Every year, more than six million people in the United States have to contend with a head lice infestation. It’s a subject no one wants to discuss, and I admit, as a parent of school-aged children, just the phrase “head lice” makes my own head itch. As common as it is, the shudder factor is very real for most people. Another concerning factor for those unlucky enough to become infested with head lice is the prospect of having to treat a child with a pesticide. Fortunately, there are many remedies available that can effectively treat and prevent head lice without the use of potentially dangerous chemicals.
Head lice are parasitic insects that live close to the scalp and feed on human blood. Infestation with head lice is most common among preschool and elementary-aged children. Head lice are typically spread by direct contact with the head or hair of an infested person. Less frequently, sharing personal items such as clothing, combs, or towels can spread lice. Personal hygiene or cleanliness of the home has nothing to do with getting head lice.
The obvious question, then: Is there anything we can do to prevent infestation in our school-aged children? First, educate your children about avoiding head-to-head contact with their playmates when possible, and caution them against sharing hats and brushes. Lice can’t jump or fly, so crawling is the only way they can get around. Children with very long hair are less likely to contract head lice if their hair is kept up, so braids and ponytails offer a simple step that may help to prevent infestation. Further, there are a few natural products that can act as repellants.
Edmond pharmacist Dave Mason recommends finding a shampoo containing tea tree oil. Both tea tree and eucalyptus oils act as natural repellants for head lice. “Rosemary and lavender oils also can be helpful,” said Dave. Adding a few drops of essential oils such as these to shampoo or hair product bottles is an easy way to provide a measure of protection on a daily basis. “Used sparingly and diluted properly, these products have virtually no side effects.” Essential oils can be irritating to the skin, so don’t try to use them undiluted.
Further, Mason contends that treating lice doesn’t require pesticides. “Lice are actually becoming resistant to many of the pesticide products, such as those containing malathion. We prepare a lotion that is completely non-toxic and works by suffocating the lice,” said Dave. “We get a lot of prescriptions for this, and feedback has been great.” The lotion is applied all over the hair and scalp, and dries into an almost waxy coating. After eight hours, the prescription is washed out and the hair carefully combed to remove nits. Mason recommends repeating the process a week later, and treating the whole family.
Another natural alternative that can be done at home is a mayonnaise treatment. This therapy involves a generous application of real mayonnaise (nothing light, no Miracle Whip) throughout the hair. Don a shower cap for the next fourhours, then rinse the mayo out with vinegar and water and comb hair thoroughly. A pediatrician friend recommended this treatment to me last summer after my own daughter spent time playing with a child who was later discovered to have head lice. Though in the end my daughter never showed any signs of head lice, I had a three-pound tub of mayonnaise at the ready, and was glad to know that I had options that didn’t involve pesticides.
Head lice are a nuisance, and an unfortunate reality for a number of school-aged children and their families. If, in spite of your best efforts, you or your child contract head lice, contact your doctor or a pharmacist. Non-toxic treatment options are available that can effectively treat head lice infestation.
Shannon Fields is a freelance writer and a Certified Pharmacy Technician at Innovative Pharmacy Solutions.