A child at my daughter's school has lice. Can head lice prevention products prevent my daughter from getting lice?
Answer From Dawn M. R. Davis, 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.
Small clinical studies have suggested that ingredients in some of these products — mostly plant oils such as tea tree, anise, ylang-ylang, eucalyptus and lemongrass — may work to repel lice, but their effectiveness is uncertain. Additionally, 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.
- Tell 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.
Dawn M. R. Davis, M.D.
April 21, 2020
Get the latest health advice from Mayo Clinic delivered
to your inbox.
Sign up for free, and stay up-to-date on research
advancements, health tips and current health topics,
like COVID-19, plus expert advice on managing your health.
ErrorEmail field is required
ErrorInclude a valid email address
To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information and to understand which
is beneficial, we may combine your e-mail and website usage information with other
information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic Patient,
this could include Protected Health Information (PHI). If we combine this information
with your PHI, we will treat all of that information as PHI,
and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy
practices. You may opt-out of e-mail communications
at any time by clicking on the Unsubscribe link in the e-mail.
Thank you for Subscribing
Our Housecall e-newsletter will keep you up-to-date
on the latest health information.
We’re sorry! Our system isn’t working. Please try again.
Something went wrong on our side, please try again.
See more Expert Answers
- Head lice. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/prevent.html. Accessed March 1, 2020.
- Alter SJ, et al. Common child and adolescent cutaneous infestations and fungal infections. Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care. 2018; doi:10.1016/j.cppeds.2017.11.001.
- Bennet JE, et al. Lice (pediculosis). In: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Elsevier; 2020. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed March 3, 2020.
- Treating and preventing head lice. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/treating-and-preventing-head-lice. Accessed March 3, 2020.
- Imboden A. Effective treatments for head lice. The Nurse Practitioner. 2019; doi:10.1097/01.NPR.0000574668.19239.db.
- Amanzougaghene N, et al. Where are we with human lice? A review of the current state of knowledge. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. 2020; doi:10.3389/fcimb.2019.00474.
- AskMayoExpert. Lice. Mayo Clinic. 2019.
- Goldstein AO, et al. Pediculosis capitis. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/search. Accessed March 3, 2020.
- Gunning K, et al. Lice and scabies: Treatment update. American Family Physician. 2019; https://www.aafp.org/afp/2019/0515/p635.html. Accessed March 3, 2020.
- Head lice: Treatment frequently asked questions. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/gen_info/faqs_treat.html. Accessed March 17, 2020.