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How do you get lice and how to get rid of lice

Lice are small insects that feed on human blood only. They can be hard to spot, but easy to treat with over the counter medicine and several different home remedies.

How to Get Rid of Lice

So you’ve somehow contracted lice, and now you may be wondering how to get rid of head lice and stop the itching. A head lice infestation is caused by an insect, known as the head louse or pediculus humanus capitis, which attaches to the scalp and lives off human blood. Head lice live close to the scalp of humans for its warmth, moisture and food source.1 They do not attach themselves to other animals as they feed exclusively on human blood.

In this article, the Better Health Organization will look at frequently asked questions about head lice including what causes a lice infestation, how to get rid of lice eggs and different at home remedies to remove lice.

What Does Lice Look Like?

So, what do lice look like? Head lice pictures show that this insect is wingless, with a long abdomen and six legs.1 They are typically grey in color, however, after the feeding they can appear reddish-brown. They are only approximately 2 mm to 4 mm in length, making them difficult to see if you’re not sure what to look for.1

Lice Eggs

What do lice eggs look like, and how can you detect if you have lice eggs? Typically, if you have head lice you probably have lice eggs as well. After mating the female will lay her eggs on the scalp in a shell known as a nit, which attaches to the hair shaft. Lice eggs are about 0.8 mm in length, oval-shaped, and range in color from transparent to tan. After the eggs hatch, they appear white in color. The female head louse produces approximately 5 to 6 eggs per day for 30 days.1

How Do You Get Lice?

A typical question many have is where do lice come from? People get head lice from coming into contact with someone who is already infected. It is usually transmitted in public places such as schools or shopping malls, where there is direct hair to hair contact with someone who has head lice. It can also be transmitted through sharing personal items with someone who has head lice, such as a hat or a hair brush. A common myth that many believe is that head lice can jump or fly, however, this proven to be untrue.1

Lice Life Cycle

For those asking how long do lice live, the typical life cycle of lice is about 30 days, as long as they are able to feed several times a day.3 Lice typically need to feed every 3 to 6 hours, and without access to blood will die off within 1 to 2 days.3

Lice Symptoms

Symptoms of lice can include intense itching, red bumps on the head, neck and shoulders, along with the uneasy, tickling feeling of something moving on your scalp. Signs of lice typically appear near the root of the hair and can be seen by checking the scalp with a fine-tooth comb.

How to Check for Lice

If you are wondering how to tell if you have lice, the best way is with a fine-toothed louse comb. Take a small section of hair, and pull the come through the section starting at the very base of the scalp. If you have lice, you should see nits or adult lice on the teeth of the comb. This is the most reliable method of checking for lice, as it can be difficult to spot the fast-moving insects by parting the hair and examining the area.1

Lice vs Dandruff

If you’re experiencing an itchy scalp, how can you tell if it’s dandruff or lice? The difference can be spotted quite easily. Dandruff is known as tiny flakes of dry skin that fall from the scalp and often get caught in the hair. When you ruffle your hair, flakes will usually fall out, and are recognizable as dry skin. Head lice move and crawl along the scalp while feeding and laying eggs. Lice nits will be firmly attached to individual hairs, unlike dandruff which will move easily.

Conventional Lice Treatment

For those wondering how to kill lice and get rid of the insect for good, there are a few different over the counter medicines or lice spray. It is said that the best way to get rid of lice is by using pyrethrins or permethrin lotion.4Both are powerful medicines that kill lice, but for more extreme cases, a medical professional may give you a prescription to get rid of head lice.

Many home remedies work by suffocating the lice. It takes very strong chemicals to kill lice otherwise, and its usually recommended to buy available over the counter products.

Nix lice

Nix is the brand name for a common over the counter medicine containing a synthetic pyrethroid. This type of treatment can kill live lice but does not kill unhatched eggs.4 Typically a second treatment is used after about 9 days to get rid of any newly hatched lice. The product is said to leave a residue on the hair in order to prevent any further re-infestation, and can be used on children 2 months old and up.4

Rid lice

Rid is another popular over the counter lice treatment that contains naturally occurring pyrethrins, extracted from the chrysanthemum flower. This medicine can kill any live lice however it also does not kill eggs or nits. Rid can only be used on children that are 2 years or older, and is best avoided by those allergic to ragweed or chrysanthemum.4

Home remedies for lice

For those who want to know how to treat lice in a more natural way, there are a few at home remedies you can try. Many turn to head lice home remedies to avoid contact with harsh chemicals, or for a more cost effective option.

Cetaphil Lice Treatment

Some people have tried using Cetaphil gentle skin cleanser for treating lice infestations. This method is thought to work for treating lice by suffocating the insect. Although it cannot kill eggs or nits, Cetaphil could interrupt the life cycle of head lice.

To use Cetaphil for lice, saturate your entire head and scalp with the cleanser. Massage the cleanser into the scalp for about 3 minutes. Take a fine comb and comb the cleanser out of your hair. Rinse the comb out into a bowl, and you should be able to see the removed lice.

Tea Tree Oil for Lice

A more natural way of treating head lice is with a tea tree oil. Tea tree oil is said to be one of the best essential oils to use for treating lice because of its antiseptic qualities. A scientific study found that using a 1% concentration of tea tree oil killed all head lice on the scalp within 30 minutes.5

It can be used to treat head lice by applying a few drops throughout the scalp and massage. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes or more, then use a fine-tooth comb to brush through your hair to remove the dead lice.

