Scroll down for tips on prevention, inspection, treatment & follow up. (Share your own success in the comment section below.)
I thought we were hosting my sister and her new baby for Thanksgiving, but instead my son came home from school with… LICE! Our relatives checked into a hotel and we spent the holiday week giving thanks while picking, oiling and avoiding physical contact with loved ones. “Can I hug today?” my son asked each morning.
I’ve been terrified of lice for decades. I first read about them in The Thornbirds when little Maggie’s head was shaved; and later trembled as a teacher when my students lined up in front of the school nurse. But even when lice infested children sat beside me or when I had my own children, and we were all exposed–visiting company, best friends, classroom trips–we remained safe. Apparently, lice is not so easy to catch.
Still, I enacted my own preventative regime (see below) which was part science/part lucky charm. As the years passed, however, I grew laxed. My son grew his hair. His class grew infested.
He had been scratching for more than a week when something unidentifiable fell off my own head. “What is this?” I asked my husband. Neither of us could tell, but later that same day something else fell out, and I jumped into action.
When my son arrived home from school, I made him stop on porch so that I could examine him in the bright afternoon light. “I don’t have it, Mom,” he insisted, “They’ve already checked me at school.” He had been repeating this line for weeks and I had wanted to believe that his scalp was dry from the wood stove, but now I wasn’t giving up… until I found… something.
I searched and searched and searched until I spotted what might have been nits at the back of his head (those tiny, translucent, sesame-seed-sized eggs, attached to one side of hair shaft, like a cocoon, with an adhesive as strong as super-glue; See video below #1); but I couldn’t be sure. His hair was dirty-blonde, iridescent-ly so, which made identification almost impossible.
“Let’s go up to the bathroom,” I said, “and bring the standing lamp from the living room.” Under bright lights, I searched the same section of hair and thought I saw something moving. Twice? Three times?
We returned downstairs to search the internet for what to do next and found some fantastic resources which quickly transformed us into private investigators/scientists (instead of panicked victims.)
We returned to the bathroom armed with information and began the process of combing (see video below #2.) What I discovered? His head was a FACTORY. Dozens and dozens and dozens of live lice were virtually invisible moments before. (I’m itching just thinking about it. Aren’t you?)
After our initial outrage and disgust, we were curious. How were the lice able to set up such an impressive, covert operation? And why hadn’t my husband been infested given that he lays down with my son each night?
I decided not follow our school’s protocol for treatment given that they had failed to find or prevent lice from spreading (which probably had more to do with individual families and their ability to continue with the rigorous follow-up required. See video under #3). Instead I reached out to other families who had successfully treated (and prevented the return of lice), and I pieced together my own rigorous plan.
For obvious reasons, I chose not to use “pesticides” on my son’s scalp; particularly given the fact that reports indicate that lice have not only grown immune to them, but have evolved into “super-lice” in response to the chemicals. (See video under #3.)
In my exhaustive research to be sure we would eliminate lice from our home as safely and quickly as possible, I found the best of the best on the web.
In compassion for other families (and in the hope that you do not spread it to us again , I have compiled those resources and our own protocol here:
This video, from the excellent resource, Head Lice to Dead Lice, helps orient the family to what is in store–with a much needed sense of humor.
Part II of the video with the 5 Step Plan (Video under #3 below) is helpful for making sure you don’t re-infest your household after the initial removal.
This video from, The Hair Fairy, lends the whole picking process a doable, matter-of-fact-ness, instead of our own earth-shattering doom. We relied on their thorough combing process (with a nit comb and hair conditioner) during our first treatment and thereafter. I will use this again if ever I suspect head lice in the family. It’s how we found ours and it’s how we continued to ensure that we didn’t re-infest.
#3 Follow Up
Though lice can happen to anyone, it’s up to us to make sure we don’t re-infest our own households by not following through with the necessary treatment. This 5 Step Plan from Head Lice to Dead Lice takes you through the steps from treatment through follow-up–including letting others know. (Note: We chose olive oil and essential oils over pesticide– with successful results on an infested head.)
#4 Our Own Lice Treatment Plan
Here’s what we did from start to finish over a three-week period.
1) CHECKING: Checked head in natural light for nits, then under bright lights with a magnifying glass.
2) COMBING: Applied AMPLE conditioner (ours was tea tree) and used the combing process (See Video under #2) until we found: NOTHING. That first night this took many hours. We added conditioner as needed. Wiped bugs onto tissues and disposed of them. Washed the comb in hot, soapy water before successive comb-throughs and had our son repeat the process in the shower–using tea tree shampoo and conditioner (since we weren’t using the pesticide); and then did the combing process all over again; this time carefully searching each section of hair for any remaining nits (See Video #2.) Lastly we used a vinegar rinse (diluted) to help dislodge nits before combing again.
3) OIL: We doused our son’s hair in olive oil and applied diluted essential oils (eg. tea tree, lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus) before covering it with a shower cap and securing it with a t-shirt or bandana.
a. We vacuumed the entire house with special attention to beds, couches, chairs etc.b. We changed all the bed sheets and washed dirty ones in hot water along with any clothing worn recently.
c. We bagged up things we couldn’t wash: stuffed animals, decorative pillows, fancy coats, hats, scarves or we put them in the dryer for 20 minutes on high. (It was freezing outside that week, so we put all the bags on the porch.)
d. We covered the couch with a new sheet each day.
e. We repeated the vacuuming and washing/drying daily until there was no sign of lice/nits in the house.
f. The infested persons avoided bodily contact with others and with couches etc; and also wore a bandana until there was no sign of lice/nits on their head for 24 hours +.
5.) FAMILY: The entire family oiled up that first night and then every 4 nights after for 3 weeks (as per the 5 Step Treatment Plan–video #3), including checking/combing in the morning before the oil was washed out.
This is our family’s time-tested protocol for lice prevention (Note: If we had followed our own protocol during the recent lice epidemic at school we would not have spent Thanksgiving dealing with them!):
1) Coats, hats, scarves into dryer after school
2) Head blow dried after school
3) Hair gel/essential oils (diluted) applied to hair in the morning before school as a deterrent
EXTRA PROTECTION 4) *If it’s a particularly bad school infestation, we apply the olive oil overnight treatment and use a nit comb in the morning to check with a magnifying glass. (No matter what the result, our hair appreciates the conditioning.)
*Note: we also keep tea tree shampoo and conditioner (and other strong essential oils) on hand to use once a week or more regularly when lice is active in the school.
See video under #3 above for more prevention tips.