Finding lice eggs can be tricky. The small, sticky ovals tend to lie close to your scalp and may blend in with your hair color. If you find them, you can remove them with a lice comb or a fine-toothed comb on wet hair.

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Head lice are external parasites that live by feeding on blood. They live exclusively in your hair — though in some cases, you may find them on your eyebrows and eyelashes.

Their eggs are called nits. You can find nits on individual hair strands close to your scalp. They’re less than 1 millimeter (mm) in size, and you may mistake them for dandruff or water droplets due to their teardrop shape.

Anyone can get head lice. It has nothing to do with hygiene or how often you wash your hair. In other words, finding lice eggs in your hair isn’t a sign you need to shampoo more often. But it does mean you’ll need a treatment that treats the entire louse life cycle.

Here’s how to identify lice eggs and get rid of the infestation.

Lice eggs may seem like small, light specks against your scalp. They’re smaller than the head of a pin, and they can be white, yellow, or tan. These eggs attach directly to individual strands of hair, so they won’t move easily. They can be harder to spot if you have light hair.

You may find eggs throughout your hair, but viable lice eggs — lice eggs that can hatch — are typically close to the scalp where it’s warm. They’re usually no further than 6 mm from your skin — just under a quarter of an inch. Most often, you’ll find them at the nape of your neck or behind your ears.

This doesn’t mean you won’t find lice eggs in other areas. So, if you’re concerned about lice, checking your entire scalp can help detect an infestation in the early stages.

Here’s what head lice look like.

Is it lice or dandruff?

Dandruff is a condition that causes small, dry pieces of skin to flake off your scalp. Like lice eggs, dandruff can be light in color. It can also stick in your hair and be more condensed near the scalp.

Unlike lice eggs, however, pieces of dandruff are free-floating once they leave the scalp. Dandruff may stick to your hair, but it’s not firmly attached.

But lice bond their eggs to your hair with a waterproof, glue-like substance. Even after the eggs hatch or you use lice treatments, the casings are so firmly in place they may remain attached to your hair.

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People generally get head lice from close, head-to-head contact with someone who has head lice. People can also pass lice to each other by sharing clothing or belongings that contain head lice.

For instance, you can get head lice if you wear a hat or scarf worn by someone who has lice or if you use their hairbrush shortly after they’ve worn or used these items. That said, experts consider this method of transmission fairly uncommon.

Lice have no wings, so they can’t fly. They also can’t jump, like fleas do. They can only move by crawling — though they can crawl roughly 9 inches (23 centimeters) per minute. Their feet are specially adapted to cling onto strands of hair, which makes it unlikely they’ll stick to objects or belongings for long.

It’s possible to have lice eggs in your hair even without adult nits.

This can happen if the infestation is no longer active, which may be the case if you find nits further away from the scalp. It can also happen during the brief window between life cycles.

The lice life cycle

An adult female louse can lay 5 or 6 eggs a day, every day, for their 30-day lifespan.

After about 10 days, the lice eggs hatch into the juvenile louse, known as a nymph. Nymphs are smaller than adult lice and go through several molting phases until they reach maturity. This takes about 7 days.

Head lice need to feed on blood several times a day, and they can only survive for 2 days with no host. Lice eggs can survive up to 3 days without a host. That said, they require temperatures like those near the scalp to hatch.

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Getting rid of lice eggs in your hair starts with getting rid of active lice.

Head lice are extremely resilient and can survive regular shampoo. They can also live submerged in water for several hours, and even traditional chlorine levels in pools aren’t enough to kill them.

Some hair dyes may contain chemicals adult lice are sensitive to, but those products often don’t kill eggs. So, a one-time use won’t break the infestation life cycle.

You can get rid of nymphs and adult lice with over-the-counter or prescription medicated washes. Treatment usually involves 2 phases, 9 days apart, to break the life cycle of the louse. Eliminating live lice before they mature into adults will prevent them from laying more eggs.

Head lice don’t live long in your home, but you can take steps to stop reinfestation by:

  • washing clothing and bedding with hot water of at least 130°F (54°C) and drying them on high heat
  • getting items dry-cleaned
  • sealing clothes or items in plastic bags for at least 2 weeks
  • soaking combs and brushes in hot water of at least 130°F (54°C) for 5 to 10 minutes
  • vacuuming all rugs, carpets, and furniture

After proper treatment, nits won’t hatch. The eggs may remain firmly attached to your hair, though. If you want to get rid of them entirely, you can use a special nit removal comb, or any fine-toothed comb, on wet hair. You can also remove them by gently using your fingernails.

Learn more about home remedies for head lice.

Once you find lice eggs in your hair or your child’s hair, you take steps to prevent transmission by:

  • starting head lice treatment
  • avoiding sharing hats, helmets, hoods, or scarves
  • boiling or sealing away your hair tools and accessories, as described above
  • washing recently worn clothing, bedding, pillows, and other linens
  • keeping a distance from head-to-head contact
  • refraining from lying down in communal places, like on living room couches

You don’t need to use pesticide sprays or have your home fumigated. Head lice don’t live long enough in the environment to warrant the use of potentially harmful chemicals.

There’s also no need to treat your pets. Head lice won’t transfer to pets, and your pets can’t give you head lice, either.

It’s not always easy to identify lice eggs in your hair, especially if you don’t notice any adult lice. These eggs, or nits, are tiny, and they may resemble dandruff.

But knowing where to search for lice eggs and how to tell if you have an active infestation can help you break the louse life cycle and get rid of lice as quickly as possible.