What are head lice?
Head lice are tiny pests with the scientific name Pediculus humanus capitis (1).
They thrive in the warm environment of human scalp, using blood in the scalp and breed without abandon.
They easily spread from one person to another. A female louse lays eggs called nits that are attached to the strands of hair. Nits hatch after about a week or so, grow into adults within a week, feed for a while and breed further.
They are mostly harmless, but they are difficult to get rid of and can live in hair for a long time.
This is how a head lice looks like.
Enlarged head lice
Head lice may cause itching, frustration, and discomfort.
Their appearance is quite embarrassing in social situations. This article will look into some basics for this common problem followed by different ways of olive oil use as a remedy for head lice.
Signs and symptoms of head lice
The main symptoms of lice include (2):
- Severe itching.
- Ticklish feeling when head lice move among hair strands.
- Lice on your body, clothing, scalp or pubic or other body hair. Adult lice are usually about the size of sesame seeds or a bit larger.
- The presence of nits on hair shafts. Nits look a lot like dandruff, but unlike dandruff, they can't be easily combed out of hair.
- Small red bumps on the neck, scalp and shoulders. Bumps may become crusty and ooze.
- On close inspection, the appearance of hair lice on scalp and hair.
What risk factors make you prone to have head lice?
You can get head lice if:
- You are in close contact with a person infested with head lice.
- You share the bedding or clothing of someone who has lice.
- You share towels, hats, scarves, brushes, or combs of a person who has lice.
- Having head lice may cause severe itching, but does not lead to grave medical issues. Unlike body pests, head lice never carry or spread diseases.
Having head lice does not imply that the person does not maintain adequate hygiene measures or holds low social status.
What exams and tests are used to diagnose/confirm head lice?
Head lice are difficult to see. You need to examine hair and scalp closely. Wear disposable gloves and examine the person's head and hair under a bright light.
Full sunlight or the best lights in your house during daylight hours work effectively. A magnifying glass can help examine them better.
To look for head lice:
- Make small sections or partitions of hair for the examination.
- Examine hair and the scalp for full grown lice on the move or their eggs (nits).
- Examine the whole head in the same manner.
- Look carefully at the top of the neck and ears (the most common spots for nits).
- Both adults and children should be treated right away if any lice or their eggs are spotted.
Overview of olive oil use as a natural remedy for lice
When you find out that you or your child has head lice, your treatment options are conventional over the counter lice treatment medicines, lotions and several natural or home remedies (3).
Head lice can cause many people to resort to chemical therapy options, but you don’t have to. There are a lot of strange remedies people try out in order to get rid of head lice (kerosene or mayonnaise).
The most frequently used over the counter therapeutic products is pediculicide containing shampoo, which doctors say is non-toxic but it can still dry out your hair.
Other anti-lice remedies contain the substances permethrin, malathion or pyrethrin (4).
Even though pyrethrin and permethrin are obtained from natural chrysanthemum flowers, its use should be avoided in children for safety reasons.
Besides, head lice are developing resistance to these chemical, toxic products (5, 6).
Getting rid of head lice by natural remedies takes patience and time but it is more effective than chemicals.
If your child just returned from a sleepover with friends and a parent tells you that one of the kids has lice, there’s no need for alarm.
While lice spread easily from person to person, they don’t carry disease, and their occurrence in hair does not mean that you or your child does no maintain proper hygiene standards.
Almost all home remedies rely on some method to suffocate the lice. Olive oil is great at killing lice by smothering them. It does not have any side effects, in fact, it moisturizes your hair.
Among natural home treatment options olive oil is one of the most helpful and simple ways to get rid of these troublesome parasites.
Why olive oil?
Olive oil has exceptional therapeutic properties. In fact, all parts of the olive tree have fascinating properties for medical use. People in ancient Greece used olive oil as a balm to relieve body aches, ulcers, hives and even diseases like cholera. It has also been used as acne remedy.
The leaves of the olive tree were used as a base, purifying and astringent, as well as medicines prepared from olive leaves and olive oil to treat all kinds of inflammatory disorders. Moreover, the bark, the flowers, and the ash of the olive tree were used in many medicinal preparations.
To be fair there are very few studies confirming efficacy of vegetable oils (including olive oil) in treatment of head lice (7, 8).
