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How to Treat Head Lice Without Chemicals: Natural Treatments for Nits!

How to kill head lice

Part of the glamour and fun of parenthood comes when your little darling keeps scratching his or her head. On investigation, you discover (oh joy!) that the light of your life has head lice. Obviously, you want to get rid of them, as easily, quickly and cheaply as possible, and by killing the lice at no risk to your child or you.

Some of the chemicals used in treatments for head lice are pretty nasty. There is the obvious fact that if they kill lice, they might not be terribly good for tender skin, and can be absorbed through the skin, too.

And a lot of them don't work, or work partially, so a few weeks later, you once again have little parasites crawling around the head. Nice!

Increasing immunity means that head lice treatment is getting tougher with chemicals.

But you don't have to use the expensive, unreliable chemical head lice removal treatments. With a little persistence, and little cost, you can get rid of them for good.

This article shows you how to treat the whole family for head lice without worrying about the effect of insecticides and pesticides contained in many over-the-counter creams, lotions, shampoos and treatments.

Picture of an adult head louse, magnified

Picture of an adult head louse, magnified

Picture of two adult head lice, one male, one female, with a match and coin to show the sizes.

Picture of two adult head lice, one male, one female, with a match and coin to show the sizes.

Head lice, nits, and eggs

Pediculus humanus, or head lice, aren't very nice. But although they can be upsetting, and make the head itchy and uncomfortable, they don't spread diseases, so don't worry about that.

There are three stages for head lice - eggs (or nits), larvae, and adults.

An adult is usually about the size of a sesame seed, and a grey-brown colour. Adults and young lice look very similar, except the young lice are smaller.

Eggs hatch about a week after being laid, and larvae (which feed on the scalp, but don't breed) turn into adults about a week after hatching.

If they stay on the head, adults live about a month. They die within about 48 hours if away from the head.

Head lice can't jump, fly, or survive for long away from the human host.

What you need to treat head lice without chemicals

In order to get rid of head lice without chemical treatments, you need a good louse comb / lice comb, and a large bottle of cheap hair conditioner.

A lice comb isn't the same as a normal comb - the teeth are much closer together. Using a normal comb won't work to get rid of head lice.

Plastic louse combs tend to be cheaper, but the teeth are more likely to bend quickly and therefore become ineffective. Metal combs are more long-lasting and reliable. There's not much point buying a plastic one, go straight for a proper one.

The best combs seem to be the special, slightly twisted-steel ones known as "NitFree comb" in the UK, and "NitFree Terminator Lice Comb" in the USA. Ive used a standard one on my son and daughter, and also this one, and far more eggs are removed with the NitFree comb.

You can also buy electric ones for use on dry hair, that zap head lice when they touch them.

For the conditioner, there's no point splashing out lots of cash. What you want is a huge bottle of the cheap stuff, because you'll need a lot of it.

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Procedure for treating head lice with a head lice comb

You need to treat the whole family. Chances are, the infestation started with a child, but he generously shared the head lice with his parents, siblings, and any other relatives who got close enough.

Here is the step-by-step procedure that worked very well for head lice treatment in my family:

  • Brush the dry hair, then comb with a normal comb;
  • Wet the hair, then towel-dry it;
  • Apply a good helping of conditioner - you want it to be really thick all over the hair, not just to make combing easier, but because it stops the lice moving about and escaping your comb;
  • Comb the hair with a normal comb, to de-tangle it;
  • For men and boys, you can usually then just comb through the hair in one go with the louse comb, rinsing the comb between each stroke so as not to put anything back in the hair;
  • For girls, women, or men / boys with longer hair, do it in segments. It's easier to start at the ends, to make sure it doesn't tangle, and do small part of the hair at one time. Once it has all be combed through once, the whole head can then be done to remove all lice and eggs;
  • Wash the conditioner out of the hair.

Because the eggs and very young lice are tiny, even the best nit comb will miss a few. With a standard metal comb, I found that there were lice for several consecutive days, although the numbers were going down very rapidly.

The eggs, in particular, are hard to remove, so you should comb the head every day or every other day until you have several consecutive days with nothing found.

Once I bought the NitFree comb as above, far more eggs were removed, and it meant the whole process was much faster.

I've also used a herbal shampoo which is supposed to discourage lice from setting up camp in the first place. It's hard to tell if it works, but it's a nice shampoo anyway, and certainly can't do any harm.


Semptember on February 03, 2012:

Thanks this is an embarrasing problem! I neede help and you helped me I thank you. God bless you.

StephenSMcmillan on September 12, 2011:

Wow, glad to see this page, thanks for the advice.

the LIceMeister on August 24, 2011:

September is National Head Lice Prevention Month!

bernieadkins from Virginia on May 12, 2011:

If you cannot find a metal nit comb another option is a metal flea comb. You can get them at pet shops. The teeth are closer together and work great on fine hair. Cheap too at around $3.

cams on January 16, 2011:

is that metal nit comb or the electric one available in the philippines?

joeffreyj on December 09, 2010:

My daughter always using hairspray and after a few months she complained that her scalp became itchy...i think its the lice attacking her hair. I think its the kind of hair spray or hair spray

can attract lice?

anderw on August 28, 2010:

head lic no one likes itchy itchy kids hate it so if u kid has it the last friend they whent to b shore to not hang wif them eney more lolz

Debbie on July 28, 2010:

You can use a flat iron to burn the eggs off the hair.

( Iron must be at least 130 degrees F.)

jdenny on August 15, 2009:

As a mother and Cosmetologist of 19 years, I seem to recall running into these little buggers quite a bit.Now with grandchildren running everywhere I will consider the alternative method since the twins are so sensitive to everything they come into contact with. I was never happy unless I manually removed them either so this is great advice, thanks a lot.

Plants and Oils (author) from England on August 12, 2009:

Hi Susan - there are two views about that. I know in the USA they advise washing everything in sight, but here in the UK they say that only dying lice come off the head so they aren't a problem.

Susan on August 11, 2009:

Good workable suggestions -- but also very, very important:

Bedding, stuffed toys, etc. all must be washed in very hot water. If you can't wash them, seal them in a plastic garbage bag for a week.

Plants and Oils (author) from England on July 21, 2009:

It really does work, too. A lot of the chemical products aren't that good, as well as having nasties in them.

Julianna from SomeWhere Out There on July 20, 2009:

Just learned something new and yes children tend to tote them home and they are naughty little things!! Thanks for giving a great idea without chemicals. :)

Plants and Oils (author) from England on July 14, 2009:

It's one of those recurring, family pleasures, I fear. Part of the price you pay for having adorable (or otherwise) small children!

Sandy Mertens from Wisconsin, USA on July 11, 2009:

I know this was a big thing going around my daughter's school at one time. I heard mayonaise works well.

Christine Mulberry on July 09, 2009:

I had no idea this was an option, I would definitely give it a go versus chemicals.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on July 08, 2009:

(Off-topic?) Mayo is also a great conditioner. Makes hair shine. Cover shampooed, towel-dried hair with it, cover with shower cap or Saran wrap, leave on for 30 minutes, rinse thoroughly with warm water.

Tiffany on July 08, 2009:

Another solution is to use mayonaise. I suggest covering the hair with mayo then using a shower cap or plastic bag wrapped around the head for 30 minutes usually kills the lice and makes the nits/eggs easier to remove!

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on July 08, 2009:

Very comprehensive-- ohthe joys of motherhood eh?

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on July 08, 2009:

Nobody likes to talk about this, but it's a rare family that hasn't had them at least once. Thanks for the tips on how to do it without using nasty chemicals!

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