The best intentions, the most tragic consequences.

My heart goes out to the family in Springfield, Massachusetts whose daughter died earlier this year after trying a head lice home remedy. She was suffocated when the plastic bag that was placed over her mayonnaise drenched scalp slipped over her face.  You can read the details here. Mayonnaise on the scalp is a common home remedy for head lice that has no proven effectiveness and most people who try it then wrap the scalp in plastic to contain the mess. I am certain that this family was just trying to do the right thing and deal with this head lice.  In this family, a boy had head lice as well but they shaved his head instead.  This is common as the girls generally don't want to shave their heads but the boys are usually ok with it.

This was a tragic accident that demonstrates how we can sometimes lose perspective when we panic over head lice.  We can get so worked up about the bugs, which are rarely a health threat, and this can cause us to  take actions that are much more risky than the head lice themselves. Like putting a plastic bag over a child's head. Like the woman I met who slept in her car in the middle of winter thinking that the cold would kill the bugs when it could also have killed her.  Or the families I have met that have tried to treat their lice with their dog's flea treatment. Or Raid.  Or kerosene. Or gasoline. 

It is obviously that this family loved their little girl and they were trying to take care of her.  Many people turn to home remedies because they cannot afford the expensive lice "treatments", especially since these treatments require repeated use.   However, you don't need expensive products - head lice can be treated very inexpensively with tools that you can use again and again.   Lice combing on wet, conditioned hair is effective and safe.  You can get a good lice comb for the same price as any homemade concoction. If you are dealing with head lice, take the time to read the info in this blog and then proceed with good sense and perspective.  Take care in what you do - remember that there are things much worse than having head lice.


Great Expectations.

Got head lice? This blog can give you tips and techniques on how to beat it.  But before you even worry about the bugs on the head, you need to deal with the thoughts inside it - what are you feeling?  Are you freaking out or staying calm? Dreading the worst or expecting the best? If you want to beat this problem, you need to make a decision now about the attitude you will have going into it.  Your attitude can make or break how successful you are in managing your head lice.  If you start this battle by being panicked, paranoid, or petrified,  you are going to make it a bigger problem than it really is.  These extreme feelings and attitudes toward head lice can cause you to deal with it in a couple of different ways.  When you allow yourself  to have extreme feelings about head lice, you usually take extreme actions, such as:
  • Becoming hyper-vigilant and managing the problem by staying busy all the time doing tasks that are not necessary, not effective, and possibly harmful because you are feeling overwhelmed.
  • Avoiding the problem entirely and doing nothing because you are feeling overwhelmed.
Neither of these responses will be helpful to you and will probably cause a strain on your time, resources, relationships and personal wellbeing.  However, if you can put aside the panic, get the actual facts about head lice,  and stick to the simple tasks that need to be done, such as regular wet combing, you will be more than able to get through it. 

I recently heard from a family that got themselves informed about head lice and became their own lice experts.  It became evident to me that they approached their head lice issue with the right attitude when the father of the family told me that his 8 year old daughter had been going around the house singing this catchy little ditty:

"Bed bugs are mean but lice are nice!"  (T., I think you are AWESOME!!!)

This family did not see head lice as a sickness, punishment, or failure.  They treated it like one of life's inconveniences and obviously addressed it with patience, perseverance and humour.  And they beat it! 

You can too.  Give your lice a bit of attitude (positive, that is!).  Expect the best outcome here. If you don't want to sing about lice being nice, then come up with your own mantra to keep your spirits up through this process. Quote Rosie the Riveter, the Little Engine That Could, Barack Obama, or even Yoda if it helps you to stay positive. With a good attitude (your thoughts) and some helpful information (this blog) I know you can deal with head lice effectively.


Oooh, I like this one...

Here is a Sept 2014 article from the CBC (that's the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation - if you are not from where I live).  I think it is a good article, but that's because of my personal bias towards wet combing with conditioner and a metal lice comb and my bias against using so-called "treatments". Check it out: http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/head-lice-most-used-treatments-no-longer-very-effective-scientists-say-1.2776917


If you can't be with the comb you love, use the comb you're with.

I've recommended specialty lice combs on this blog because combs designed for the task of lice and nit picking - combs with long, rigid, tight metal teeth - save you a lot of time.  But what if you don't have access to an actual metal lice comb?  Grab the comb you do have. If it has teeth that are narrow and close together (i.e. not a hair pick), it can still have some effectiveness. The more rigid the teeth the better. Wet, condition, and detangle the hair. Then start combing.  If  you have large egg-laying bugs on your head, you should still be able to comb out a lot of them out.  This is still progress. Get the better comb when you can but for now, just get busy.

You probably need information more than you need a professional.

