Head lice home remedies: do they really work? What about essential oils, head & shoulders, mayo, or vinegar? Also, how do you tell head lice vs dandruff? Let’s talk. And feel free to itch as you read this. I know I am.
This post includes a lice checklist to make sure you get all the things you need to get done (there are many) so be sure to grab that as well!
A couple weeks ago I found the dreaded creatures in my daughter’s hair.
She had lice.
And I died inside.
However, I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps and get it out.
I was lucky to have a friend who’d dealt with it a few times with her girls. She let me borrow her nit comb and recommended we smother them with a super thick conditioner and then pick them out.
At first, I was pretending inside that maybe it was just dandruff — until I did the comb through her hair.
And there they were — little bugs staring back at me.
And again I died inside.
I wanted to hide, I wanted to hide it, and I wanted to run away.
But, I couldn’t. I was the only adult home so I spent 2 hours combing through that hair. I researched on the internet about how to get rid of it. I asked a few smart friends what they had done and I found a way to stay alive by having a lot of actions to do.
The next day I finally realized I wanted to share this. To share that good parent’s kids get lice and that it isn’t a death sentence.
Head Lice Vs Dandruff
Is it head lice or dandruff — a lot of people are going to have that question and it’s normal.
Head lice and dandruff aren’t linked at all. So, just because your kids have dandruff, it doesn’t mean they’ll get lice (or vice versa). Although, I have heard that Apple Cider Vinegar is great for dandruff (and a regular ol’ itchy scalp).
You’re not likely going to see the bugs on the scalp. They’re pretty quick and they try to blend in with the hair. A just-hatched nymph is the size of a pinhead — so they’re really small. Nits are about the size of a sesame seed and are laid close to your scalp (for warmth, and to allow them to feed right after they hatch).
With all your soul you’ll hope that it’s just dandruff. The big difference is that dandruff wipes right off. Lice won’t. Use your fingernail to poke at it, kind of move it along the hair shaft — if it doesn’t move, it very well could be lice, especially if there are neighboring strands that have similar issues.
Little white things in hair not lice or dandruff?
It could just be fuzz — but if your child has a lot of it, it is likely lice or dandruff (as an FYI, dandruff is just scalp skin cells flaking off — so if it’s scalp cells — that’s dandruff)
Dandruff on Nit Comb
You are likely to get some dandruff on your nit comb, as you as likely irritating their scalp the more you comb through their hair. But nits feel like something. They are solid — vs dandruff feeling just like shedded skin cells.
Nits look more like the things below.
Here are a few things I learned about taking care of lice
I think she got it at the school carnival. They had a helmet that kids were using in a little bike race. As soon as she put it on I knew it was a licegiver. But, I shoved it in the back of my head. In reality — I think it would be smart for every mom to have one of these. They’re fairly inexpensive and I could’ve gone home and combed through it and not suffered them multiplying and replenishing her scalp.
You have to realize that it’s not unlikely that your child will get Lice. It happens super frequently and the large majority of kids will get lice at some point during their life (especially girls).
Home Remedies to Kill Head Lice
Does Mayo kill head lice?
Yes, it is what we recommended when I worked for a pediatrician. It just makes it so the lice can’t breathe — you are basically smothering them.
I recommend using a FULL jar — so you are just going to SLATHER it on them and then wrap their head in a disposable shower cap or wrap it in saran wrap.
Does Vinegar Kill Lice?
Not really – but what I’ve read, it does help soften the “glue” that binds the head lice to the hair, making it easier to comb out.
Head Lice Shampoos
The medicated shampoos that are available both over the counter and with a prescription are basically SUPER harsh pesticides. If you wouldn’t let your child run around as your pest control guy is spraying your house — I wouldn’t put it on their heads.
However, in talking with my friend, she recommended that I just load her hair up with conditioner.
I loaded a spray bottle with vinegar and a squirt of tea tree oil and sprayed her whole head with it and let it sit for 5 minutes. Give them a paper towel to make sure they don’t get any in their eyes.
