If you are reading this post it’s probably because you just found a louse in your child’s hair (or your own! Yuuuck!) or even worse, the school nurse just did. Please take a deep breath. When I found a louse in my hair I felt like setting my head on fire and running screaming down the street. Do not do this! Fight the instinct!
Lice are actually not a big deal. I know they seem like a big deal. You’re talking about live bugs! In your hair! Sucking your blood! It’s like a mini horror movie. But lice are not the end of the world. Nobody is going to die of the bubonic plague. You won’t get some horrid disease. It’s just embarassing. But you’re in good company. Most moms I know have been down the Lice Road and have nothing but empathy for you. But they still don’t want your kids coming around theirs. Nothing personal.
My seven-year-old brought lice home toward the end of the last school year and was kind enough to give it to everyone in the house. We battled it off and on all summer and into the fall and finally–FINALLY–we are lice-free several months later. We tried pretty much everything to get rid of it and I’m here to tell you everything I learned about how to kill the lice without killing yourself. Seriously, some days after picking the nits on six kids, committing suicide seemed pretty tempting. (Totally kidding! But if your kids have had lice you know what I’m talking about.)
So, you think your child might have lice?
The first weapon in your anti-lice arsenal is this: a Licemeister comb. The traditional lice combs are completely worthless. Their teeth are much too far apart. You need a comb with strong metal teeth that are incredibly close together. Sometimes Walgreens or CVS will carry them (or something similar. Although they do carry them online. How dumb is that? Like you’re just supposed to live with lice for ten days while you’re waiting for the comb to arrive!). If you live in the Austin area they can be found at People’s Pharmacy. Or you can do a search here to find one locally. The combs are about $15 and completely worth it. Every parent needs one of these!
There are essentially three phases of lice: eggs (called nits), babies (called instars. Which is way too pleasant of a name. They ought to be called Baby Death Suckers or something similarly alarming), and full-grown revolting adult lice.
The good news is that lice can’t jump. The bad news is, well, everything else. Lice are sneaky bugs that move really fast. While they won’t jump from head to head, they can run from head to head pretty quickly. We all know not to share hairbrushes or hats. That’s good advice. Sleepovers are a really common place to pick up lice. All those lousy heads sleeping right next to each other . . . . My head is itching just thinking about it.
A nit looks like a super teensy little grain of rice. The one way to tell the difference between a nit and a regular old hair flaky is that a nit is really hard to get off the hair shaft. Like, almost impossible. You can get them off with the Licemeister or your fingernails or you can do what one of my friends does: she just pulls the individual hair out. If you’ve got a big infestation your child will probably not be too thrilled about that. Nits are usually found around the back of the head near the neck or behind the ears. Grown up lice live towards the crown.
If you’ve found a nit, you’ll want to check for live lice. This is my preferred method: Get your licemeister, a white bowl filled with warm water (the bowl doesn’t have to be white but that’s easiest for spotting lice) and a bunch of paper towels. I never let my kids touch my iphone or iPad normally, but I let them have a turn playing games while I’m on lice patrol. (Because of this whenever I hear the sounds for Arabella’s favorite game “Where’s my Water” I automatically get the heebie-jeebies. It’s my Pavlovian reaction since she never plays the game any other time.)
Brush the hair thoroughly. (Keep your hair brushes in the freezer during your infestation. Lice can’t live in frozen temps.) Pin up all the hair except for a section at the back of the head.
Starting right next to the scalp, pull the lice comb through a small section of hair.
After each pass through a section of hair, rinse the comb in the bowl of water. You may see some lice on the comb and that’s horrifying and depressing and strangely satisfying all at the same time. But they’ll come off the comb once you swizzle it around in the water. See all those teensy black dots? Those are baby lice. They’re like the tiniest little back grains of rice.
After you’ve rinsed off the comb, wipe it on a paper towel. The licemeister comes with a pick to clean out the tines, but I usually save that til the end. The white paper towel is an excellent way to see what’s come out of your child’s head. Repeat this across the loose section of hair then take another section from the hair clip. Repeat until you’ve gone through all the hair. Heaven help you if you’ve got daughters with long curly hair. If you have boys, lucky you. It’s about a million times easier. A nice buzz cut is a good idea too. Just make sure you pop the clippers in the freezer when you’re done. That’s the best way to kill lice. They can’t survive an hour in the freezer.