Though I am not doing home lice removal services at this time, I am still getting many requests for visits.  As I've said before, a lice removal professional is handy but not a necessity when dealing with head lice.  If you can pay to have someone to clean your home, cook your meals, and dry clean all your clothes, then you probably have enough breathing room in your budget to hire a lice professional.  But, if you, like most of us out there, would rather spend your hard-earned money on almost anything else, then I think you should deal with your head lice on your own.  Or grab a friend to walk this journey with you.  If you ever called me in the days when I was taking calls, you know that I spent most of my time encouraging people to deal with head lice on their own.  I mean, if you choose to hire a head lice professional, you'll still need to do your own checking and combing on a regular basis anyway.  Read articles on this blog, check out the links, and get informed.  Trust that with the right information, you can do this.

Another thing I get frequently asked about is what products I endorse.  While I don't have any connection to particular products, I have good things to say about effective metal lice combs such as the Licemeister and the Nit Free Terminator.  But that doesn't mean that you have to have one of these combs.  I also have good things to say about the generic metal, purple-handled, cheap, dual-sided comb that sells at my local Wal-Mart. It's the comb I use. If you find a metal comb that has teeth that are long, very rigid, and close together, then I'm sure it will have some effectiveness and get the job done over time. 

Lice removal should be accessible, inexpensive, and easy to do.  Don't think that you have to trouble yourself by ordering items from far away, travelling a long distance to get to a lice professional, or spending buckets of money on so-called "treatments".  If you are not a lice expert now, you will be once you read the research and have tried a few days of wet combing. If there are services or products you want to try and you have more than enough money to spend on them, go for it.  But if you are sacrificing your schedule, budget, or sanity to acquire these things, know that they aren't necessary.  Your time might be better spent by grabbing the comb closest to you and getting started on that wet combing.  Your money might be better spent by renting that new video you've been wanting to see to watch while doing it.


Question period...

Many questions have come up in recent comments and conversations. I think that there are others that might have similar questions, so I thought I'd answer some questions here to the best of my ability.

Question: I combed and got rid of the lice but found no nits.  Am I lice free?

Answer: Where there's smoke there's usually fire and where there's lice, there are usually nits.  Not always, but you should keep on wet combing every few days just in case a missed nit turns into a unwanted bug.  When you have been regularly combing for 2 weeks with no new bug sightings, that's when I think you can breathe a sigh of relief and reduce your combing to routine lice checking.

Question: Two months ago we had head lice and we beat it but now my daughter has it again.  Why?

Answer: I don't know.  Either something was missed the last time your daughter had lice or she just got it again from someone else.  Beating lice once doesn't mean that you will never get lice again.  Just take a breath and start combing.  Remember, don't waste your time on ineffective busy work - no extra laundry washing, vacuuming, or bagging up toys.  Just get those suckers off the head.

Question: Is there anything I can do to prevent from getting head lice?


How many studies will we need before we see pyrethrin/permethrin as ineffective with head lice?

These are the related pesticides in products such as Nix and R&C.  I don't know how many studies we will need before our health professionals stop recommending these products but here's another one. It basically says that almost all North American lice have developed a genetic resistance to this pesticide.  Please, please, please don't waste your money on it. The effectiveness quoted in the pamphlets of these products was true when they first came out in the 1980s but our overuse of these products have made them almost useless now.  The last line of this study's abstract says, "Alternative approaches to treatment of head lice infestations are critically needed." Enough said.

Hair Conditioner - fights more than split ends!

If you have ever had head lice, and I am assuming that you are acquainted with it since your reading this blog, then you know that nits are a pain to remove.  Lice eggs and egg shells are cemented to the hair so well that they can be stuck on the hair long after the lice are gone.  This is one reason why I dislike no-nit policies - they don't take this into account. I am sure that many a child has been sent home from school because a nit was seen when no actual lice were present.  The only way to be sure you have head lice is to actually find one on the head.  I have gone into homes where parents found some nits but no lice - and I didn't find any lice either.  The nits were usually a few inches away from the hair shaft, indicating that they had been laid long ago,  and I then had the good fortune to tell the parents the child had lice at one point but for some reason doesn't any more.

This problem of cemented nits has spawned an small industry of products claiming to dissolve the substance that glues the nits to the hair shaft.  Sprays, rinses, creams - you can find many that claim to loosen or remove nits.  Probably the most common home remedy that I have seen people use for nit removal is vinegar.  Have you ever had vinegar in your eyes?  The kids whose parents gave them a vinegar rinse are not usually appreciative of this technique. 

As you may know, I feel the best way to remove lice, eggs, and shells is manually.  I recommend using a good metal lice comb (with very rigid teeth, such as the Licemeister or the Nit Free Terminator).  But I also recommend wetting the hair and slathering it in cheap hair conditioner.  This process of wet combing is proven to greatly increase your chances of lice detection and it is a non-pesticidal and effective way to remove lice and nits.  The conditioner helps the hair remain wet (slowing down the lice), makes it easier for the hair to stay detangled, and allows the comb to glide through the hair more smoothly.  I always recommend the cheapest conditioner because you may need a lot of conditioner and beating head lice should never break your budget.

