NEVER. AGAIN. A horrific lice story: how to detect, treat, and avoid a lice infestation.
Updated: Mar 15, 2020
It was about this time last year. My daughter complained of an itchy head. "Hrm. I hope you don't have lice," I thought to myself. A quick head check lead me to believe she didn't. About a week later, I noticed her itching her scalp quite aggressively and decided to do another check. This time more extensively. "All clear! Whew." I guess we should try a dandruff shampoo? This happened about a handful of times, and each head check I was satisfied we were fine. The chlorine from swim must be drying out her scalp or something.
Fast forward about a month...
Set scene: 7pm on a Monday evening. Dad is out of town for work this week. Mom and three kids have returned home from swim in a rush to finish homework and get to bed. Ok. Boys tucked in. Check. "Tori, honey, let me help you comb your hair while you..." Wait. Something doesn't look right here. That cannot be what I think it is, can it? Enter scene: complete horror. I (STILL) have a hard time reliving this experience because it was so traumatic. But for sake of helping others avoid this... (*Deep Breath*)
I knew something was wrong. Something just didn't belong. But this isn't white eggs that "they" said I should be looking for. I don't see moving bugs either. Hold on. I'm calling my sister. Pictures texted and description given over the phone had her convinced it was just dandruff. I wasn't so sure. But, wait. Tea Tree oil! Tea Tree oil is an insecticide! I'll spray some on her hair just in case.
And. Out. Come. The. Bugs.
AHHH! Gross. I know. (Scratch your head. You know it itches now.) But how can this be?! I check her head. All. The. Time. Do I not know what I am looking for?! Turns out. No. I was looking for little white bugs and little white eggs on her scalp. I wasn't looking for light brown bugs (though they are so fast you likely would't see them when looking) and I wasn't looking for light brown nits (eggs). I completely missed this infestation (multiple times) because I didn't know what I was trying to find. Maybe I had a difficult time because my kid's hair is "naturally highlighted" but take a look. Do you know what you are looking for? Do you see the nits?
Yeah, I OBVIOUSLY didn't see them the first time either. Now I know what to look for. Now I am an expert. After combing my child's hair with a miniature pick for 9 hours, an impromptu (and highly unprofessional) hair cut, hours on the internet, and several sobbing sessions later, I can now say, I know what to look for. So, are you looking to avoid a similar incident?
HERE'S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
1. Bugs cannot jump but they do crawl... and they are fast. They like to avoid light so they tend to stay behind the ears and around the neck line. When doing a head check look for signs of bugs, not the bugs themselves. (Again, they are so small and quick chances are you will not see them.)
2. Nits (lice eggs) are found on the hair shaft within 2 inches of the scalp, typically behind the ears and around the base of the neck. Dandruff will easily flake off where nits are very sticky and difficult to remove unless with a nit comb. When using the nit comb to investigate, take small sections of hair and start combing directly at the scalp running the comb all the way to hair ends. Use a bright light to examine the comb after each swipe.
3. It isn't the bug that itches you, its the after bite. If you just aren't sure about the nits check for signs of bug bites. They might look similar to mosquito or spider bites but smaller and again will be found around the ears and neck line (though could be anywhere on the scalp).
WHAT TO DO IF YOU (OR YOUR KIDS) HAVE LICE:
1. Don't panic. It isn't the end of the world, it just feels that way for a moment. This is a serious matter that needs to be dealt with promptly but no one is dying. Cancel everything for the next 24 hours (at least) and ready yourself for the storm.
2. Come up with a plan. You have several choices for how to rid your home of these nasty critters. Call on friends for advice or research online to determine your best option. Then get moving.
BASIC TREATMENT OPTIONS:
1. Over the counter (Nix, Rid) treatments. These may work for you though I don't personally recommend them. The chemicals are very harsh on your scalp (and actually CAUSE itching). I used this on my daughter the first night we found lice and (besides the Nix comb) I found little benefit in it. Yes, it killed bugs (though so do essential oils) but I just felt awful for exposing her to a hazardous pesticide unnecessarily... oh, and it didn't kill them all. You may need a prescription grade treatment or several rounds of these chemicals before you are in the clear. (And you still have to comb comb comb!)
2. Call the Lice Boutique. Yes, there is such a thing. You go to a specialty hair salon that uses a fancy blow dryer of sorts to dry out and kill the lice and eggs. I highly recommend this option (if you can afford it) since it kills both the bugs AND the nits and they comb them out for you. They actually offer a guarantee as long as every member of the household gets checked (and treated if infected) or gets a buzz cut (if you can't justify the $170 for your 4 year old boy). After 3 days of combing through my daughter's hair, I became infected myself (yes, my nightmare came true) and made appointments for both of us. My only regret was not calling sooner!