If you find a louse or nit: Please don’t be in denial. If you see something suspicious, just treat it. Lice isn’t like a cough where most likely it will go away. It’s only going to get worse.
Next thing is that you’ll probably want to do a search on the internet to find a method of curing it. Which is probably how you found this blog post. Your first thought was probably to go get some lice shampoo at the drugstore and that’s that, right? Au contraire. Lice shampoo is only about 10-20% effective. There are now lice in many states that are completely resistant to traditional lice shampoos. We happen to have a Brazilian strain here in Texas that chemicals don’t seem to effect at all. Isn’t that lovely?
My doctor recommended a new prescription shampoo that costs $195. That’s totally out of my budget but maybe you’re OK with that. If so, go talk to your doctor.
You’ll find lots of natural cures like mayonnaise, olive oil and tea tree oil. While tea tree oil is somewhat effective as a lice deterrent, it’s not going to get rid of the lice that are already living on your kids’ heads. As for mayo and olive oil, they simply don’t work. I’ve soaked my kids’ heads with olive oil, wrapped them in plastic wrap all day, then rinsed off after 12 hours. There were still live lice after all that. Olive oil might smother some lice but all it takes is one pregnant louse to ruin your sanity. I have eight people’s heads to try out methods on (six kids plus mine and my husbands. Yes, we’ve all had it at one time!), so when I say something works or doesn’t work, remember that I’ve had to kill a lot of lice. A lot.
After bewailing my pestilence-filled life over the interwebs, one of my favorite bloggers came to the rescue. Karen from SuburbanCorrespondent shared the news that changed my life. There is a sure-fire way to cure lice and all you need are a few bottles of Cetaphil cleanser and a blow dryer. Yes, Cetaphil cleanser. Not the lotion. You want the Gentle Cleanser for all skin types. It’s about $8-12 per bottle.
The cetaphil treatment is actually patented. You can read all about it here. basically it’s 95% effective and the best part is that there isn’t the massive laundry overhaul that normal treatment requires (although I do that anyway since it can’t hurt. If you want to wash everything I high recommend using a laundry mat where you can get everything clean in one two hour period) and there is no nit-picking required (unless your kids go to school at a place with a no-nit policy).
Please go to the official website to read about the details of the treatment (yes, you first have to check a box saying you promise to read the directions completely). But here is the gyst: in an orderly fashion squirt an entire bottle of Cetaphil on your child’s head. it’s got to cover absolutely every hair. The first time I did this treatment I really skimped on Ada’s head because she has short-ish hair and it’s not terribly thick. It seemed like all the hair was saturated with Cetaphil even though I’d only used about a third of a bottle. Sure enough when I went to blow dry her hair, there were several areas that hadn’t gotten any Cetaphil on them. If you’re going to all this trouble, please follow the directions exactly! Consider this your #1 most important job!
Once the hair is throughly saturated with Cetaphil, use a comb to remove as much as possible. If your kids have fine hair you can even use the Licemeister. Wipe the excess Cetaphil on the towel. You’ll probably see little lice getting combed out. Die, lice, die!
Now comes the most trying part. You have to blow dry the Cetaphil-covered hair. The reason this method works is that the lice are essential trapped and smothered. They are not killed by the chemicals in the Cetaphil so there is no danger of building up resistance like lice previously have with the over-the-counter shampoos. And unlike mayo or olive oil, the lice are trapped and all air is cut off. There is no stopping a louse that wants to run for it when it’s merely covered with oil.
The problem with the blow-dry is that it takes forever. Like at least half an hour. My kids and I both sit down while I do it or my legs will start to get tired after a while. But it must be done. Once the hair is dry, send your kids to bed (it’s got to stay on overnight so do it in the evening) and rinse it all out in the morning.
This process must be repeated once a week, three times. Due to the louse’s life-cycle, three times one week apart is necessary. It’s a pain, yes. But so is starting the whole process over again. Commit to three weeks or you’ll regret it. I know after the second week you’re going to feel like the third week is overkill. It’s not. Just do it.
I would like to bear my testimony that the Cetaphil method really does work. I pity you if you have lice but there is help (besides shaving your kids bald or never leaving the house). May the lice gods smile on you!