A word on essential oils: It’s REALLY hard to find ones that seem legit. Ultimately, after a lot of research I am going with Eden’s Garden or Plant Therapy on Amazon. I was using Rocky Mountain Oils, but I got a few bottles that smelled stale (like the oil had gone bad) and a few that were too thick to drip out — so I switched.
After that, we used super thick conditioner to make sure and to suffocate any remaining lice. I put a couple of handfuls of conditioner all through her hair making sure I got her scalp good and I left it on for about half an hour with saran wrap over it (so it didn’t glop off her head).
After that, it was time for the combing.
How to use a nit comb
The key is the comb.
In reality, the key to lice removal is combing, and combing and combing.
I killed the adult lice with the vinegar, conditioner, and the tea tree oil.
Then I started combing out (you could wash out the conditioner and the majority of the dead bugs before combing). I left the conditioner in as it made it easier to comb.
You want to comb in several directions. AND with each swipe of the comb, you want to wipe off any lice/nits onto a white towel/paper towel so you’re not re-putting them somewhere else!
My daughter has fairly short hair and super fine hair. It still took me well over an hour and a half to comb through it. If your child has more hair/thicker hair you need to think you’ll be combing for 2 or more hours.
So, get comfortable. I’d recommend going to YouTube and watching some combing videos before you start. There is certainly a technique to it!
I’d also recommend this tool — it really did work great!
Vinegar also loosens the “glue”that hold the nits to the hair — that will help you in the combing process as well!
This video gives some tips:
Does Head and Shoulders Kill Lice?
Nope. It sure doesn’t. Head and Shoulders shampoo is for dandruff, which is not lice.
Essential Oils for Lice: Tea Tree Oil
From what I read, some studies said tea tree oil killed the lice on contact, but other ones also said that the smell of tea tree oil repels them. HENCE, it’s a great one to add to your shampoo all the time to prevent outbreaks in the future (I added a dropper full to everyone’s bottles).
The Life Cycle of a Louse
Lice can live for 30 days on a human’s head. They live off blood from the scalp area. They have to feed several times a day. They can’t live without the blood more than 1 to 2 days.
They are killed with exposure of 5 minutes to more than 128 degrees. So, time in a hot wash or in the dryer will kill them.
Nits (lice eggs) are laid fairly close to the scalp as they need an immediate blood meal (eww) to survive! That means, if nits fall to the ground they will end up dying.
Nits take 7 days to hatch and another 7 days to mature and be able to lay their own eggs. Female nits lay 3-5 eggs/day
How to Clean Linens after Lice
I don’t believe that you need to get ALL the linens out of your house, but I certainly washed all of her linens (including the comforter and shams) on the “sanitize” wash on my washing machine.
Some sites suggest you can just throw it in the dryer — but in the case of her bedding, towels and clothes I just coudn’t not wash it. It made me feel better (and frankly, needed to be done anyway).
How to clean hair accessories after lice
I put all of her hair items (bows, etc) in a zip-lock bag in the garage. They say to leave it quarantined for 10 days.
I also quarantined any stuffed animals she’d played with in the past couple of days (again, the lice can’t live off a human for more than 1-2 days).
I boiled her comb to kill them on there.
Head Lice Prevention
Clearly, the best way is to not have your child share headwear (hats, wigs, headbands, etc). And to really DRILL that into them.
Beyond that, I have added a few drops of tea tree oil to her shampoo and conditioner (along with everyone’s in the house).
We took the time to vacuum her floor, her mattress and the couch. You might also want to throw their backpack in the dryer if their hair is longer.
I am doing comb throughs twice a day at morning and bed time. Every few days I’m going to do a milder version of the vinegar/conditioner routine I did on the first day.
So far I haven’t found a single other nit. I’m on day 3 as I write this, so I am hopeful that things are looking up.
Download my quick lice checklist to make sure you’re hitting all the areas!
I hope it never happens to you — but if it does, you’ll be prepared!
Be sure to check out my other family health posts.
This post was originally written in 2017 but has been updated.