Head Lice Information

Head Lice Home Care

The head louse is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows and eyelashes of people.

* Egg/Nit: Nits are the lice eggs, laid at the base of the hair shaft, nearest the scalp. Nits are firmly attached to the hair shaft, are very small and hard to see.

* Nymph: An immature louse that hatches from the nit. It looks like a small version of the adult louse. Nymphs mature in 9-12 days and require blood meals to survive.

* Adult: The fully grown adult is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to grayish-white. The adult can live about 30 days on a person's head, but will die within a day or two if it falls off a person. An adult female can lay about 6 eggs a day.

How are Head Lice spread? Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an affected person. Spread by contact with combs, brushes or hats can happen but is not common. Head lice can NOT hop, jump or fly; they move only by crawling.

What are the signs and symptoms of Head Lice ?

* Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.

* Itching, caused by a reaction to the bites of the head louse.

* Irritability and difficulty sleeping; head lice are most active in the dark.

* Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become

infected with bacteria found on the person's skin.

Family members of a student with head lice should be encouraged to inspect themselves to see if lice are present. All individuals found with lice should be treated simultaneously.


DO NOT APPLY ANY INSECTICIDE OR OTHER CHEMICAL not specifically labeled for treating head lice on people. Well intentioned parents treating their children with toxic or flammable substances have caused poisonings and death. Do not use extra amounts of any lice medication unless instructed to do so by your physician and pharmacist. The drugs used to treat lice are insecticides and can be dangerous if they are misused or overused.

There are many possible over the counter treatments for head lice. No one brand works better than others and store brands can save a family money. These are chemical based and work to kill the live lice that are laying eggs, immature nymphs that have hatched and may or may not kill what may be in the egg sacs. (nits)

Follow the instructions that come with the product. There may be a WARNING in the product instructions: Do not use a combination shampoo/conditioner, or conditioner (coats the hair and interferes with the treatment) before using lice medicine. Do not re-wash the hair for 1-2 days after the lice medicine is removed. This would reduce the residual effect of the treatment.

Please note: Prescription head lice treatments are available through your doctor's office.

Alternative treatments (ex. petroleum jelly, mayonnaise, olive oil, herbal oils, and enzyme-based products).

Many alternatives to over the counter or prescription head lice products have been suggested. Although there is little scientific information to support these methods, successful treatment has been reported using several alternative treatments. People often use alternative treatments when conventional treatments haven't worked, or when there is a concern about the toxicity of using head lice control products repeatedly. The school department cannot recommend these treatments without further evidence of their effectiveness. Well-tested procedures have not been developed for these treatments. Many treatment variations exist. However, it is important to mention some of the more commonly used methods.

The alternative treatments listed below are referred to as suffocants. When applied, the treatment may suffocate and/or create a habitat unfavorable to the head lice.

  • petroleum jelly (Vaseline®)

  • mayonnaise

  • oil (e.g., vegetable, olive, or mineral)

General Instructions for Suffocant Treatment*

  1. Apply the selected suffocant generously to the hair, making sure the hair and scalp are saturated (for petroleum jelly, approximately two ounces should be sufficient).

  2. Cover the hair with a close-fitting shower cap. Leave the cap on for eight hours (the exact time needed to kill the lice is unknown. Some people have reported success with shorter times). Avoid treatment while the infested person sleeps, as the cap may become a suffocation hazard.

  3. Remove the shower cap and wash the hair with shampoo to remove most of the suffocant (petroleum jelly may be hard to remove, and we are not certain of the best method to do this, but commonly suggested methods include rinsing with a mild degreasing soap like Dawn®, or baby oil).

  4. Remove all nits and any live lice as discussed under the Nit Removal section.

  5. Wash hair thoroughly with shampoo to remove the remaining suffocant.

  6. It is difficult to remove petroleum jelly or oils from the hair.

Instructions for Nit Removal

Once the products (chemical or alternative) are rinsed from the hair the hair should be towel dried for the next step of the treatment. This next step is the MOST TIME CONSUMING PORTION of the treatment and can NOT be taken lightly or skipped. Nit picking (hair combing) with a fine-tooth comb is often used to remove the nits (eggs) from the hair. Combing takes time and patience. It is the daily combing and pulling by hand to remove the lingering nits and immature nymphs that can hatch, that will eventually break the cycle and get rid of the lice!

