Getting Rid of Lice Naturally with the Help of Science: The Green Mama helps get rid of this itchy back-to-school problem
All the kids were lined up in rows in the gym. It was the day the public health nurse came and combed through everyone’s heads looking for lice. That is the way it was done when I was young. Judging how often I am getting notes from my child's school, head lice is just as frequent now as then and just as frequent in North America as in Central and South America. Having gone to school this year in Guatemala and Vancouver, in public and private schools, I can attest that it shows up everywhere And that people have lots of different theories about where they come from and how to treatment. Some theories are great and some simply aren't backed by science.
For instance, there is no science to back the claim that we have more head lice now because we use less DEET or other pesticides in the environment. No science to back it up and even experientially it doesn’t make since: Guatemala is riddled with pesticides, like DEET, that have long been banned in North America and lice is everywhere there.
Another theory: that it is a plague of the poor and the Middle and Upper Classes don't get it as much. Once again, not backed by science and, again, even anecdotally this is easy to discount. There is as much lice in the expensive daycares and boarding schools in North America as there are in the public and free schools. Lots of people don't feel comfortable talking about lice, however, and many parents in North America have NO IDEA how to look for lice.
The truth about head lice?
"Head lice are not a health hazard or a sign of uncleanliness and are not responsible for the spread of any disease," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. In the U.S. alone kids get between 6 and 12 million cases a year.
How to treat head lice naturally
- Don't rub pesticides on your little kids or baby's head. (It doesn't make any sense to put a known toxin on your child's head to treat something that will cause no lasting harm.) Pesticides are no more likely to work than the natural remedies and your child will absorb the pesticides into their skin: their largest organ and very permeable, pesticides applied to the skin and scalp can pass through the blood-brain barrier and cause subtle, but substantial, harm in your child's developing organ systems and brain. More and more, lice have become pesticide resistant as well. Instead, look for an herbal system and/or one that uses the natural enzyme Protease.
- Add some Tea Tree Oil to your natural shampoo and conditioner. (My Naturopath friend says that the Tea Tree Oil can mix and become inactive if you use shampoos or conditioners with added perfumes, Parabens or SLS. I say you will be lucky if no other weird reactions happen as these products contain ingredients that are known to cause harm already.) Tea Tree Oil repels the bugs helping keep new infestations away and can kill the bugs as well. Neither Tea Tree Oil nor pesticides nor much of anything will kill the eggs (nits). So, whatever you do, you will need to reapply it about every week (that is how long it take for the eggs to hatch). This way you keep killing the bugs when they appear and before they can start laying eggs (which they do at a rate of about 10/day).
- Nit comb! The way to get rid of the eggs is to nit comb. Those dang things are hard to get out and no plastic comb will ever work. They are tiny and they are adhered with an incredible natural glue. Oh, and they are transparent. So, sit in good light with a very fine toothed metal comb and a glass of Tea Tree Oil water to dip and clean. And be prepared to pick as well. The way to get rid of lice is to nit comb. And by “comb” I really mean running your fingers along the shaft of hair to grab and remove the nit. Every week.(So you get rid of the eggs before they hatch.)
- Smothering can help too. I know numerous people who swear by the smother method. Mayonnaise seems to be most peoples’ favorite. I have also read the coconut oil will work. Cover the whole shaft of hair all the way down to the root. Leave it on overnight or for as many hours as possible. It is supposed to help smother the lice and the eggs, but I am skeptical about the egg part. All of these things will also make your hair silky!
- Clean your house and linens. If you are in North America dry everything you can on high heat for at least 10 to 20 minutes. The eggs need to have that perfect body temperature to survive so freezing or heating helps get rid of them. Vacuuming rugs and floors will also help. Boil combs. Leave things in plastic bags for 2 weeks if you can't do either of the above. In Guatemala, vacuuming and high heat drying is just a fantasy, so be super glad for the North American luxury of your dryer.
- And remember, lice don't fly. They crawl. So if you are worried about them, don't let your kid wear the head decorations, hats, or clothes of her friends. In Guatemala, the doctors said that it is unlikely to catch or get lice unless the other person has a full-out infestation with lots of actual bugs. The eggs are glued on too tight to go anywhere easily.
How to prevent head lice
- If you don’t want to get head lice and know you might (because, for instance, you’re child is at a school where there are numerous cases OR she gets them every year at this time), then:
- Put drops of Tea Tree Oil in your shampoo and conditioner and any other hair products. You can even put a few drops in water and rub it straight on your hair.
- Nit comb your (or your child’s hair) every week to catch any stray nits before they hatch.
- Encourage your child not to share hairbands, brushes, hats and other head gear. Throw dress up kids in the dryer on high for 20 minutes every week.
- Occasionally smother you or your child’s hair with Mayonnaise or coconut oil.
- Vacuum frequently. Dry bedding and dress up clothes on high heat for 10 to 20 minutes every 10 days.
Written by Manda Aufochs Gillespie, The Green Mama. First photo by By Pediculosis (Deutsche Pediculosis Gesellschaft e.V.), second by Gilles San Martin. Both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.