The Clean Way To Get Rid of Head Lice—That Actually Works

Last Update: June 2, 2023

Selfies are the foolproof way to capture a moment and ensure the angles are super flattering. Even President Obama and the Pope have embraced the DIY way to snap a perfect pic. But what can’t be seen on camera is the hidden danger behind this picture-taking technique.

An outbreak of “selfie lice” in teenage populations has been reported throughout the U.S.—and it’s not just affecting the millennial set. Any given year, there are 6 to 12 million outbreaks of lice in kids ages 3 to 11, making elementary school an even more likely place for a lice epidemic.

The miniscule nits—lice eggs—are pretty gross and can be incredibly difficult to get rid of, especially if they aren’t discovered immediately. Because the idea of hundreds of bugs laying eggs in their kids’ hair could make any parent’s skin crawl, even the moms and dads who are most careful about exposing little ones to toxins eagerly reach for a product full of chemicals to eradicate the nasty pests.

Typical treatments contain neurotoxins like pyrethrins and permethrin that cause the central nervous system of the louse to break down. Unfortunately, using these products on lice over the years have created a sort of “super lice” population that are no longer phased by nasty chemicals—but rubbing these anti-lice treatments on children’s delicate scalps can cause irritation, burning, and even difficulty breathing.

So they don’t work and there are potentially detrimental side effects for kids? Pass on the expensive and ineffective formulas, and instead opt for a natural remedy that works.

Comb, comb, comb

The number one way to eliminate lice? Nit picking.

Going through hair with a fine-toothed comb can certainly be tedious, but it’s the best way to find and kill lice that are climbing through hair follicles.  It’s easiest to comb through completely wet hair, and many find that dousing tresses in conditioner makes pulling out nits less painful and helps suffocate the critters naturally. Disinfect your comb after by soaking in hydrogen peroxide or vinegar.

Smother the little buggers

Lice can hold their breaths for up to eight hours (so gross). One of the common home remedies to lice is covering the head with mayonnaise and smothering the bugs overnight. While mayonnaise can work, it’s also a little expensive and unnecessarily messy… not to mention smelly.

The same effect can be achieved—without smelling like a sandwich—by dousing hair in olive oil or almond oil. Simply massage a hefty amount of oil into your locks, cover with a shower cap or plastic wrap, and let sit overnight. Not only will hair be super smooth after a few washes, but the offensive bugs and eggs will be suffocated and you’ll be louse-free in a few days.

Essential oils to the rescue

In addition to boosting mood and clearing skin, essential oils are pretty effective at killing lice, too. In a study of over-the-counter lice treatments versus lavender and tea tree oil, researchers found that using essential oils on the scalp was just as effective on lice outbreaks. A Hebrew University Medical School study compared a mixture of coconut oil, ylang ylang, and anise oil with typical lice shampoos and actually found that the natural formula performed slightly better than the medicated shampoo. Plus, there were no nasty side effects.

At this point, head lice is second only to the common cold in terms of outbreaks. There’s no need to be embarrassed—lice happens! The key is to treat it quickly, effectively, and with clean products.

Illustration by Foley Wu

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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