3. Natural Home Remedies. Essential oils such as Tea Tree (Melaleuca Alternifolia), Palo Santo, Lavender, Peppermint, Thyme, Geranium, Rosemary, Nutmeg and Cinnamon can be used exclusively or in conjunction with other natural remedies as an effective treatment. Choose your essential oil(s) and dilute 50:50 with a carrier oil, such as olive oil. Add 1 tsp oil mixture to your shampoo and massage into scalp. Better yet, saturate your hair and scalp in coconut oil with your choice of the recommended essential oils (about one drop per oz of oil) and cover with a shower cap. Leave in for at least 30 minutes or even overnight. Use a nit comb and carefully work your way through hair, section by section, from the scalp to the hair ends. Repeat until nits are no longer present.
If you don't have a shower cap handy you can use a plastic trash bag like this... cute, right?
After 2 months of being lice free I slacked on my prevention protocol (see below) and my daughter suffered another infestation. Lice affected her classroom 5 of the 9 school calendar months. This time I chose to treat exclusively with essential oils and within a day she was free and clear. I also attribute that to be catching it early so regular head checks are vitally important!!
WHAT TO DO IF YOU (OR YOUR KIDS) HAVE LICE CONT:
3. Complete your treatment. Repeat if necessary.
4. Wash and vacuum EVERYTHING. This part that stinks but it must be done!
Combs, brushes, and hair ties can be placed in the freezer over night. Pillows, stuffed animals and other lovies can be put in the dryer on high heat for 30 minutes. (Items that cannot be put in the dryer or vacuumed thoroughly I recommend bagging up and putting away for a couple weeks just to be on the safe side!) If outside temps are below freezing you could also leave outside overnight.
All bedding needs to be stripped, washed and dried on high heat including mattress covers.
Wash all clothes, jackets, and hats that have been worn recently (or again, dry on high heat). If you have clothes that are delicate or cannot be dried I suggest NOT wearing them for 2 weeks just to be sure. Or you could take a lint brush to them to confirm there are no nits attached. If you are nervous about re exposure you may want to set out the clothes you DO want you and your kids to wear for the next 2 weeks and leave everything else be.
Vacuum your CAR, seats especially.
Wipe down all surfaces in your home.
Vacuum. Laundry. Vacuum.
Close off certain rooms of the house until they can be "decontaminated" so your little ones aren't spreading from room to room unknowingly.
5. Make yourself a drink and start thinking about a prevention protocol for your home going forward.
HOW TO AVOID AN INFESTATION (MY PREVENTION PROTOCOL):
1. Do head checks regularly. For us, this means every week but more often wouldn't hurt either. Get the nit comb out or other very fine toothed comb and work through sections of hair paying special attention to behind the ears and the back of the neck. Do this in a well lit area or invest in a nit comb with a built in light such as this one.
2. Apply therapeutic grade essential oils DAILY to deter those critters from trying to make a home on your kids' head. I use A Mother's Nature Not Buggin' Me Hair Detangle Spray before the kids go to school, church, birthday parties, etc. Just spray on their heads on the way out the door. It's easy and pain free. (You could also add essential oils to your shampoo or conditioner but you don't get the same bang for your buck since you are rinsing it out.) If you use essential oils in diluted roller bottles apply directly behind ears and around the neck line.
3. Educate your kids on how lice is spread and remind them not to share hair ties, brushes, coats, hoodies, hats, scarves, etc. with their friends. This is especially hard for school age kids which is why it's so common for elementary classrooms to be infested.
4. Always dry your hair. Lice prefer wet or moist hosts and don't like the heat from blowdryers (not that it would kill them but they might decide to leave willingly).
Other "Fun" Facts about Lice.
1.. Nits can survive for 7-10 days without a host (inside a hat, on a pillow or stuffed animal) but bugs can only survive about 24 hours without feeding on a host.
2. Lice prefer clean scalps, free of hair product. A fair reason not to wash your hair every day. Better yet, use products made with therapeutic grade essential oils such A Mother's Nature Honey Hair Wax.
3. Lice bugs can live in water without a host for up to 24 hours. (Think washing machine.) This also includes chlorinated water so... no swim team while infected, either!
4. Extreme heat and extreme cold will kill bugs and nits (think boiling water or freezing).
5. Even boys with extremely short hair CAN get and carry lice. Bugs only need 1/2 inch of hair to hide in so it isn't just the girls we have to worry about.
6. Lice bugs can detect and prefer to reside on previously infested heads. The scent they leave behind, though not noticeable to us, remains for months; therefore, you are MORE at risk of lice exposure having just eradicated an infestation.
7. Family pets do not carry lice. These pests only prey on humans.
Oh, And Why Do Essential Oils Work?
The simple answer. Essential oils such as cinnamon, tee tree, and rosemary are TOXIC to lice. When applied to your scalp, they emit an odor (very potent to these little bugs) that deter them from latching on your head and laying eggs. Essential oils create an environment not suitable for lice to thrive. Even the "Super Lice" that have been in news reports of late cannot survive with repeated exposure to these oils.
It is unfortunate for me that I have all this knowledge and experience on the subject, but I do hope that sharing was beneficial to you! Post your comments and questions below!