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What are Head Lice?
Head lice have been an infestation upon humans for hundreds if not thousands of years. Head lice are minuscule insects that feed on the blood from your scalp and most commonly affect children.
Lice is usually passed by direct contact and, despite common misconceptions, it is not a sign of being unclean or living somewhere that isn’t.
There is no research on where exactly lice come from; the only thing known for sure is that they spread by contact of infested items.
Lice are about the size of a sesame seed and often look like dandruff if you’re not looking too closely. There are actually three kinds of lice – the head louse, body louse, and pubic louse.
The body and head lice closely resemble each other, but the pubic, or crab, louse is quite different. Smaller than head or body lice, the crab louse gets its name from the way that its body is shaped – resembling that of a small crab.
Most people are not aware that they have lice and brush away the symptoms of it as something else. The most common symptom of lice is itching, a symptom that many mistake for something else. Another sign of lice can be seeing white tiny spots on the hair shafts, which are the eggs of the lice. The lice themselves can be harder to spot, since they move quickly and are known to avoid light.
Lice is most commonly mistaken for dandruff, residue from hair products, scab tissue, dirt or debris, or even other small insects. The opposite can be true too though, so make sure to consult with a doctor before starting a treatment for head lice that might not be necessary.
Head lice, and other lice in general, are transmitted through direct contact. Lice can crawl, but cannot jump or fly so they are not “catching” in the general term. One merely must make sure to not share any personal items with someone that potentially has lice. These items include combs, scarves, hats, coats, headphones, hair accessories, and even pillows or towels.
Head lice, the most common form, is prevalent among preschool to middle school age children as they are the ones that come into most direct contact with each other. As said before, head lice are not caused by poor personal hygiene or living conditions – they simply need a host with blood to thrive on. Therefore, just because someone is clean does not mean that they won’t be a candidate for lice infestations.
Types of Lice
• Head lice: Head lice are usually only spread by head-to-head contact. These are the most common form of lice and are prevalent in young children because they are most likely to touch heads or share headgear such as hats of hair accessories.
• Body lice: Body lice may sometimes spread disease. Body lice are associated with poor hygiene, but only because they are usually present in places where many people share close quarters. Proper hygiene and frequent changes of clothing are all that is needed to get rid of body lice.
• Pubic lice: These lice are usually found on the coarse hair of the pubic region but can also be found in other places of the body that have coarse hair – such as hair around the eyes, beards and mustaches or armpit hair. This type of lice are usually spread through sexual contact but can be treated with over-the-counter and prescription medication, although essential oils might work for this type of lice too.
Treating Head Lice With Essential Oils
Most over-the-counter and doctor prescribed treatments for lice infestations include some kind of insecticide to kill the lice with. Although this kills the lice, as it would any insect, they must still be removed from the hair by means of a fine comb. Simply washing the hair with hot water and shampoo is not effective. But the conventional treatments contain harmful and toxic pesticides – meant to kill lice, but they can’t be doing that much good for human bodies either.
One word of caution is to always make sure that you do not apply essential oils directly onto the surface of the skin. They must always be diluted with other carrier oils, such as coconut, almond, apricot or even olive oil to be rendered safe to touch to the skin. This is because the oils are so potent and direct contact with the skin might result in irritation, drying of the skin or even mild chemical burns.
Ways To Use Essential Oils For Head Lice
• Add a few drops of essential oils to the shampoo that you’re currently using and continue shampooing hair.
• Mix coconut oil with essential oils and massage onto scalp.
• Dilute essential oil with water and use in spray bottle by spraying onto hair and scalp, prior to and after exposure.
• Apply the essential oil throughout hair and on the scalp at night, cover hair and head with a shower cap then leave on overnight.
