It’s never fun to find nits in your hair (or your child’s hair), but it can be especially confusing when you see the nits without finding the louse.

Nits are lice eggs, so the presence of them in your hair suggests that a louse has been there at some point, and it may still be. They can be hard to find. They also could have laid the eggs before crawling to another head or fallen out when you brushed your hair.

In the best-case scenario, you could also be mistaking nits for dandruff. They look similar and are both typically found close to the scalp. Dandruff will pull out more easily, however, and nits stick to the hair.

Let’s look at the differences between lice and nits, and what to do if you have only nits in your hair.

Nits are eggs laid by lice. They are extremely tiny and may look similar to dandruff. If you see nits, even if you don’t see any lice, you want to act quickly before they hatch into nymphs, which typically takes 8 to 9 days. Here’s the life cycle of a nit.


Nits are small white or yellowish-white specks that are usually found close to the scalp, around and behind the ears, and at the nape of the neck.


Nymphs are newly hatched lice. They are a yellow or tan color and are very small.


Lice are adult wingless insects. They crawl instead of jump or fly. They’re larger than nymphs but still small — about the size of a sesame seed.

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Illustration by Maya Chastain

If you’re going through your hair and you find nits but no live louse or lice, which will generally be moving, you may be tempted to simply pick out the nits and hope that you get them all before they hatch.

It’s possible that the nits are leftover from a previous infestation and are no longer viable, which means they are dead and won’t hatch.

It’s difficult to tell the difference, so you should still treat any nits you find, even if there are no lice.

Once you find lice or nits, you’ll want to treat the infestation as soon as possible to prevent it from getting worse or spreading to others. Symptoms of lice include itchiness on the scalp and the sensation of something crawling on your head.

On people

  • There are over-the-counter (OTC) lice treatments that are effective at getting rid of lice, including Rid and Nix.
  • If lice return, a doctor may prescribe the shampoo Lindane, (which the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against using as a first treatment in children), or lotions such as Sklice, Ulesfia, or Ovide.
  • Wet-combing lice is time-consuming, but it can work if you saturate the hair in conditioner. This makes the lice and nits more visible. Comb through the hair in very small sections to be thorough.
  • You can also try smothering lice in oils.

In your home

There’s no need to fumigate if you have lice but you will want to clean your home.

  • Wash and dry all bedding at the hottest temperature the fabric can handle.
  • Vacuum areas where lice may have fallen.
  • If you have something that is not machine washable, seal it in a plastic bag for 2 weeks, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you’re still finding nits but no lice after you’ve undergone treatment, continue combing your hair with a nit comb every 2 to 3 days, according to the CDC.

Additionally, for some medications, re-treatment is recommended routinely after the first treatment. Follow the manufacturer’s directions if you find more nits after initial treatment.

If you feel like the nits are multiplying or that you just can’t get them all out, it’s time to see a doctor or try an OTC lice eliminator, if you haven’t already.

It’s not uncommon to find nits in your hair without live lice. If you find only nits, you should still treat your hair as if you have lice. You should also avoid close contact with other people and sharing hats or brushes until you no longer see nits or lice in your hair.