If you prefer not to use a medication for treating a head lice infestation, you may consider an alternative home treatment. There is little to no clinical evidence of the effectiveness of such treatments.
Combing wet hair with a fine-toothed nit comb may remove lice and some nits. Research is inconclusive on the effectiveness of this method.
The hair should be wet, and you should add something to lubricate the hair, such as a hair conditioner. Comb the entire head from scalp to end of the hair at least twice during a session. The process should be repeated every three to four days for several weeks — at least two weeks after no more lice are found.
Small clinical studies have suggested that some natural plant oils may have a toxic effect on lice and eggs. These products include:
- Tea tree oil
- Anise oil
- Ylang ylang oil
- Nerolidol, a chemical compound found in many plant oils
These products are not required to meet safety, efficacy and manufacturing standards used for drugs approved by the FDA.
A number of household products are used to treat head lice infestations. The reasoning is that these products deprive the lice and incubating eggs of air. The product is applied to the hair, covered with a shower cap and left on overnight. Products used for this purpose include:
- Olive oil
- Petroleum jelly
Dangerous products to avoid
Flammable products, such as kerosene or gasoline, should never be used to kill lice or to remove nits.
Lice usually don't live past one day without feeding from a scalp, and eggs do not survive if they aren't incubated at the temperature near the scalp. Therefore, the chance of lice surviving on household items is small.
As a precaution you may clean items that the affected person has used in the last two days. Cleaning recommendations include the following:
June 18, 2014
- Wash items in hot water. Wash bedding, stuffed animals and clothing in hot, soapy water — at least 130 F (54.4 C) — and dry at high heat.
- Clean hair care items. Clean combs, brushes and hair accessories in hot, soapy water.
- Seal items in plastic bags. Seal items that cannot be washed in plastic bags for two weeks.
- Vacuum. Give the floor and upholstered furniture a good vacuuming.
- American Academy of Pediatrics. Clinical report — Head lice. Pediatrics. 2010;126:392.
- Head lice: Frequently asked questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/gen_info/faqs.html. Accessed Jan. 29, 2014.
- Pickering LK, et al., eds. Red Book Online. 29th ed. Elk Grove Village, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2012. http://aapredbook.aappublications.org. Accessed Jan. 29, 2014.
- Takano-Lee M, et al. Home remedies to control head lice: Assessment of home remedies to control the human head louse, Pediculus humanus capitis. Journal of Pediatric Nursing. 2004;19:393.
- Di Campli E, et al. Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitology Research. 2012;111:1985.
- Gunning K, et al. Pediculosis and scabies: Treatment update. American Family Physician. 2012;86:535.
- Pollack RJ, et al. Overdiagnosis and consequent mismanagement of head louse infestations in North America. The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal. 2000;19:689.
- Goldstein AO, et al. Pediculosis capitis. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Jan. 29, 2014.
- Head lice: Diagnosis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/diagnosis.html. Accessed Feb. 3, 2014.
- Anise. Natural Medicine Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Jan. 29, 2014.
- Ylang ylang oil. Natural Medicine Comprehensive Database. http://www.naturaldatabase.com. Accessed Jan. 29, 2014.
- Mumcuoglu KY, et al. The in vivo pediculicidal efficacy of a natural remedy. The Israel Medical Association Journal. 2002;4:790.
- Hoecker, JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Jan. 31, 2014.
You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic
Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.