Warning! This blog post may make your head start to itch uncontrollably!
It's lice season! I was fortunate to never have lice as a child and I consider my family to be quite healthy so I was surprised and frankly quite grossed out when I found the little parasites on my youngest daughter's head. I'm a firm believer in the benefits of co-sleeping as well, which means the whole family needed to be treated. Yuck!
The most important thing to do when you have discovered head lice is to contact anyone that you or your children may have had direct head-to-head contact with. Lice are more commonly found on girls because they are more likely to share brushes and hair accessories as well as play in closer contact. They also prefer children to adults. Contrary to what you may read on the internet, lice don't jump from head to head. Though they can crawl quite quickly as long as they have hair to grasp onto. By warning your neighbors and friends the infestation can quickly be controlled and you can avoid the risk of having your children contract it again.
There is a lot of interesting information out there about pediculosis (lice infestation) and a lot of it is not true. Lice infect 6-12 million people every year, they are found equally in all socioeconomic groups, and they are easy to eradicate as long as you can disrupt their life cycle patterns.
Head lice (distinct from body lice or crab lice) prefer the hair on your head and so will generally stay put although they can be left on pillows, bedding, and hair accessories. These items are easy to treat as 140 degree F. water kills both the lice and eggs. Items that cannot be washed should be set aside in plastic bags for up to three weeks. This is the longest possible period that an egg can survive. At warmer body temperatures it typically takes 7-10 days for lice to hatch from the tiny eggs that are literally glued to the hair shaft. These eggs look very similar to dandruff but do not flake off as dandruff does. Once hatched, the tiny nymphs must feed on human blood within 24 hours and as adults they cannot survive more than 48 hours away from their human hosts. Don't worry about your pets, they cannot live off of them. It takes three weeks for lice to develop to maturity and a female will lay 50-150 eggs in their lifespan of about 30 days.
Once you are familiar with the life cycle pattern it is easy to control an infestation without using toxic chemicals but you do need to be diligent. From my own unfortunate experience, here is my advice on dealing with head lice naturally.
1. Get a lice comb - These are easy to find in most big box stores and pharmacies. You can't get rid of them without it! While most internet sources tell you to comb out all the nits (eggs) I find that the comb is very effective on removing nymphs and adults but most of the eggs stay glued firmly to the hair shafts. That is why I recommend going through several treatments a few days apart to catch any lice that have hatched from the egg stage but are not yet mature enough to lay their own eggs. Make sure you comb through every inch of hair thoroughly parting it into smaller sections if necessary. My oldest daughter has waist length hair so this part is essential!
2. Rub olive oil or coconut oil all over the hair - Many internet sources suggest using mayonnaise to "smother" the lice which is ridiculous, expensive, and would smell terrible. Using oil however does make the hair much easier to comb through and makes it more difficult for the lice to hold onto the hair.
3. Wash hair and rinse with apple cider vinegar and essential oils - At Elder & Sage, we have come up with a specific blend of essential oils that lice particularly dislike. When mixed with apple cider vinegar and left on the hair this makes any future infestations much more unlikely.
4. Repeat treatment every 3-5 days for 2-3 weeks - This should drastically reduce the number of lice with the first treatment and eliminate them completely by the second or third week. Because you are combing out all of the hatched lice, there will not be any left to mature and lay more eggs.
5. Vacuum carpets. Wash sheets, blankets, pillowcases and clothing worn within the 3 days prior to treatment.
6. Take a deep sigh of relief and try to stop reflexively scratching your head. You can go on with your life now.
Kathryn Doran-Fisher is a Traditional Naturopath, Certified GAPS Practitioner and owner of Elder & Sage.