The Harvard School of Public Health discovered that lice sunken in olive oil for two hours died of asphyxiation.
Other research has shown that it takes more than six hours to smother the lice with a substance such as olive oil.
The effectiveness of olive oil when it comes to head lice is explained by the fact that by covering the skin of head lice, it deprives them of oxygen. After a while, they can no longer breathe and die.
Some people claim that olive oil helped them get rid of head lice using the methods and recipes described below.
However as there are no studies confirming efficacy and safety of olive oil for treatment of head lice you should always use this remedy with caution and with prior consent of your physician.
Olive oil treatment for nits
The head lice olive oil treatment option has not been tried out on nits, which are the eggs laid by full grown head lice. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health did only prove the effectiveness of olive oil against lice, not their eggs. So, it is likely that olive oil is not as useful against nits as it is against adult lice.
However, there is a very useful natural head lice remedy that you can use to dislodge the nits from the hair strands, it is vinegar. You can use vinegar and olive oil together for maximum benefits. It is then much easier to comb the nits out, which remains a vital step in the process of head lice treatment.
Olive oil may be used as a natural remedy for head lice
Olive oil is also used with essential oils to treat head lice. Essential oils are volatile oils, very aromatic, extracted through steam distillation of flavoring plants.
Some popular olive oil based home remedies for olive oil are given below:
Different methods for using olive oil to deal with lice
Following are some of the methods along with details instructions on how to use olive oil for treating head lice.
Method #1 - Olive oil head massage
You’ll need to cover the scalp completely with the oil and you’ll need to leave it on the hair for an adequate amount of time.
The time required to kill the lice varies from person to person and no scientific study could determine a time that would work for each and every person; a minimum of six to eight hours is often suggested.
Then, wash the hair well and comb them out to rid the hair of dead lice. The next step is to examine the scalp for lice again and repeat the method if needed.
Things you will require:
- Olive oil
- Paper towels
- A thick shower cap or a clean towel
- A large garbage disposal bag
- Plastic sheet (if required)
- Metal comb designed specifically for lice removal
- Dish washing liquid
- Hair dryer
- Make sure that the problem you or your child is suffering from is an active head lice infestation. Other scalp conditions, such as the extremely dry scalp, have similar symptoms as a head lice infestation. Your child’s nanny or your dermatologist can quickly identify head lice. A close examination of the head for nits or lice eggs, present near the hair roots is another way to diagnose a lice infestation.
- Use a good shampoo to remove any hair conditioner or hair product residue. The leftover residue of hair products acts as a barrier against the potency of olive oil to combat lice. That cuts down on the efficacy of the smothering effect of olive oil.
- Place a plastic sheet on the floor under a chair or sit in the bathtub to apply the oil. This keeps your living area free from escaping lice.
- Slather all your hair with olive oil. Cover the scalp completely and coat the hair roots close to the scalp.
- Place a shower cap, towel or elastic bowl cover on your head. Make sure all the loose hair on your neck and strands near ears are tightly enclosed in the shower cap.
- Wait for a couple of hours for the oil to kill the lice. Some health officials recommend wrapping a bandanna over the shower cap to prevent the lice from escaping. The health officials also suggest leaving the shower cap on for about six to eight hours for treating severe infestations of lice.
- Blot your hair with disposable paper towels to remove any extra water. Dump the paper towels quickly and carefully into the garbage bag to avoid escaping lice or falling nits.
- Comb out the lice and eggs with a fine tooth metal comb. Flush them down the sink with water, or use paper towels to clean the comb. Throw the paper towels into the trash bag at once. Lice eggs have teardrop shapes and are beige, white or brown in color. Continue combing your hair until the hair is completely free from lice and eggs.
- Wash your hair with dishwashing liquid and then properly wash it with cool water. Repeat the rinsing and washing process a second time.
- Divide your hair into even sections and dry each partition for thirty seconds with the dryer set on medium heat. Dry close to the scalp to abolish any lice eggs.
You should know that this treatment, just like any other natural home remedy for lice, does not eliminate the lice completely in the first go. So, you might still have some lice and nits present on your head after applying the oil and combing.
You have to be patient and give this remedy some time. Unless you regularly apply it at least twice every week, getting rid of lice is very difficult. Olive oil can help you get rid of adult lice by suffocating them.
