A dermatologist explains what really works to make these dreaded pests disappear.
So, your kids are off to camp… it’s good to be prepared if they happen to come back with lice! It’s common and nothing to panic about – I speak from experience as both a dermatologist and mom who’s been there.
It’s important to realize that treating lice is a two-part process. Once an adult louse finds its way to you or your child’s scalp, they feed (their saliva is what causes the skin’s reaction and itch) and lay eggs, called nits, close to the scalp. Eight days later, these hatch, and the process starts all over again.
With this in mind, here’s my advice for treating lice easily and effectively:
Know the real risks
Of course, preventing lice in the first place is the best treatment. Lice are really bad at getting around. They don’t fly or attach themselves to your pets so they can't jump on you. Lice travel mainly by physical head-to-head contact – literally crawling from one strand of hair to another. So kids are at risk any time they are in close proximity, such as naptime at daycare, coloring head-to-head on the floor, and yes, even taking selfies!
Look for the right color
Nits aren’t always white. In fact, viable nits are usually tan to brown in color. Hatched nits are white or clear. Look for sand-like pods adhering to the hair strand regardless of color, lying close to the scalp. Nits that are farther from the scalp are typically non-viable.
Focus on the head, not the furniture
Studies have shown that lice are terrible at transferring from inanimate objects, and most can’t survive 48 hours without a meal. It’s still a good recommendation to wash linens, put your hairbrushes in the freezer and seal stuffed animals in plastic bags for a week or two… but don’t go crazy quarantining the entire house.
Put your effort into combing
This is the most critical part of the process. Once nits are discovered, the goal is to remove every single one before they hatch, and this is best accomplished with an ultra-fine toothed comb specially designed for lice. You want to divide your child’s hair into small sections and literally comb through each one, scalp to tip, several times – cleaning the comb as you go. Slathering your child’s hair with conditioner makes the work go a little easier. It’s very time intensive, which is why many people choose to send their kids to a "lice lady" or a salon that specializes in removing nits.
Use topical treatments correctly
Chemical treatments aren’t a substitute for combing, especially since many “super lice” are growing resistant to permethrin and other commonly used products. The key is to use it correctly, otherwise it doesn’t work. When applied correctly to dry hair and repeated in nine days, they can reduce infestation.
Although further studies are needed to confirm efficacy, shampoos or sprays scented with rosemary or peppermint may help deter adult lice. Although these won't kill or treat lice, they may help keep them off of your child's head - and that's still a win!