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Natural Ways to Combat Lice Without Harming Your Hair

Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on October 2, 2018 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Hair Care Tips

Head lice are the fear of many people with long hair, and particularly people with children. These parasitic insects can overtake your head, itching and spreading infestations to others quickly. Not only that, but lice can be very difficult to get rid of.

Typical head lice treatments usually involve using harsh chemicals to kill the lice. However, these treatments have many risks, including damaging your hair and causing health problems if they are not used properly. Instead of subjecting your head of hair to damage, you should consider using a combination of natural treatments to rid yourself of these pests.

Understanding lice

Pediculus humanus capitis, or the head louse, is a parasitic insect that attaches itself to the hair, eyebrows or eyelashes of a person. Lice survive by feeding on blood, so they will attach themselves near the scalp or skin and can live there for weeks. If they fall off of you, it is likely lice live for only 24 hours.

Lice can travel by crawling from one person to another. They might be spread when hats, scarves or combs and brushes are shared between an infected person and a non-infected person, but they are usually spread through head-to-head contact.

Adult lice are usually tan or white in color and are very small with six legs. They lay eggs, called nits, which attach firmly to the hair shaft and are yellow or white in color.

The signs of lice infestations include tickling feelings or itching, which is largely due to allergic reactions from lice bites. You may even feel lice moving around in your hair. If you have lice and scratch your head a lot, you may end up with open sores that can become infected with bacteria.

It’s important to remember that lice infestations are not caused by poor hygiene or having dirty hair. In fact, clean hair makes it easier for lice to latch onto. Thus, lice can occur in just about anyone. They are very common in children but can still occur in adults.

The dangers of OTC lice treatments

Most lice treatments on the market are called pediculicides and contain pesticides to kill lice. These products can be very dangerous if they are not used exactly as directed. Some over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription treatments for lice can cause health problems like headaches or skin irritation and may also be linked to more serious ailments.

Overuse is another danger of these products, which can cause damage to the skin and to the hair because of the high chemical content in them. If you’ve been scratching your head to relieve itchiness from lice bites, these chemicals can further irritate the skin and even cause burning sensations.

There is no guarantee that these treatments will remove all of the lice, either. Many head lice are becoming resistant to these types of medicated treatments. This means you may need to repeat treatments, putting more chemicals on your head.

All these chemicals can have negative effects on your hair. Chemicals of any kind can be extremely drying, and multiple uses of chemical treatments may leave your hair feeling rough, brittle and breakable. Your scalp may also become dryer or irritated after chemical treatments.

Natural ways to remove lice

Because chemical-based lice treatments can be harmful to both your health and hair, you might want to consider using natural methods. These methods have been shown to be relatively effective if repeated over the course of a louse’s lifespan, which is around three weeks.

The best way to remove lice is through wet-combing. To do this, you should use a nit comb to remove nits and adult lice from the hair shaft. Wet the hair completely, and possibly add a small amount of conditioner to the strands, then comb with a nit comb in small sections from the scalp to the ends. You’ll need to repeat this process every few days for at least two or three weeks to ensure you’ve removed all the lice. You can also combine wet-combing with other treatments.

  • Essential oils: Some essential oils have been shown to be effective at killing lice, including tea tree oil, ylang ylang oil or lavender oil. Combine these oils with coconut oil and apply it directly to the hair, coating all sections of the scalp and strands. Then, leave the oil mixture in the hair overnight using a shower cap. The next morning, comb through with a nit comb, then rinse the comb and comb through the hair again. You’ll probably want to repeat this process one to two more times for the next two weeks. Also, always test new essential oils on the back of your hand to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction before using them on your head.
  • Smothering: Some methods involving suffocating or smothering the lice may prove to be effective in combination with meticulous nit-combing. Mayonnaise is the smothering method people usually think of, but this can be difficult to wash out. Instead, use olive oil, almond oil or coconut oil. Coat the entire head in the oil, making sure it coats all strands. Then, take hair in small sections and use a nit comb, rinsing the comb between sections. After all sections have been combed, shampoo and rinse the hair twice.
  • Natural treatments: There are numerous treatment options on the market that use natural products instead of chemicals and pesticides to kill lice. As with other treatment products, use these exactly as directed and know that they may not always be 100 percent effective.

With time and effort, you are absolutely able to remove lice from your hair without subjecting yourself to harmful chemical treatments. Always be sure to wash linens and clothing if you get lice to prevent re-infestation and take time to comb your hair with a nit comb morning and night for the fastest results.

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Our Expert

Paulina Nelega, RH
Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan

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