Lice eggs that die in their casings before they hatch are usually brown or black. But that color can also mean they are close to hatching. Dead eggs may be further away from the scalp.

If you suspect that head lice are causing an epidemic at your child’s school, camp, or playground, you’re probably right. The CDC estimates that roughly 6–12 million lice infestations occur annually in kids ages 3–11 years in the United States.

Even the most scrupulous louse sleuth may find it hard to tell the difference between living and dead nits (lice eggs).

In this article, we explain what living and dead lice eggs look like and how to get rid of them.

Live lice move swiftly and can be difficult to see. Lice eggs remain in place, making them more visible.

Lice eggs are around the size of sesame seeds and slightly oval in shape. Nits are sometimes confused for dandruff flakes. But unlike dandruff, you can’t easily remove them or flick them off. Each lice egg is “glued” onto an individual hair shaft at its base on the scalp.

Living nits that are incubating in their shells can be white, yellow, beige, or pale brown, depending on their age. The darker a nit, the closer it is to hatching.

Once a living nit hatches, it becomes a louse. An empty shell, called a casing, is left behind. The casing may be situated 1/4-inch or farther away from the scalp, making it easy to spot in the hair. Empty nit casings are white, gray, or translucent.

If a nit dies in its shell before it hatches, the dead louse egg darkens in color. As your child’s hair continues to grow, dead lice eggs may be located anywhere along the hair shaft.

What color are dead lice eggs?

Unlike empty casings, dead lice eggs are nits that didn’t hatch. These nit shells contain a nonviable louse embryo inside. Dead lice eggs are typically brown or black.

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If not removed, dead lice eggs can stay in your hair for a long time.

Like living lice eggs and empty casings, dead lice eggs are anchored onto the hair shaft with a type of glue. The female louse secretes this glue-like substance when she lays her eggs to protect them until they hatch.

The glue hardens upon secretion and does not dissipate when a nit dies. For that reason, dead lice remain cemented onto the hair shaft until you manually or chemically remove them or the hair grows out.

Even though dead lice eggs can’t hatch or cause itching, they may be upsetting to find in hair.

Dead lice eggs can’t move from one person to another. But their presence may make it hard for your child to return to school or their usual activities. For these reasons, it’s probably helpful to remove dead lice eggs.

You can remove dead nits manually with a lice comb. Since they’re no longer viable and won’t spread or reproduce, chemical treatments are not needed.

However, medications that kill eggs (ovicidals) will dissipate the glue that keeps dead lice eggs stuck to hair. If this is more comfortable for you, or you’re not entirely sure that the eggs are dead, to be safe, use a prescription or over-the-counter treatment that kills lice eggs.

Keep in mind that some lice treatments, such as pyrethrin and permethrin, only kill live lice, not their eggs. Natroba (spinosad) is a topical ovicidal that kills lice eggs as well as live lice. It’s available by prescription only.

Is it possible to have lice eggs but no lice?

Lice eggs take 8–9 days to hatch. It’s possible to have lice eggs without live lice during this early incubation period.

If you use a lice treatment that kills live lice but doesn’t harm their eggs, you may also have an eggs-only situation but not for long.

Do lice eggs pop when dead?

If you squish a living lice egg, you may feel it “pop” when flattened and killed. Nits that are dead may already be slightly deflated and may or may not “pop.”

Will dead lice eggs fall out?

No. Dead lice eggs remain glued to the hair shaft until you remove them.

Living lice eggs, or nits, range in color from white to light brown. Dead lice eggs are darker and can appear brown or black. The casings left behind by nits that hatch are typically translucent.

You can use a lice comb to get rid of lice eggs that are either living or dead. Medications designed to kill lice eggs (ovicidals) can also be used.