It’s the news every parent dreads: Your child has head lice. Just reading about lice can make one’s skin crawl, and an infestation in your own home can invoke feelings of disgust and images of doing dozens of loads of laundry in boiling hot water all night long. But before you burn the house down and buy a new wardrobe for the entire family, it’s important to learn what it really means to have a lice infestation and the best ways to treat it without losing your mind or your dignity.
What are head lice? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, head lice are tiny, wingless parasites that live only on humans. Their favorite area is the scalp, behind the ears and the nape of the neck. They have no hind legs to jump with, so their mode of transportation to your child’s head is simply crawling. They are 2.1-3.3mm in length. If you’re searching your child’s head, the size of an adult lice is about the size of a small ant. The eggs, or nits, are much smaller, are white in color and tend to sit at the base of the hair follicle. Nits can sometimes be mistaken for dandruff, but nits stick to the hair shaft instead of being easily brushed off like a flake of skin. Rule of thumb: If you can’t blow it out of your child’s hair, it may be a nit.
My child’s hair isn’t dirty, how did we get this? A common misconception is that lice is carried by children who are dirty, hence the “cooties” stigma. Not true. Lice enjoy nice clean hair. A louse has no “type”; they will invade children of every socioeconomic background and every race.
What’s the best way to treat lice? Over-the-counter medications are still commonly prescribed, but parents and schools are now finding these products are creating super lice, or lice that have become resistant to traditional chemical treatments. Further, these treatments contain pesticides that may not be safe for your child.
Currently, the best treatment is to buy a nit comb and comb out all of the bugs and eggs, bag up any stuffed animals that have been in contact with the infected person for 48 hours and vacuum any possibly infested furniture. CDC.gov states that lice cannot survive without a human host for more than 1-2 days, and any eggs that have fallen off the head and onto the floor are not likely to hatch, much less survive for more than a few hours. Purchase one of the many non-toxic lice repellent sprays on the market to deter the lice from living and laying eggs on your child’s head. The ingredients for these products contain mostly essential oils like tea tree, lavender and mint, aromas that make lice run for the hills.
If you want an easier (albeit expensive) option, visit a salon whose only job is to rid your child (and most likely you, too!) of lice. These anti-lice superheroes are your best line of defense without subjecting your child to harmful ingredients. The staff will painstakingly comb out your child’s hair and also sell the preventative products to keep the lice away. Some salons even provide laundry facilities to wash bedding, and every salon is well equipped to provide all the information you need to make your fling with lice a thing of the past. These facilities also sell sprays and shampoos that repel lice and help guard against reinfestation. If you can’t afford this option, call the salon and ask for tips on using the nit comb and any other helpful hints to assist you in getting rid of the lice quickly.
What can I do to keep lice away? Make sure your child isn’t sharing any hats, scarves, towels, helmets, brushes or other personal items at school that may transmit lice. Learn how to use the nit comb effectively and check your child at least once a week if a case of lice has been reported to your child’s school. If possible, use the comb outside in natural light so you can see the nits and lice clearly. Effective daily combing during treatment will ensure no nits remain to cause another reinfestation.