NOW that children are settled back into a new school year, parents and guardians are preparing to combat an age-old foe – the much-dreaded lice and nits.
These tiny pests cause havoc in classrooms and homes, with many adults thinking that the best way to tackle them is by using over-the-counter medicinal treatments.
However, these products contain insecticides and lice are reportedly becoming increasingly resistant to many of them. Also, getting rid of lice and nits once does not stop children from coming into contact with them again through classmates, so it can be handy to know how to make your family louse and nit-free using products you already have in your bathroom and kitchen.
What are lice and nits?
If you haven’t been unlucky enough to see one, then a louse is a tiny near-transparent insect, while louse eggs or nits are a bit like poppy seeds that are attached to the hair with a concrete-like substance. Lice are prolific breeders, and once they start laying their eggs it won’t be long before you see your child scratching their head, so it’s always worth keeping an eye out for them when brushing or washing hair, if you don’t do regular checks.
Encounters of the lice kind
Two winters ago, our family had its first encounter with lice and I’m embarrassed to say it took me a while to realise it. I then almost terrified myself senseless by Googling the subject and reading about how bad infestations can become and how harsh chemical treatments can be. Think about the movie ET and the scientists in their plastic get-up and you’ll know what was going through my mind!
If you decide to go down the ‘kitchen cupboard’ route, then you’ll need to invest in a couple of items first – several cheap plastic shower caps (available in many discount shops) and a nit comb, which has the kind of tightly-spaced teeth that trap lice – you can get them in metal or plastic from your local chemist or you can go online to get an electric type. They work best on short or medium length hair. For very long hair it can be most effective to divide it into sections with bands and then manually remove bugs and eggs.
Other handy items that we’ve used include olive oil, coconut oil, tea tree oil, Listerine and apple cider vinegar.
Home remedies for tackling lice and nits
Lots of people use olive oil to tackle lice, because while it may not necessarily smother all the insects it will slow them right down, making them easier to find. Just cover the hair with oil, massage it in thoroughly, then pop on a shower cap for at least a few hours or preferably overnight. When you’re ready, go through the hair with your comb or fingers to locate the lice. Kill them by crushing them between your thumb nails. Vaseline and mayonnaise are also commonly used for their smothering effect (same method).
Lice are said to absolutely hate the smell of coconut oil, so what better way to inflict mayhem on the little blighters than by using it the same way you might use the olive oil. After you have annihilated all the lice, you can continue to use shampoos and conditioners containing coconut oil to tackle young lice that hatch from nits you’ve missed and to prevent re-infestation. And of course, the advantage of coconut oil is that it smells heavenly.
Tea Tree Oil
Tea tree oil is an old favourite, because again, lice don’t like the smell. You can pop a few drops into your usual shampoos and conditioners or just buy ordinary hair products containing the oil to act as preventatives. If you can find a product that contains both tea tree oil and peppermint (also hated by lice) that is gentle enough to be used frequently then you are onto a real winner!
Lice attach their eggs to the hair shaft using a concrete-type glue that makes it pretty hard to remove nits. However, if you don’t mind reeking like a dentist’s office, the alcohol in Listerine can help soften that hard substance, making removal easier. Again, cover the hair in Listerine and wear a shower cap for a couple of hours. However, I’d suggest using this method with caution as some people’s skin may react to the Listerine.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Just like Listerine, apple cider vinegar dissolves the concrete, making it much easier to remove nits from the hair. Same method, same result but with a different whiffy smell!
I would suggest continuing whichever treatment you decide to use every few days for at least a fortnight (also put bed sheets, pillow cases and towels through a hot wash and the tumble dryer). Don’t panic about quarantining the entire house – lice feed on human blood and only live for about 24 hours if they aren’t on a person.
Long-term Solutions for lice and nits
You should consider using a shampoo/conditioner containing tea tree oil or coconut oil (read the ingredients to make sure it’s the actual oil) on a frequent basis. We also make sure that our girls’ hair is tied in plaits or buns for school and zap their heads with Anovia Head On spray before racing off to catch the school bus every morning.
If you have any louse/nit solutions or concoctions that you’ve discovered I’d love to hear about them, so please get in touch via my blog, and you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.