I am scratching my head while I write this post. No, I don’t have head lice dwelling on my head. It’s just the thought of these crawly little bugs that’s making me scratch.
Lice live on human head, feeding on blood they suck from the scalp. They are so tiny and fast that it’s difficult to get them and get rid of them. And their eggs are stubbornly attached to hair shaft close to the scalp. Picking these eggs can be painful and often without much success. It’s as if the mother louse is on a mission to lay eggs on every hair shaft on the head, so we are left helpless 🙁 and our head scratchy and bruised.
Head lice infestation is a world-wide menace. It doesn’t matter if you wash your hair every day, every alternate day, once a week or never ever (yekss!) – anyone can get head lice, regardless of personal hygiene. And any age group can get lice. Although, it’s specially more prevalent among children, who have more head to head contact with other children. Also girls are more likely to get them – for some unknown reason (or simply because female blood tastes better :[[[)
Most of us would scratch and scratch. But there are some who would have no symptoms – in that case these bugs are having a merry.
It’s better to have timely checks on school going children. Lice will not be easily visible, but you can check for eggs and nits (hatched empty shell). These are usually found close to the scalp – mostly behind the ears and back of the neck. Eggs are bright, transparent, tan to coffee-colored, while the nits appear white.
Lice do not have wings to jump, or fly, or swim, but they can transfer from one head to another through direct head to head contact, or by direct contact with fabrics harboring them, or sharing personal care items – comb, towel, and other accessories. These tiny parasites need human blood to survive. So, if a louse drops off from the host’s head, it will die in about 2 to 3 days.
Recently, there has been a rapid increase in number of head lice cases among the younger generation. It’s likely due to selfies – people putting their heads together for pictures.
Louse can reproduce and multiply easily on the host’s head. Eggs are laid couple of days after mating. A female louse will lay 4 to 7 eggs per day for the next 2 weeks or so before dying. The eggs are attached with a specialized glue, secreted by the female louse, which cannot be washed out or blown away. These eggs hatch, producing nymphs (immature louse) and the remnants of egg-shell is called as nits. Within 8 to 9 days of hatching, the nymphs reach the adult stage, and are ready to mate. Adults live approximately 2 weeks after mating. Thus, the entire lifespan of the louse is about 30 to 35 days.
Getting rid of lice is difficult and troublesome. Conventional over-the-counter(OTC) treatments may contain harsh chemicals, which can harm your skin and hair. Plus, they can also be toxic to the environment. Moreover, many of these OTC treatments may prove ineffective, especially if the lice have developed resistance. The good news is that there are many proven, age-old natural remedies to treat head lice. These options are safe, kind to the skin and hair and do not harm the environment. These are as follows:
Neem oil is one of the best home remedy to treat head lice and nits. Neem oil is extracted from fruits and seeds of the neem tree, which is native to Indian subcontinent.
How does neem kill the lice: Neem contains azadirachtin, an insecticidal ingredient, which disrupts the growth and reproduction of lice, and so it will eventually kill them. Plus, the other ingredients in neem inhibit the swallowing system of lice, thus reducing their appetite to the point of starvation. In addition, the pungent odor of neem oil is strongly disliked by lice, thus keep them away from crawling into your head. Thus, you can also use this oil as a preventive treatment.
Neem oil also has immense healing and soothing properties. So along with getting rid of lice, this wonderful oil will help with scalp irritation caused by constant scratching. Plus, the high amounts of fatty acids and glycerides in the neem oil moisturises the scalp skin and add shine and softness to your hair.
To Use: Dilute 1 teaspoon neem oil with 1 tablespoon coconut or olive oil. Massage this mix onto the scalp and hair, and leave on for at least one hour (overnight might help more). Shampoo as usual. Repeat every alternate day for month or two. Chances are that the lice will be dead within a week or so, but you may continue using neem oil for more time just to ensure that all the nits that are hatching are dead as well.
Fine-toothed lice comb is another effective method of removing lice and nits from the hair. You can use lice comb along with the neem oil treatment or just on its own. The advantage of using lice comb with neem oil is that the soothing properties of neem oil will help with scalp irritation and abrasion caused by constant scratching.
There are few draw backs of lice comb. Running a lice comb through thick, long hair can be difficult. Also, it’s almost impossible to comb through very curly and coily hair.
To use: Before using lice comb apply neem oil or any other oil, so it will be easier for the comb to slid through without damaging or breaking your hair. Comb sections of the hair, paying special attention at the base of the neck and behind the ears (where the lice is most likely to lay its eggs). After combing few times wipe the comb on paper towel to see if you’ve found anything. Combing the hair at least thrice a week for three to four weeks will help to gradually remove eggs and newly hatched lice.
If you are struggling to get rid of the stubborn eggs/nits then vinegar can help. The acetic acid in vinegar works to dissolve the sticky glue with which the eggs are attached to the hair. So after the glue gets dissolved the eggs will have nothing to bind to the hair. And they can be removed easily.
To use: Take one part vinegar and one part water. Pour this mixture all over the hair and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Rinse with warm water. Then comb hair with a nit comb. Apply coconut oil, olive oil or any other oil before combing – this will make combing easier and tangle free. Repeat every 2 days or until you don’t see any more nits.
Note: Take special care to avoid vinegar entering from your eyes, as it can sting badly
Tea tree essential oil is an all-natural parasiticide (kills parasite) and an extremely effective treatment for head lice. Plus, tea tree oil will also help to clear up any dandruff (caused due to fungus), as it also has anti-fungal properties.
To use: Mix 20 drop of tea tree oil into 2 tablespoons of carrier oil (olive, coconut, sesame). Apply thoroughly, saturating hair with oil mix. Let it work for couple of hours, then shampoo normally. Do regular egg checks and repeat treatment if concerned.
Abdel-Ghaffar F, Al-Quraishy S, Al-Rasheid KA, Mehlhorn H. “Efficacy of a single treatment of head lice with a neem seed extract: an in vivo and in vitro study on nits and motile stages. Parasitology Research (2011), 110(1), 277-80.
Emanuela Di Campli, Soraya Di Bartolomeo, Patricia Delli Pizzi, Mara Di Giulio, Rossella Grande, Antonia Nostro, and Luigina Cellini. Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitology Research (2012), 111(5), 1985–1992.