Non-Toxic Lice Treatments
By Tillia Griffin
One day your kids come home from school with dreaded, unwelcome new friends, head lice. For many years, we have dealt with lice by using a variety of pharmacological products containing Permethrin or Pediculicides, which kill live lice and their eggs (1). But due to changes in lice populations and a general push towards greener, non-toxic products, many people are in search of alternative treatments.
Researchers studied head lice populations in 30 states throughout the country and found that lice in many places (including Oregon and Washington) have developed genetic mutations that make them resistant to the most commonly used pharmaceutical treatments, like Permethrin and Pediculicides (2). The overuse of a pest control element can lead to natural selection within the species and an eventual gene mutation to help ensure their survival. Luckily, age-old home remedies and progressive scientific thinking have provided plenty of alternative methods for tackling this itchy issue.
Although it sounds harsh, many of these alternative solutions focus on “suffocating” the lice in order to get rid of them. Some people swear by the use of olive oil, mayonnaise or petroleum jelly to drench the scalp, thereby suffocating the lice, however, keeping olive oil or mayonnaise on the head of a squirming child for 8 hours can be difficult. Instead, Dale Pearlman, a dermatologist who teaches at Stanford University, suggests covering the head with Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser, blow-drying until completely dry and leaving it for 8 hours before shampooing. This process repeated several times may be successful in getting rid of the lice (3).
There are also plenty of ways to cleanse the household during and after a lice episode that are non-toxic and safe. Lice and their eggs are killed by exposure to heat greater than 128 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 5 minutes, so clothing, pillowcases, sheets, and towels can be washed and dried on high settings in your washer. Combs and brushes can be soaked in hot water and furniture and floors can be vacuumed in order to remove any hair follicles with eggs attached to them. Lice and their eggs cannot survive more than 2 days without being attached to a person’s scalp. (1)
In addition there are also new technologies being developed by the scientific field, including a device called the "LouseBuster" developed by the University of Utah and the National Science Foundation. This hairdryer-like device is particularly effective because it kills louse eggs, which chemical treatments have never done very well," said Dale Clayton, a University of Utah biologist who led the research and co-invented the machine. "It also kills hatched lice well enough to eliminate entire infestations."
The machine blows warm air through a flexible hose, which has a rake-like hand piece on the end. It kills lice and nits by drying them out, not by heating them. It works in one 30-minute treatment. Comparatively, chemical treatments require multiple applications 1 to 2 weeks apart.
"This research has dramatically improved our understanding of these parasites and how to deal with them," said Juan Carlos Morales, a program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology. "The LouseBuster is an example of the important benefits to society that result from basic biological research."
Reporting shows that each year between 6 to 12 million Americans are infested with head lice, making children miss 12 to 24 million school days.
Overall, the best way to deal with head lice is to prevent them in the first place. We all know sharing is caring, but consider teaching kids not to share hats, coats, scarves or hair items, and ask where your child’s things will be stored at school or camps, making sure their items like hats and coats will not be touching other kids’. Also, check the school’s policy on dealing with lice to find out if lice information and outbreaks will be shared among parents and whether or not kids have to stay home if they have lice. You can also inspect your child’s hair and scalp, looking for tiny red bumps (lice bites) and white or yellow looking grains of sand (eggs), that may be signs of lice.
Lice are an itchy nuisance, but they don’t carry diseases and they aren’t indicative of being dirty or disregarding hygiene, they’re just another part of the human experience. So, remember; when it comes to hair, don’t share.