How to Kill Head Lice
If you or your child develops head lice, you’ll want to take care of the problem quickly. Lice are small parasitic insects that can cause itching on your head and red bumps on your scalp. They’re easily passed from one person to another, often by sharing personal items like hats or hairbrushes. But there are effective ways to kill lice.
Click through the slideshow to learn how to stop lice in their tracks.
The Best Treatments
Although lice don’t spread disease, they’re very contagious and can cause intense discomfort. Therefore, you should treat the infected person and family members who live in the same household with a medicine formulated to kill lice.
You have a number of options: from home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) products, to medication that your doctor can prescribe.
Try This at Home
As a first line of defense, try a few lifestyle changes and home remedies to combat lice. Start by thoroughly cleaning yourself or infected family members, as well as any personal belongings that may be contaminated.
The Mayo Clinic recommends laundering bedding, clothing, stuffed animals, hats, and towels with hot water (at least 130 degrees F) and soapy detergent. Be sure to dry them thoroughly on a high heat setting for 20 minutes or more.
Wash Them Out
Several OTC shampoos and lotions can kill lice, including Nix and Rid. As an added measure, try rinsing hair with vinegar after shampooing. Grasp one section of your hair at a time and strip the lock downward with a cloth soaked in vinegar. Alternatively, you can soak all your hair in vinegar for a few minutes and then comb it.
Though this method won’t necessarily kill lice or “nits” (eggs), it can help remove them from the hair shaft.
Just for Kids
Since children under two should not use most OTC lice-removal products, try simply using a fine-toothed comb—or a special nit comb—when your child’s hair is wet.
Repeat this combing every three to four days for no less than two weeks. Ask your pediatrician if combing should be used in conjunction with other treatments for your young child.
The Big Guns
According to the Mayo Clinic, lice have grown immune to OTC treatments in some areas of the country. Therefore, you may need to try prescription medicines if OTC shampoos and lotions don’t do the trick.
Three common prescription products to kill head lice include:
- Malathion (Ovide): a prescription medication
- benzyl alcohol lotion (Ulesfia): a prescription lotion
- lindane: a prescription shampoo
Malathion is a prescription medicine that is applied by rubbing it into your hair and scalp. It’s flammable so must be kept away from heat sources. If you're pregnant or breast-feeding, talk to your doctor before using this product.
A newer prescription for head lice is benzyl alcohol lotion. To use the lotion, simply apply it to your scalp and hair, and leave it on for 10 minutes before rinsing off with water. Repeat the treatment after one week.
Beware of Side Effects
It’s important to remember that prescription medicines carry a risk of possible side effects. Benzyl alcohol lotion may cause skin, scalp, or eye irritation and application-site numbness. It’s not recommended for kids under six months.
Lindane is a prescription shampoo that may be prescribed as a last resort after other treatments fail. Because lindane can cause serious neurological side effects, it is no longer considered a first line treatment for head lice, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Your Actions Can Help
Regardless of which treatment option you use to kill lice, the precautionary measures that you take at home can make a difference in stopping the spread of lice.
With the right treatment, killing lice isn’t hard. However, it can be challenging to remove all nits from your hair and avoid further infestation through contact at home or your child’s school. Take precautions to avoid sharing personal items, and keep bedding, clothes, and furniture clean.