Coconut Oil for Lice

Another home remedy for lice is coconut oil as it is said to smother the insect. A study in Israel found that using coconut oil in combination with anise oil and ylang ylang oil was effective in helping treat and control lice.1

To use coconut oil for head lice, heat the oil to a comfortable temperature, and if using, add a few drops each of anise and ylang ylang oil. Apply to the hair and scalp, and cover your head with a shower cap or wrap up in a towel. Leave the mixture on your hair the entire day. Afterwards unwrap your hair and comb the dead lice out.

Listerine for Lice

One of the more unusual head lice home remedies is Listerine. The idea is that its mixture of herbal oils like thymol, menthol and methyl salicylate work to smother head lice.

To use, simply apply Listerine to your head and scalp and let sit for about 2 hours. Wash out of hair and then use a fine-tooth comb to remove any dead bugs or nits. Repeat this process for 5 to 6 days.

How to Get Rid of Lice with Mayonnaise

You may be surprised to hear that mayonnaise can be used to effectively treat lice. Mayonnaise is made up of oil, vinegar, lemon juice and egg yolk which when used together can actually suffocate head lice and nits.6

To treat head lice with mayonnaise, apply generously to the hair and scalp and cover with a shower cap or plastic wrap. Leave on for at least 8 hours, wash out, and comb through hair with a fine tooth comb to remove any dead lice.

How to Get Rid of Lice with Olive Oil

Like mayonnaise, olive oil is another natural lice treatment that can be used to kill head lice. Like many other home remedies, olive oil works by restricting oxygen to the insects and therefore suffocates them.

It can be used by applying the oil to the scalp and then covering with a towel or shower cap. After about 8 hours, wash the olive oil out of your hair and comb through with a fine-tooth comb to remove the dead lice.

Lice symptoms and home remedies for lice

Most chemical treatments do not kill unhatched lice eggs, and require more than one application. Many home remedies work by suffocating the live lice, and removing the eggs with a lice comb.

How to Prevent Lice

By now you are probably wondering about lice prevention and how to protect yourself from catching head lice in the first place. The best way to prevent lice is to make sure you do not share personal items such as combs, hats, towels, or anything else you use on your head. Be sure to avoid any head to head contact with others and keep your personal belongings away from any shared areas like a coat closet or lunch room. Parents should also educate their children on head lice prevention as it commonly spread in a school setting.

A popular myth is that lice can jump from person to person. This is untrue, and lice can only spread to a new host through head to head contact.

You can also purchase different lice prevention shampoos to repel head lice and reduce your chances of infestation. Since head lice feed exclusively on human blood, they are attracted to the human scent. This can be masked by using a lice prevention shampoo.

Lice Removal

Getting rid of lice is easy once you have effectively killed the insects and its eggs. The best way to remove lice is using a lice comb, which is essentially a very fine-tooth comb. After using a lice treatment of your choice, simply brush through your hair and pick out the dead insects with the comb. It is recommended that you wash all bedding, towels and clothing that may have come into contact with lice.

Common Head Lice Questions

Can Dogs Get Lice?

No, dogs cannot get lice as the insect only feeds on human blood.

Can Black People Get Lice?

Yes, African Americans can also get head lice, however it is harder for them to contract because of their hair texture. Head lice have a harder time attaching to the hair follicle as African American hair is shaped differently.

Does Hair Dye Kill Lice?

No, although hair dye contains chemicals, it is not strong enough to properly kill all head lice. It is recommended that you purchase over the counter medicine or see a health care professional.

Do Lice Jump?

No, lice do not jump or fly. They are transmitted through hair to hair or head to head contact, or sharing personal items.

Can Cats Get Lice?  

No, cats cannot get lice as the insect only feeds on human blood.

Does Chlorine Kill Lice?

No, chlorine does not kill head lice, and lice can survive on the scalp under water for several hours.

Does Vinegar Kill Lice?

The acidic qualities in vinegar will not kill adult lice, however it is able to get rid of young lice and lice eggs.

Can Bald People Get Lice?

No, bald people cannot get head lice because the insect has nothing to attach to.

How Long Can Lice Live Without a Host?

Lice can only live 1 to 2 days without a host as they need to feed every 3 to 6 hours.

Scientific Research Referenced in this Article

  1. Head lice infestations: A clinical update. (2004). Paediatrics & Child Health9(9), 647–651. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2724133/
  2. Head Lice Centre. (2017). Where do lice come from? Head Lice Centre. Retrieved from – View Reference
  3. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, September 2). Head Lice Biology, Global Health – Division of Parasite Diseases. Retrieved from – View Reference
  4. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, August 19). Head Lice Treatment, Global Health – Division of Parasite Diseases. Retrieved from – View Reference
  5. Di Campli, E., Di Bartolomeo, S., Delli Pizzi, P., Di Giulio, M., Grande, R., Nostro, A., & Cellini, L. (2012). Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitology Research111(5), 1985–1992. http://doi.org/10.1007/s00436-012-3045-0
  6. Head Lice Centre. (2017). How to use mayonnaise to treat head lice effectively, Head Lice Centre. Retrieved from – View Reference
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