Tea Tree Oil Treatment for Lice: Does It Work?

Tea Tree Oil Treatment for Lice

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  • A Controversial Treatment

    A Controversial Treatment

    The research community has not reached a consensus as to whether using tea tree oil for lice removal is effective. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) state that there is insufficient evidence to rate tea tree oil’s effectiveness for treating lice.

    However, other health experts say that there may be merit behind the idea that tea tree oil is a useful lice treatment, a claim that many believe to be a myth. Click through the slideshow to learn about whether tea tree oil may effectively treat lice.

  • Possible Evidence

    Possible Evidence

    According to the Mayo Clinic, more than one tea tree oil lice study has shown that tea tree oil, used alone or with other products, may help with lice. However, they also emphasize that large-scale trials are needed before an actual recommendation can be made.

    Langone Medical Center at New York University (NYU) reports that tea tree oil, when combined with lavender oil, may effectively treat head lice.

  • Alternative Treatment

    Alternative Treatment

    Tea tree oil has been studied as a possible alternative to insecticides, which are frequently prescribed and used for treating lice.

    A study published in BMC Dermatology found that most of the children who were treated with tea tree oil and lavender oil no longer had lice the day after the last treatment. The same was true for the children who were treated with a product that suffocates lice. However, only a quarter of the group treated with a product containing pyrethrins, a type of insecticide, were found to be lice-free.

  • More Support

    More Support

    Another study published in the International Journal of Dermatology compared botanical and synthetic substances for preventing lice in primary school-age kids. In the study, tea tree oil, peppermint, and lavender oil were compared to synthetic material DEET as forms of repellent against lice. Tea tree oil and peppermint combined were shown to be an effective repellent. Tea tree oil with lavender was found to prevent some blood feeding by lice on the skin. Tea tree oil was, individually, the most effective treatment, but none of the treatments were determined to be effective enough to endorse.

  • Proper Dosing?

    Proper Dosing?

    You may be considering using tea tree oil as a lice treatment. If so, you might also be wondering what kind of dosage to use. The Mayo Clinic states that there is no particular dose that has been proven to be effective for treating lice.

    However, clinical trials generally use a dose that is 5 to 10 percent tea tree oil in a shampoo or gel form, and is typically applied to the skin each day for as many as four weeks. 

  • Unproven Uses

    Unproven Uses

    While some people suggest using tea tree oil for getting rid of lice in laundry, or even treating lice with a combination of tea tree oil and vinegar, there is no evidence from medical experts that these treatments work.

  • Safety Concerns

    Safety Concerns

    The Department of Health Promotion and Protection in Nova Scotia states there is no data available on the toxicity of tea tree oil used to treat head lice—therefore, the organization does not support the use of tea tree oil against lice. 

    While other health experts don’t take as strong a position against tea tree oil for lice eggs, the Mayo Clinic does specify that there is insufficient research to recommend the safe use of tea tree oil as a treatment for lice in children.

  • Other Precautions

    Other Precautions

    While the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the NIH states that topical use of tea tree oil is considered safe for most adults, it notes that one study reported a boy who developed breast growth after using two hair products that contained tea tree oil and lavender oil.

    The NIH released a statement reporting on the phenomenon, saying that repeated use of topical products containing tea tree oil may potentially lead to enlarged breast tissue in prepubescent boys.

  • Proceed with Caution

    Proceed with Caution

    While some early studies have suggested that tea tree oil, particularly when paired with lavender oil, may be effective in treating head lice, there are not enough large-scale, definitive studies to recommend tea tree oil as a treatment for lice.

    If your child or an adult in your family has lice, talk to your doctor about the best, most effective form of treatment.