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
One laboratory study found that of these products, only petroleum jelly was effective in killing a significant number of lice. There is little clinical evidence of the effectiveness of such treatments, and it is unclear whether reported effects are the result of the product or of the multiple washing and combing required for removing the oily products from the hair.
The Lice Clinics of America uses a Food and Drug Administration-cleared machine that uses one application of hot air in an attempt to kill head lice and their eggs through dehydration. The machine requires special training and is currently available only at professional lice treatment centers.
The machine uses air that is cooler than most hair dryers and at a much higher flow rate to kill the lice by drying them out. A regular hair dryer should not be used to accomplish this result as it's too hot and could burn the scalp.
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 previous two days. Cleaning recommendations include the following:
- 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.
It's difficult to prevent the spread of head lice among children in child care facilities and schools because there is so much close contact. And the chance of indirect transmission from personal items is slight.
However, it is generally a good practice for children to hang their garments on a separate hook from other children's garments and not to share combs, brushes, hats and scarves. A worry about head lice transmission is not considered a good reason to avoid sharing protective headgear for sports and bicycling when sharing is necessary.