Method #2 - Olive oil and essential oils mix massage
A lot of essential oils have been known to be effective against head lice when used along with combing.
A home remedy for lice containing both olive oil and other essential oil can work wonders as essential oils have excellent insecticidal and antiseptic properties.
Before you apply any essential oil to your child’s head, put a small drop on the back of his hand.
Although it’s a rare instance, some children may have allergic response and skin irritation to these oils, especially tea tree oil.
If you or your child is allergic to that oil, try another one.
Essential oils that are effective against lice include:
- Tea tree oil
- Red thyme oil
- Neem oil
- Cinnamon leaf oil
- Nutmeg oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Clove oil
- Lavender oil
- Aniseed oil
- Peppermint oil
The essential oils most popularly used in anti- lice remedies are lavender oil, tea tree oil, and eucalyptus oil.
You will need:
- Two ounces of olive oil
- Fifteen to twenty drops of tea tree oil, lavender oil, etc.
- Cotton balls
- A shower cap or towel
- Anti-lice shampoo
- Prepare an oil mixture using two ounces of olive oil with 15 to 20 drops of anti- lice essential oil.
- Apply this oil mixture to the scalp with clean cotton balls.
- Leave this mixture on the scalp and hair for the whole night, or at least twelve hours.
- You can also mix the 15 to 20 drops of essential oil and olive oil in 4 ounces of rubbing alcohol.
- Pour the mixture into a spray bottle and spray it all over the hair, leaving in for 12 hours.
- Then wash it off with an anti-lice shampoo.
Method #3 - Olive oil, coconut oil and vinegar mix
Olive oil acts against lice by suffocating the adult bugs.
Olive oil can be used to deal with head lice
It can be applied to the scalp without worrying about toxicity or side effects, and it works on lice that are resistant and unresponsive to repeated chemical therapeutic options.
You will need:
- Olive oil
- Coconut oil: This oil also asphyxiates the lice and hinders their movement and ability to lay eggs.
- White vinegar or apple cider vinegar: The vinegar dissolves the adhesive, sticky substance that the eggs use to cling to the hair.
- A fine tooth metal comb: To properly eradicate the lice and the nits.
- A shower cap with snug elastic or a towel
- Hair pins or masking tapes: To fasten the shower cap completely closed.
- Shampoo: An anti- lice shampoo specially made for the prevention and treatment of lice is best. Most of them out there are harsh, but try finding a mild one that will not dry out your hair.
- Towels: Use these to shield clothing from oil stains.
- Mix equal quantities of olive oil and coconut oil in a bowl.
- Apply the olive oil and coconut oil mixture generously onto the scalp and hair of your child. Place a shower cap on his/her head and use a bit of masking tape to keep the shower cap closed tightly. Then, set a timer for forty- five minutes and spend the time reading out books to your child, coloring and solving puzzles.
- After forty-five minutes, comb out his hair and pick out any dead lice.
- Wash hair with warm water and a bit of dishwashing liquid.
- Repeat first step but instead of oil now use vinegar. Wait for about sixty minutes.
- Make sections and comb hair out very carefully to eliminate any eggs then rinse hair again, this time, use a nice anti- lice shampoo, to get rid of the vinegar smell.
- Repeat this remedy at least twice a week until lice and nits are eliminated completely.
Method #4 - Tea tree oil and olive oil mix
Tea tree essential oil is a natural pesticide, making it an excellent remedy for eliminating head lice.
You will need:
- A teaspoon of tea tree oil
- An ounce of natural shampoo
- Three tablespoons of olive oil
- Prepare an oil mixture with a teaspoon of tea tree oil, an ounce of natural shampoo and three tablespoons of olive oil.
- Massage the oil solution gently through your hair and cover your head with a shower cap or clean towel afterward. Leave your head for about thirty minutes and then wash thoroughly with hot water and shampoo.
- Finally, comb your hair properly with a lice comb while it is still wet to remove the dead lice.
Note: Do not apply tea tree oil directly to the scalp without diluting as it is very strong and may cause irritation in undiluted form.
Method #5 - Sesame seed oil and olive oil mix
Having potent antibacterial, antiseptic and natural insecticide properties, sesame seed oil is an effective remedy for eliminating lice especially when used with olive oil.