Interestingly, hair conditioner was part of a head lice study that came out this past spring.  The study was called "Efficacy of Products to Remove Eggs of Pediculus humanus capitis (Phthiraptera: Pediculidae) from the Human Hair". You can read the study's abstract here. In other words, it compared different products that made claims that they removed lice eggs from the hair shaft. The conclusion? Egg removal was significantly helped with just water and hair conditioner.  Specialty products were no more effective than these simple tools and some substances had no effect at all. 

So, join me in buying that vat of generic conditioner from your local dollar store. This is just one more example of how effective does not have to mean expensive.


More great information...

Here is a link to a great information source.  It is a health bulletin on head lice from the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board in Wales.  It gives links to great research and what I love about it is that it includes wet combing as a main treatment in the fight against head lice: http://www.wmic.wales.nhs.uk/pdfs/bulletins/Head%20Lice%20Bulletin%20Jan%202014.pdf 
While this publication also gives lots of information about chemical lice "treatments" (and you know I don't recommend them), it at least does not recommend products with permithrin (in Canada, this would be Nix which in my experience is the most prescribed lice treatment by health professionals).  I like that this article says that you don't have head lice if you don't find a live louse on the head.  (Old nits can stick around for a long time and do not indicate an active case of head lice.) Around wet combing, I have some different opinions than what is presented in this document - for instance, I have personally found metal combs to be more effective and I see no need to shampoo before a wet combing unless you want to.  I also much prefer the use of conditioner over vegetable oils - conditioner is much less messy, smells so much better, and rinces from the hair easily, whereas vegetable oils often don't come out without a stronger detergent such as dish soap. 
This publication mentions chemical treatments that are mechanical.  What this means is that they don't kill the lice and eggs by poisoning them.  (Nix and other permethrin based products do this - they are neurotoxins and the lice can adapt to these poisons over time.)  Mechanical treatments coat the lice and eggs and kill by either drying out the shell of the bug or egg or by plugging up the openings (mouth and anus) of the bug.  The idea is that because the animal is not affected by ingesting the product, they won't build a resistance to it. This may be a selling feature but I have been to many homes where all treatments we have available in Canada, including mechanical chemical treatments,  have been tried according to the product directions and living lice were still found.  Because the chemicals are not 100% effective, because they are costly, and because they all recommend manual lice removal to occur along with the treatment, I just think we should skip the unnecessary step and focus on the treatment that is readily available, cheap, and effective:  Multiple wet combings over time until there are no new sightings of lice or their eggs.  This document says that you can stop combing when you have had 3 thorough combings where no lice or eggs were found. On this blog, I say that you should have 2 weeks of combings with no sightings of lice or their eggs before you can say you are lice free.  If the 3 combings listed in this document are 4 days apart from each other as recommended, it means you have to comb and find nothing for 12 days.  12 days.  Two weeks.  Almost the same deal.
Anyway, this bulletin is a nice, research based overview that for once does not say that lice are spread in hats and bedding.  Check it out. 


The comb is only as good as its user.

Here's a blurry picture of my cheap but good purple lice comb that I bought at Wal-Mart for under $10.  I got to use it this evening. Tonight my daughter had a wonderful friend over.  The friend was scratching her head at supper time so I asked about her head lice - my daughter told me she had been dealing with it.  This girl said that her parent said her hair would be cut right off if they didn't get a handle on the lice soon.  I offered to do a combing.  After supper, we put on a movie (Puss In Boots) and got to work.  She sat on a stool I sat on the couch behind her.  I sprayed her hair with water, conditioned it, detangled it with a brush, and then started combing with the lice comb.  Hundreds of eggs. Dozens and dozens of bugs.  As I was combing, I told this friend that I would be sending the lice comb home with her so she could continue combing every couple of days.  I was surprised at her response.

"Oh, we have that comb."

Upon talking to the parent later, I found out that comb had been used a couple of times but was then set aside because they didn't feel it was doing the job. Now, this girl had quite a lot of lice, so I do not know how the comb was being used or if it had really been used at all.  I must mention that this parent is not neglectful. Time, energy, and money had been put into this problem; the parent tried to deal with the child's head lice by giving the child a lice "treatment', doing extra laundry, and spraying the furniture with some supposed lice-killing chemical. Attention was given to the problem.  However, the problem didn't go away and for some reason, the lice comb was not really given a chance.

But it's the lice comb that works.  So-called "treatments" and "shampoos" will not solve the problem. Spraying furniture does nothing. The key to beating head lice is combing over time.  I told this parent to bring out the comb again and to comb every couple of days for a couple of weeks.  The combing sessions don't have to be marathons - even just combing for a 1/2 hour every couple of days will lead to success.

If you are dealing with head lice, stop looking for the quick fix.  Get combing and keep on combing until the lice and nits are gone.  If the chemical treatments worked, I would recommend them, but they don't.  A lice comb may not seem like a very snazzy solution and may not make the promises of a lice "shampoo", but it is simply your best tool in the fight against head lice.