Remove Head Lice Safely
January 5, 2023
Head lice are extremely common; there are up to 12 million cases in the U.S. every year. Contrary to popular belief, head lice have nothing to do with hygiene. They’re equal opportunity parasites that don’t care if hair (or the people it’s on…) is clean or not. They also don’t transmit disease.
Head lice don’t fly or jump, and we need direct contact with them to become carriers. This happens when our heads or hair touch items like pillows, headgear, hairbrushes, and even things like airplane head rests.
To remove lice, many people turn to shampoos that contain pesticides like permethrin, pyrethrin, lindane , or malathion. While the amounts of these toxins in lice products are small, the potential side effects aren’t. Lindane, for example, has been linked to cancer and nervous system damage while malathion is an organ toxicant and suspected endocrine disruptor.
Studies suggest that lice shampoos increased the risk of childhood leukemia and brain cancer, and reports to the FDA’s Med Watch program reveal instances of seizures, behavioral changes, neuromuscular issues, skin problems, and other side effects following lice treatments.
If you encounter lice, try these safer removal methods:
- Smother lice and their eggs by coating the hair and head with mayonnaise or olive oil, donning a shower cap, and letting the works sit overnight.
- Use an essential oil. Oils of neroli or bitter orange, thyme, rose, palmarosa, and citronella contain compounds proven effective against lice and eggs. Always dilute essential oils before use on the skin. A good rule of thumb is 12 drops of oil to one fluid ounce of a carrier like olive oil.
- Use a lice comb to manually remove lice and their eggs. Coating the hair in white conditioner or baking soda can make them easier to spot. This is widely considered the best course of action.
- Hire a lice specialist trained in non-chemical removal.
Lice can only live 1 to 2 days without human contact so combining natural non-toxic strategies like these with laundering and prolonged isolation of any potentially infested items should take care of any itchy heads in your family.