After using topical lice treatments, it’s important to adjust your regular hair care routine for up to 2 weeks. Conditioner may keep lice treatment from working properly. But other ways to nourish your hair, include essential oils, hot air treatments at a lice clinic, and more.
Treating head lice promptly can help you banish these parasites quickly — not to mention lower the chances of passing them to the people around you.
That said, treating head lice doesn’t just mean quickly washing your hair with special shampoo. Many factors play a part in making sure that treatment works.
Using shampoo and conditioner before or after your treatment, for example, could lower the effectiveness of the lice treatment you choose. So, you may have to wait a few days before shampooing again and up to 2 weeks before returning to your regular conditioning routine.
Read on to learn why and get a few tips on caring for your hair in the meantime.
Lice shampoos typically contain insecticides, like permethrin and pyrethrins. Lice die when they absorb these chemicals into their bodies. Of course, this means lice have to stay in contact with these treatments for long enough to fully absorb them. This takes roughly
You’ll rinse off these treatments with water several minutes after you apply them — the product box will tell you exactly when to rinse. But it’s important to stick with water only. If you shampoo your hair too soon after using a lice treatment, you may wash away the chemicals before they kill the lice.
“Ideally, you should wait 1 or 2 days after lice treatment before shampooing so as to give the medicine plenty of time to work,” says Dr. Rebecca Marcus, a board certified dermatologist in Dallas, Texas.
Conditioner timing also matters.
Marcus explains conditioner can interfere with lice treatment because it coats your hair strands and prevents the product from getting to where it needs to be.
Many lice treatments require 2 treatment phases, 7 to 9 days apart. During this time, it’s important to avoid using conditioner.
Once the last treatment is complete, Marcus says you can add conditioner again at the 10-day mark.
What about shampooing or conditioning before treatment?
It’s OK to shampoo before lice treatment, says Marcus. Just avoid any combination shampoo-conditioner products.
Shampooing first may help remove styling products and oils from your hair. This step isn’t always necessary, though, especially if the lice treatment you’re using has a shampoo base.
If lice shampoo leaves your hair feeling tangled and dry or causes some scalp irritation, it’s only natural to want some relief.
But using other hair products designed to soothe and soften tangled strands could also get in the way of your lice treatment.
Commercial hair products — even those advertised as “natural” — may contain ingredients that interact with lice treatments and keep them from working effectively.
That’s why Marcus recommends waiting 2 weeks before using most products on your hair.
So, what can you use on your hair?
Marcus says plant oils, like coconut oil or argan oil, may help you get some hair and scalp relief without disrupting lice treatments.
These penetrating oils are readily absorbable when used in small amounts, so they generally don’t interfere with medication. Still, it’s best to wait at least a day or two after using a lice treatment
Other options to try can include avocado oil and sunflower oil.
Just make sure to avoid sealing oils, which have low penetration. Like conditioner, these oils leave a thick film on your hair, scalp, and on lice. This film can act like a barrier, so it may keep the lice treatment from working effectively.
Examples of sealing oils include:
Some natural oils have penetrating and sealing properties. When in doubt, ask a dermatologist for more guidance on choosing an oil to use after lice treatment.
Even though lice treatments are safe when used correctly, you may feel a bit hesitant at the thought of applying pesticides to your scalp.
Alternative treatments, like killing lice with Epsom salt, have become popular, but many of these remedies lack scientific support and are less effective than medicated options.
Smothering lice is one common alternative treatment. It involves coating your hair and scalp in a thick substance, like coconut oil or mayonnaise.
“Coconut oil may be somewhat effective for killing lice, but it is not the most effective treatment,” Marcus says. According to Marcus, you need to leave the oil on for at least 4 hours, ideally overnight, and cover your head with a shower cap.
Then, you need to comb the head lice and eggs (nits) out of your hair.
“Even when used correctly, coconut oil is less effective than medicines formulated to kill lice,” Marcus says.
Another popular home remedy involves applying essential oils like tea tree or eucalyptus.
Find more essential oils for head lice here.
Heated air treatments
Perhaps one of the most promising nonchemical alternatives to lice shampoo is applying hot air.
To treat lice with hot air, you need to book an appointment at a lice clinic. Currently, no evidence supports the use of home hair dryers or heated styling products as effective for killing head lice.
Head lice don’t live long, once they leave your scalp. They need to feed on blood regularly, so without access to a host, they’ll only survive in the environment for
You can treat your home and kill lice by:
- soaking hair accessories, brushes, and combs in hot water that’s 130°F (54.4°C) for
- washing all linens, clothes, and machine-washable personal items in hot water and drying them on high heat
- sealing fabric items you can’t wash, like stuffed animals, in plastic bags for 2 weeks
- sealing personal items like combs, brushes, or hair clips in plastic bags and leaving them in the freezer overnight
- vacuuming carpets, rugs, and furniture thoroughly
You can lower your chances of getting head lice by avoiding:
- sharing personal items that touch someone’s head
- engaging in head-to-head contact
- lying down on someone else’s bed, couch, or floor
Regularly disinfecting shared hair care tools may also lower your chances of getting head lice.
You can shampoo your hair just before lice treatment and a day or so afterward, but you may want to consider skipping conditioner for at least 10 days after using lice shampoo. That’s because conditioner may prevent the lice treatment from working effectively.
A dermatologist can offer recommendations for plant oils that can help ease scalp irritation and dry hair during treatment.
Generally speaking, experts recommend waiting about 2 weeks post-treatment to use hair care products beyond shampoo and penetrative plant oils, unless a dermatologist or another doctor tells you otherwise.