Did Your Kid Come Home With Head Lice? All The Treatments You Need To Know
Finding out a child has head lice can make any parent’s skin crawl, but finding an effective treatment to eradicate them doesn’t have to be a head-scratcher.
The beginning of a new school year is often the peak season for head lice infestations, as children are in closer contact with one another. Those who were unknowingly infested during summer camp or day care may return to school and pass lice on to other classmates, said Dawn Mucci, president and founder of The Lice Squad, a professional lice removal service.
It is one of the largest lice removal franchises in North America, through which parents can hire professional nitpickers to de-louse their children and provide useful guidelines for dealing with lice.
Head lice affect more than 2.4 million Canadians every year, and are most common among school-aged children between three and 18, according to Mucci. There are several effective ways to deal with the parasites, but some parents may resort to extreme, unconventional – and often unsuccessful – treatments.
“I’ve heard everything from vodka to kerosene, Vaseline, mixtures of essential oils, shaving heads,” Mucci said.
While your frustration with your child’s head lice may grow to a point where shaving all the hair off seems the only viable option, one of the following solutions may stop you from reaching for a razor (and save a child the horror of going bald).
Pesticides and Over-the-Counter Products
According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, there are three insecticides for head lice that are approved by Health Canada.
Pyrethrin is a chemical in R&C Shampoo and Conditioner, while permethrin can be found in Nix Creme Rinse and Kwellada-P Creme Rinse. The third insecticide, lindane, is found in products such as Hexit Shampoo and PMS-Lindane Shampoo. Lindane is toxic and not safe for use on children younger than the age of two and pregnant or nursing mothers.
People once turned to these pesticides for a hassle-free solution to head lice. Unfortunately, many lice have how developed a genetic resistance to the chemicals, making them less effective or even useless in some cases. According to Health Canada, they also pose a toxic risk to nerves and nerve cells.
For people with safety concerns regarding pesticides, there is also a Health Canada-approved non-insecticidal treatment, isopropyl myristate/cyclomethicone, which can be found in a product called Resultz. It kills head lice by dissolving the wax on their exoskeletons and there haven’t been any significant reports of lice developing resistance to it.
Parents might still be tempted to try chemical treatments, but according to Mucci, mechanical treatments are more effective.
“You can equate it to a fly never becoming resistant to a fly swatter,” Mucci said. “Similar with the mechanical process, there’s no resistance issue at all and it’s less costly, it’s less timely in a sense and also, it’s more gentle and better for the child, better for the environment.”
The following are some of the most common mechanical treatments for lice and nits (eggs).
Olive oil or coconut oil can help kill lice. Applying a thick coat throughout hair and wrapping it in plastic for several hours can obstruct all openings on a louse, making it impossible to breathe. The Canadian Paediatric Society, however, states that this method won’t eradicate every last louse. It will also be ineffective on nits.
Some Google searches will bring up suggestions of using vinegar in combination with these oils to kill lice, but according to The Lice Squad Canada website, using vinegar is inadvisable because it will sting if it makes contact with the many open sores that might be on a child’s scalp as a result of scratching lice bites.
Covering hair in mayonnaise for up to eight hours is another method we often come across online. Mucci strongly advises against its use, however, because prolonged exposure to room temperatures could lead to the development of salmonella.
The Nuvo Method, created by Dale Pearlman, a Stanford University-trained dermatologist, is a more detailed smothering treatment for lice. Simply put, it involves applying Cetaphil’s gentle skin cleanser throughout the scalp and hair in a precise criss-cross pattern, blow-drying it completely and leaving the hardened layer on for at least eight hours before washing. The dry cleanser works like cling-wrap around lice, suffocating and killing them.
Smothering methods can be useful, but Mucci advises parents to be careful with home remedies.
“You’ll hear a number of things, but you have to really be careful of what you’re mixing together and putting on your child’s head, especially if it comes near the mucous membranes,” Mucci said.
A safer and less stressful option might be to hire a lice removal service -- such as The Lice Squad, Nitwits and LICE911, to name a few -- to provide a thorough screening and removal of lice and nits. Many services would offer the following solutions.
Heat can be an effective killer of lice, but it must be applied using a professional medical device, such as the AirAllé, at a lice-treatment centre. The heat from the device dehydrates and kills lice and nits, which can then be combed out. It has an effectiveness rate of 99.2 per cent, according to the Lice Squad website.
Reduction Combing and Lice Parties
This method is the most basic way of removing every lice and nit you can find. According to The Lice Squad website, it involves applying conditioner to the hair and using a lice comb with long tines to comb through sections, catching lice and nits in the process and wiping them on a paper towel.
It’s a tedious and lengthy process, but doing it regularly will gradually reduce the number of lice and nits until none remain. If you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, however, you can hire a professional to come to your home. It might even be a good idea to invite other parents and lice-infested children for screening and make a “lice party” of the situation.
Despite the plethora of treatments available for head lice, a stigma still surrounds the issue. Some schools have no-nit policies, which result in teachers sending infested children home until they are completely nit-free.
Not everyone agrees with seeing head lice as shameful secrets, however. Lice parties -– in which parents and their potentially infested children gather for snacks, fun and a professional lice remover to screen them -- are becoming more and more common. Parents can share the cost of hiring someone to complete the unpleasant task of removing their children’s head lice and nits for them.
“(A lice party) allows everyone to pool their resources,” Mucci said. “They can share the common bond of having this common human condition. It just kind of takes away that whole, I guess, the shame of it and the stigma.”