  1. Select a comfortable area with strong overhead lighting or by a bright window to better see the nits on the hair. Providing a toy or distraction may help the child sit quietly while the inspection takes place.

  2. Use a head louse removal comb (metal may be better than plastic) for nit removal. Finger nails may also be used to remove nits from the hair shaft.

  3. Lift a one-inch wide tuft of wet hair and place the louse comb as close to the scalp as possible. Comb slowly away from the scalp to the end of the hair tuft. Wipe the comb with a tissue to remove accumulated nits.

  4. You must go through each section of hair combing and at times, manually pull small nits off the hair.

  5. Hair clips may be used to pin the back the sections of hair you have completed, and keep them separated from uninspected hair. Continue the systematic inspection until all hair has been checked (nits are especially common behind the ears and near the nape of the neck).

*Note: Any live lice found during the inspection should also be removed with the comb or fingernails.

REMEMBER! Nit picking is IMPORTANT. This is done initially and then every day for the next 4-6 weeks. It is difficult to determine a “live egg” from a “dead egg”, if you do not remove those nits (egg sacs) some of them will continue to hatch and start the cycle all over again!

The treatment you use will need to be repeated 8-10 days from the first treatment. This is to kill any new live lice that may have hatched since the last treatment. You will also be combing out any nymphs (baby lice) when you are combing.

Repeating the treatment sooner, several days in a row, or on a ‘regular basis' as a prevention,

can cause lice to develop a resistance to the chemical treatments.

Many people claim that the following methods help nit removal (loosen nits, make louse combing easier). The school department cannot recommend these methods without scientific evidence of their effectiveness:

  • Vinegar and water (one-to-one mixture) is commonly used to help remove nits. Hair is soaked with the mixture for 30-60 minutes (a damp towel soaked in the same mixture may be used to contain the solution). Rinse the hair following removal of nits.

  • An over-the-counter product such as Clear® may be applied at least three minutes prior to removing nits. The product may be rinsed out after use. An over the counter head lice treatment is then recommended to kill live lice.

  • Hairclear 1-2-3®, a 15-minute hair treatment available at health food stores, has been used by people as a nit removal aid. The product may also irritate live lice to the point where they attempt to leave the hair, thus making them easier to remove.

  • Alternative treatments such as mayonnaise, oils, and petroleum jelly are usually oily enough to make louse combing easier.

Cleaning the house (and car)

You will need to change the bedding, and wash the blankets of the person with head lice. Bedding, towels, nightclothes and other clothing that was in contact with the head within a day of treatment should be washed (hot water) and dried in the dryer at high heat for at least 20 minutes.

Vacuuming floors, especially carpets recently occupied by affected persons are recommended. Lice will soon die (generally within a day) once off the head for a day. Nits attached to hair that have fallen from the person will likely stop developing and will also die within a few days. Although it is not necessary to thoroughly clean the house or car, vacuuming floors will help dispel concerns about lice or eggs that may have dropped off the head.

  • Objects that cannot be washed can be bagged in plastic and put away for 10 days, or dry cleaned.

  • Wash all combs and brushes, in hot water every day until the lice are gone.

  • Put stuffed toys in the dryer at a high setting.

  • In freezing weather (32° F or below), put items outside for 72 hours to kill lice and nits. Small items (fabric hair ornaments, baseball caps, etc.) can go in the freezer.

  • Thoroughly vacuum car seats, the family couch, carpets, and floors.

  • Make sure that each person in the household uses their own comb, brush, towels, and bedding - do not share these items.

  • Store hats and scarves in coat sleeves.

  • DO NOT use insecticide sprays to clean items: carpets, furniture, vehicles. It is not needed and unnecessarily exposes family members to insecticides.