Head Lice or Dandruff?

When you receive a school notice about head lice, or when you want to check your child for lice, you don’t always know what lice eggs look like. How do lice eggs look vs dandruff?

How can you tell the difference? When you look at your child’s head, you see some white flecks the size of a sesame seed: are they nits, or are they just dandruff or hair debris?

The main difference between head lice eggs and dandruff is that lice eggs are glued to the hair shaft; they are firmly attached to the hair, and are not easily removed.

On the contrary, dandruff is not attached to the hair and can be easily brushed off.

  • Dandruff is a common form of skin eczema, also called Seborrheic dermatitis. It is thought to be caused by an overproduction of oil by the skin, and it is called dandruff when it affects the scalp. Dandruff looks like thick, falky, white to yellowish localized patches of scale, and can occur together with red, irritated skin.
  • Lice eggs are like white to yellowish dots on your hair, the size of a sesame seed. They are 0.8 millimeter long and 0.3 millimeter wide. What happens is that lice eggs have a grey or caramel color when they are laid by the female louse, and they turn yellowish to white when they are empty. So, the color is not always the same, and that’s why it should not be your only criteria when looking for head lice eggs.

Nits can indeed be very difficult to see. After they hatch, the shell of the egg can remain in the hair for several months, because as said above, it is firmly attached to it.

In this case, it will be whitish. Of course, empty nits can be easily confused with dandruff when you only look at the color. But try to brush them off, and if it sticks, it means you are dealing with lice eggs.

Dandruff is usually located all over the scalp, while lice eggs are usually primarily located behind the ears and in the neck area, as this is where female lice prefer to lay their eggs.

But if your child is severely infested, you’ll also find nits all over the head.

Another important point is that live lice eggs will be located within one centimeter from the scalp, even less (usually half a centimeter).

If you find nits further away from the scalp, they will either be dead or anyway not viable, so you don’t have to worry about them hatching.

Remember that the only solid criteria to tell if you have lice eggs or dandruff is to brush the hair with your hand: lice eggs will stick, dandruff will be brushed off.