A child at my daughter's school has lice. Can head lice prevention products prevent my daughter from getting lice?
Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.
There are proven remedies to treat lice, but some over-the-counter products claim to actually repel them. More scientific research is needed to prove the safety and efficacy of these products.
A number of small studies have shown that ingredients in some of these products — mostly plant oils such as rosemary, citronella, eucalyptus, tea tree and lemon grass — may work to repel lice. However, these products are classified as "natural," so they aren't regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and they haven't been tested to FDA standards.
Because instructions for using these products aren't regulated either, it may not be clear how to use them safely. In fact, some products may:
- Be flammable
- Irritate the lungs if fumes are inhaled
- Be toxic or irritate skin
Head lice prevention products can also be more expensive than typical hair care products, and they need to be used repeatedly to maintain their protective effects. Without a guarantee that the product will work, the cost may outweigh the benefits, especially if you're treating more than one person.
Until more research proves the effectiveness of head lice prevention products, you can take simple measures to minimize your child's risk of getting lice:
- Ask your child to avoid head-to-head contact with classmates during play and other activities.
- Instruct your child not to share personal belongings such as hats, scarves, coats, combs, brushes, hair accessories and headphones.
- Instruct your child to avoid shared spaces where hats and clothing from more than one student are hung on a common hook or kept in a locker.
April 10, 2015
- Parasites: Lice: Head lice. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/prevent.html. Accessed March 24, 2015.
- Burgess IF, et al. Can head louse repellents really work? Field studies of piperonal 2% spray. PeerJ. 2014;2:e351. https://peerj.com/articles/351/#intro. Accessed March 24, 2015.
- Greive KA, et al. In vitro comparison of four treatments which discourage infestation by head lice. Parasitology Research. 2012;110:1695.
- Semmler M, et al. Why is it crucial to test anti-lice repellents? Parasitology Research. 2012;110:273.
- Frankowski BL, et al. Head lice. Pediatrics. 2010;126:392.