Understanding the life cycle of head lice will help you understand how the various treatments options work. The female, which can live for up to three weeks, lays her eggs, also called “nits,” directly onto the hair shaft at the base of the head. Once attached, these eggs are difficult to remove, which is why just washing your hair does not work as a lice remedy. The eggs hatch six to nine days later and almost immediately start to bite the scalp for blood, their primary food source. Without proper treatment, the life cycle continues.
Non-Toxic Home Remedies
Some non-toxic options for ridding a scalp of lice that you can do at home do work. To start, you can comb out lice and eggs. Due to the strong attachment of the eggs, you will need a special lice-removing comb. For this, the National Pediculosis Association created the LiceMeister Comb, a lice comb approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and recommended by W. Steven Pray, a professor at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University College of Pharmacy.
If you find that there are still a few eggs and/or lice left on the hair and scalp, you can ask your doctor for Ulesfia Lotion, a prescription. This is a non-toxic lice treatment with benzyl alcohol as the active ingredient. Ulesfia Lotion works by covering the adult lice, trapping and suffocating them.
Over-the-counter and prescription pesticide-containing medications are the old stand-by for treating head lice. These contain chemical pesticides, such as lindane, malathion, permethrin and pyrethrins that kill the lice on contact. Lice, however, have developed a resistance to the chemicals, which have been in use for decades, making them much less effective than they once were, reports Pray.
Professional Lice Removal Services
If spending hours looking for lice and their eggs in your child’s hair is just not something you want to do, you can pay a lice removal professional to do it for you. These professionals do the nit picking for you and use some of the same non-toxic products you have available for home use. In addition, many also use the LouseBuster, an FDA-approved medical device that heats the hair in sections and kills both the adults and eggs.
With any of the lice remedy options, there are some risks, although some are more benign than others. With all the remedies, the most common risk is that you’ll miss some eggs and adults and need multiple treatments. Some may experience eye or skin irritations from using the Ulesfia Lotion. The medications containing chemicals toxic to the lice, can also be toxic to humans, especially if used improperly, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics in “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child.” In some individuals, lindane can cause seizures and pyrethrin may cause an allergic reaction because it is derived from chrysanthemums. With improper use, the LouseBuster device can cause burns.
Remedies to Avoid
Products sold to treat areas around the home, such as bedding and couches, help put parents at ease that they’ve done everything they can to rid their home of lice. However, only the treatment of your child’s hair is truly necessary, as lice do not live long without a source of food, says Pray. Vacuuming and washing bedclothes and clothing in hot water above 128.3 degrees F will kill the lice and nits, states the American Academy of Pediatrics.