Top Essential Oils For Treating Head Lice
1. Tea Tree
The tea tree oil has a strong order and is the most commonly used essential oil for getting rid of head lice. There are many products with tea tree oil added that are touted to be effective at getting rid of lice, but the best option is to just use pure tea tree oil. Tea tree oil has two main chemicals that help to get rid of lice – 1,8-cineole and terpinen-4-ol. Some research has shown that tea tree oil is 100 percent effective at removing head lice within 30 minutes of applications. Other studies proved that tea tree oil in combination with lavender oil was effective in 97 percent of cases.
2. Eucalyptus Oil
Along with tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil also has a strong scent and has been used for repelling insects, which can include head lice. If you are allergic to tea tree oil, the second best option to use is eucalyptus oil. Eucalyptus oil also has a high content of 1,8-cineole so it should not be used for children younger than six years old. For children older than six and adults, simply mix the oil with some water and spray on lice-infested hair then comb through.
3. Lavender Oil
Lavender oil also works by repelling lice with the strong smell of the oil. Lavender oil is used in many products, including shampoos and conditioners, and has been found to even help prevent the infestation of lice if the lavender was already present in up to 90 percent of cases. The oil is effective at repelling any adult or nymph lice but does not kill the eggs, so combing is still necessary to remove the eggs. There are a few people allergic to lavender oil, but a smaller percentage than those allergic to tea tree or eucalyptus so it might be a better option for some.
4. Rosemary Oil
The antifungal and antimicrobial properties of this oil, similar to that of tea tree oil, make it ideal for use against lice. The oil works in the same way that tea tree does and can be used instead of tea tree oil, or in conjunction with, for a powerful natural way to get rid of those stubborn lice. Rosemary oil also has a high 1,8-cineole content so it should be used with caution around children younger than six.
5. Peppermint Oil
The strong smell of peppermint, much like tea tree, eucalyptus or rosemary, will work to drive away the lice and also mask the smell of the human body which will keep lice away. There has not been as much research done with peppermint oil alone, but it is still an effective remedy for head lice if tea tree oil is not available. It is also a safe alternative for children, as it does not contain any harmful substances to young ones.
Other Natural Remedies For Treating Head Lice
Essential oils are probably your best bet for the treatment of head lice if you’re looking to not use conventional, toxic products. Even so, there are a few other options for use, especially if you need to treat a very young child or the essential oils haven’t worked for you and you cannot use the stronger ones (for instance, due to an allergy to tea tree or eucalyptus). Here are a few other natural remedies as options for getting rid of head lice.
• Garlic: The strong smell of garlic effectively smothers lice. Making a paste with some lime juice and spreading it throughout the hair and leave it on for half an hour before washing out.
• Baby oil: Lice can hold their breath for quite a long time underwater, so the only thing that will suffocate them is oil. Apply baby oil on your hair and scalp then comb through. After the oil treatment, wash hair with powdered detergent and hot water, and then apply white vinegar to hair and scalp before bedtime and wrap.
• Olive oil: The same suffocating treatment can be done with olive oil instead of baby oil. Olive oil simply needs to be applied to the hair and scalp before bed, wrap the head and leave on until morning. Wash hair with a tea tree shampoo in the morning.
• Salt: Mix one-quarter cup of salt and one-quarter cup of vinegar and apply to hair by spraying it on. Put a shower-cap over the hair and leave on for two hours. Afterwards, wash and condition hair.
• Petroleum Jelly: Petroleum jelly can stifle the roaming lice. Apply the jelly to the scalp before bedtime, wrap with a towel or shower-cap and leave on overnight. In the morning, use baby oil to remove the petroleum jelly and comb hair thoroughly.
Essential oils have been proven to be an effective natural remedy against head lice, in particular the essential oil of tea tree. Head lice might be an annoying and pesky problem to deal with, especially in young children, but at least you can rest easy in knowing that using essential oils for their removal will not add any more toxic chemicals to your body. Other natural remedies are also available for the removal of lice, if you happen to be especially sensitive to essential oils or have not found them to be effective. But with at least a 97 percent success rate, it’s safe to say that essential oils will beat head lice every time.