nits (eggs) out meticulously with a special nit comb.
What you need:
- Cheap white conditioner (a natural, but not as cheap alternative is coconut oil)
- A regular comb
- A nit comb
How to do it:
- Apply cheap conditioner to dry hair. Make sure you get right down to the scalp where the lice like to hide and feed and really smother the hair with conditioner.
- Leave the conditioner in for at least 10 minutes. The conditioner does not actually kill the lice, but stuns them and prevents them being able to grab onto the hair, making for easier removal.
- Use a normal, everyday comb to detangle hair and separate into sections.
- Then, using the fine toothed nit comb, comb each section, right from the roots of the hair to the tips and wipe the conditioner onto a paper towel or tissue after each comb. Use a white tissue so you can see the lice and eggs. Keep combing each section of hair until no more lice or eggs appear on the tissue. This takes a while, so sit your child down on a low stool in front of you and let them watch a DVD or play a game while you nit-pick.
- Repeat this process every couple of days until no nits and lice remain. This can take up to 2 weeks as eggs that may have been missed (small, sticky little things they are) hatch and the cycle starts again.
This isn’t a quick-fix solution, but it’s the most effective and it can save you potentially hundreds of dollars on chemical products that don’t always work.
What about treating bedding, hats etc.?
If you’re thinking the next step is to sanitize your whole home from top to bottom, you can breathe a sigh of relief because the experts advise this is unnecessary.
Research suggests that bed linen, hats, clothing and furniture do not harbour or transmit lice or nits and that there is no benefit in washing them as a treatment option. Nits and lice only live on the human head. They quickly dehydrate and die if removed from the head.” [source]
Although other sources suggest washing pillowcases and towels of those who have head lice, as well as any combs and brushes used.
While there’s no way of preventing head lice, you can reduce the likelihood of getting them by tying hair back and checking hair regularly.
Check, check, check hair daily or weekly – make it part of your hair washing routine.
Having said that, many who commented on Facebook swear by tea tree oil as a lice deterrent, and in fact, a lot of natural head lice treatments and shampoos have tea tree oil as their active ingredient (I tried one, the tea tree oil didn’t kill the lice, but it is supposed to deter them). Yet another thumbs up for this amazingly useful, versatile, inexpensive natural oil that every home should have!
You can add tea tree oil to your regular shampoo or you can place it in a spray bottle with a little water to spray on hair during styling or before leaving the house.
I just rub a little behind my son’s ears and place a drop or two directly onto his hair each day before school (a small number of people can react to tea tree oil, so like anything, use with caution).
Check out the Facebook post for other great tips and tricks that Frugal and Thriving readers have tried for getting rid of hair lice and share your own tips and success stories.