Head Lice Home Remedies

A Pediatrician Weighs In on How to Treat Head Lice in Children

Head Louse Treatment
KevinDyer/Getty Images

Q. Head lice is going around at my child's school. Is it true that the old home remedy of using dog shampoo will get rid of the head lice? I have also heard that you can use lamp oil. I don't know for sure if it is head lice, though. I haven't seen any bugs—just white stuff that looks like dried scalp or dandruff. Please help me with any head lice home remedies that you may have. —Marie; Columbus, Mississippi

A. You should first make sure that your child actually has head lice before doing anything else. Head lice infestations are often over-diagnosed, both by parents and health professionals.

Head Lice Symptoms

Symptoms of head lice can include:

  • having an itchy scalp
  • seeing red bumps on your child's scalp and neck
  • seeing live lice moving around on your child's head
  • finding nits (lice eggs), which are tiny white oval shaped specks that are attached to the sides of hairs

If you are just seeing nits, but no live lice, then you may be able to simply wash your kid's hair with a regular shampoo and then try to remove the nits using a nit comb. Keep in mind that live lice can sometimes be hard to find, so if you continue to find new nits, then your child does likely have an active lice infestation and does need further treatment.

If the 'white stuff' is simply dandruff and is on his or her scalp and not on the hair shafts, then he or she may not have head lice at all.

Instead of using lice treatments, you might try a medicated, anti-dandruff shampoo, like Selsun or Neutrogena T-gel, although a visit to your pediatrician first would be a good idea.

Head Lice Treatments

If you do see live lice moving around on your child's head, then he or she needs to be treated. In addition to trying over-the-counter medicines, like Rid and Nix, and prescription medicines, such as Ovide, there are many natural home remedies that you could try.

Keep in mind that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, Nix 'is currently the recommended treatment for head lice, with re-treatment in seven to 10 days if live lice are seen.'

Head Lice Home Remedies

If you don't want to use a chemical on your child's head, the most effective treatment that doesn't involve using any products at all is simply removing the nits and live lice with a lice comb and/or tweezers. This is the method that is advocated by The National Pediculosis Association. It can be time-consuming to do this and you may have to repeat the procedure for several days to make sure that you get them all, but this is likely the best thing to do. You still have to take the time to comb out all of the nits anyway, even if you use an anti-lice shampoo, as these shampoos don't kill the eggs. If you don't, the eggs will hatch and your child will have live lice again.

Most other natural home remedies involve putting something on your child's scalp and hair to 'smother' the head lice.

Popular choices include mayonnaise, olive oil, and vaseline. These are usually left on overnight, often under a shower cap, and then washed out the next day. They can be very messy, though, and have not been proven to work. Some experts believe that this method 'works' only because you actually remove the nits and lice as you try to get this stuff out of the child's hair.

There are also herbal remedies to treat head lice, including products with tea tree oil and other essential oils. Because they are 'natural,' these are not regulated by the FDA, have not been proven to work, and should be used with caution and avoided in younger children.

Parents and pediatricians can also now to turn to Ulesfia (Benzyl Alcohol Lotion 5%) as a non-pesticide prescription treatment for head lice. Ulesfia can be applied to the hair of children over six months of age until it is saturated, washed off after 10 minutes, and then reapplied seven days later. Unlike Nix, Rid, and other head lice shampoos, Ulesfia is thought to work by blocking the louses' respiratory spiracles, and thereby suffocating them.

Dog Shampoo

To answer your question, you shouldn't use dog shampoo on your child. It's true that dog shampoo may contain some of the same active ingredients as some anti-lice shampoos, but dog shampoo is not made for humans and has not been tested on humans, so there is no way to know that it's safe or that it works. 

Continue Reading