When it comes to treating head lice, some people swear by chemical treatments and other people highly prefer using home remedies they can make themselves. This way they know better what they put on their kids’ heads and there is much less risk of having to deal with undesirable side-effects.
Home remedies for head lice are most of the time grandma’s recipes, but most of them are proven solutions, sometimes even by scientific trials and a few studies.
It is true that there are very few studies that have been conducted to evaluate the efficiency of homemade remedies, because who would finance such studies? It’s just not profitable to spend money to know if olive oil or vinegar are effective against lice. It’s much more profitable to spend money to show that commercial lice shampoos have some efficacy, even if it’s not 100%. And in absence of studies, the medical community doesn’t trust natural remedies and doesn’t consider them as effective.
However, lice remedies that use readily available ingredients have one thing in common: they have no side-effects (for most of them), and they can fight both head lice and their eggs. The other major advantage of such home treatments is their low cost.
Why do many parents prefer home remedies for treating head lice?
Anti-lice shampoos used to be very effective a few decades ago but are now not so powerful anymore, especially because head lice have developed some resistance in many Western countries including United States, Canada, France, and United Kingdom.
But the big drawback of pesticide products are the side effects they can have. After all, what they contain are pesticides (insecticides, because they kill insects), and when we know how bad for our health pesticides can be, we’d most often rather stay away from them. Pesticides on our food have been shown to cause illness, and putting pesticides on our scalp is not safer, as our scalp absorbs about 50% of any substance put on it.
If you think that these shampoos and lotions that contain chemicals are safe, take a look at Jesse’s story here, and think twice before you use them. Thousands of parents are using them every day worldwide, and many have no issue at all, but caution should be the rule.
If you are looking for a 100% risk-free alternative to using an OTC lice shampoo on your child’s head, the simplest home remedy would be to just comb his hair or pick the lice and nits out using a lice comb or tweezers. This would have to be done over several days and would thus be very time consuming. But it has been shown scientifically to be the only solution that works 100% (apart from head shaving, which is not recommended for obvious psychological reasons).
Basically it is important to understand that if you want to be successful in your battle against these parasites, you’ll need to find the right home remedies for killing adult head lice and nymphs, and other remedies for getting rid of nits.
It is crucial to keep in mind that the same remedy will not always work for both head lice and their eggs at the same time.
Home remedies for getting rid of adults and nymphs
In order to kill adult head lice and their nymphs (the baby lice), you can use home remedies that contain suffocating substances. This is for example oil, petroleum jelly, or any substance that has some viscosity.
Why can it work? Because suffocating substances will prevent lice from breathing, and once coated in the substance, they will die asphyxiated. Of course, like any other natural remedy, this one will not be 100% effective and there is no guarantee that it will work for you, but many people have had good results and it may be worth a try. In a 2004 study, among 6 remedies including olive oil, vinegar, butter and mayonnaise, petroleum jelly was the most effective of all, and had some ability to kill eggs, too.
Here are some useful resources on suffocating substances:
Another option is to combine a substance like oil with essential oils such as lavender or tea tree oil. Tea tree oil contains terpenoides, which act pretty much like pesticides on the nervous system of the louse. However, you should know that just like pesticide shampoos, tea tree oil can have undesirable side-effects and should be used with caution.
What about essential oils on their own?
A few drops of lavender essential oil behind the ears make head lice flee… If this solution can work, be careful to not use it as a real treatment though. Its effectiveness will depend on each child, but also on the degree of the current infestation.
There are dozens of formulations based on essential oils of many plants, but in practice the majority of these essential oils are only effective if their application is combined with other substances like olive oil and with adequate combing of the hair. There are some essential oils that are effective on their own, this is the case of tea tree oil, but it should be applied with great care, as mentioned previously.
Home remedies for eliminating lice eggs
One of the best ways to kill live lice eggs, also called nits, is to dissolve their protective shell. They will for sure die if they are no longer protected by their exoskeleton. Doing so will also help to comb them out because it will unglue the shell from the hair shaft.
Then, you need to comb nits out until there are no more left in the hair. This is an unavoidable step of the treatment and should never be overlooked.
More questions about home remedies? Check out our FAQ section on home treatments.