You will need:
- One-fourth cup of sesame seed oil
- One-eighth cup of olive oil
- One teaspoon of tea tree oil
- Ten drops of lavender essential oil
- Half a teaspoon of eucalyptus and rosemary oil
- Apple cider vinegar
- Mix together one-eighth cup of olive oil, one-fourth cup of sesame seed oil, a teaspoon of tea tree oil, half a teaspoon each of eucalyptus and rosemary essential oils, and nearly ten drops of lavender essential oil.
- Rinse your hair with apple cider vinegar and allow it to dry.
- Massage the oil solution onto your hair and scalp before going to bed, cover your head with a shower cap or towel and leave it on overnight.
- In the morning, comb your hair carefully to remove the dead lice. Then shampoo as usual.
- Repeat this remedy every day for one or two weeks.
Method #6 - Vinegar wash followed by olive oil massage
If you are trying to get rid of the stubborn lice eggs or nits then vinegar is your friend. The acetic acid present in vinegar acts to dissolve the sticky substance with which the nits are attached to the hair shafts. So after this glue gets dissolved the lice eggs will have nothing to stick to the hair. And they can be removed without any difficulty.
You will require:
- Olive oil
- Comb for lice
- Take some vinegar and one part water.
- Pour this vinegar solution mixture all over your hair and let it sit for about ten to fifteen minutes.
- Wash it off with warm water. Then comb your hair with a fine - toothed lice comb.
- Massage olive oil onto your hair before combing - this will make combing easier and will also eliminate the lice.
- Repeat this remedy every two days or until you don’t see any more lice or their eggs.
Note: Take extra care that vinegar does not enter your eyes, as it can sting badly.
You will need:
- Half a cup of olive oil
- Half cup of conditioner
- Liquid soap or shampoo
- Combine olive oil and conditioner with liquid soap.
- Apply this mixture to your scalp.
- Leave it on for about an hour.
- Wash hair with shampoo and conditioner.
- After that, rinse hair with vinegar.
- Comb your hair with a lice comb to remove dead lice.
- Repeat this remedy every week for best results.
Method #7 - Using a comb dipped in olive oil
Some medical experts say that in every natural anti lice remedy the real hero is the comb as it does most of the work.
It is the most important weapon in your arsenal in the fight against lice.
The asphyxiating effect of agents like olive oil just stuns the lice momentarily and makes them sluggish and easier to catch on the comb.
You will need:
- Olive oil in a bowl
- A metal comb that does not go too harsh on your hair
- A pair of gloves
- A towel
- Dip a metal comb in olive oil for 5-10 minutes so that it gets completely soaked in the oil.
- In the meantime, wash your hair with a neutral shampoo so that you can wash off any dirt. Dry off your hair afterward.
- Now, put on gloves and cover your shoulders and other parts with a towel.
- Now, get the comb out of the olive oil dip and run it through your hair.
- Wash it off with water or a paper towel after a couple of rounds and dip in the oil again.
- Keep repeating the process till you’ve completely cleared all your scalp.
Whatever remedy you use, combing is the real hero!
Whatever remedy you might use, combing remains most important. All natural remedies are just adjuvants to the combing practice.
Cover the hair completely with a mixture of olive and almond oil. Vaseline and mayonnaise should be avoided. They are pointlessly messy, smelly and can be difficult to wash out from your hair.
Tips to effectively comb the hair to eliminate lice
- Make partitions and separate your hair into small sections, using a banana clip to move them out of the way.
- Work under a good light or bright sunlight so you can see what you’re doing.
- Wash out the comb often under running hot water as you use it.
- After you have completely combed out your child’s hair and eliminated as many lice as possible, use an anti -lice shampoo, rinse hair, and repeat.
- Make sure you properly wash all the towels used in hot water and clean out the lice comb.
- Go the extra mile and sanitize it by washing it with hot water.
- You can also soak the comb in a 2 percent Lysol solution or 4% bleach solution for half an hour and then rinse very well. You can also soak the comb in vinegar for half an hour or so or boil it in water for fifteen minutes. Follow this procedure regularly for a week. Then, for the next couple of weeks, comb through your child’s hair before bed to make sure the lice are eliminated.
Follow up & prevention
Check your hair periodically
You are advised to constantly examine and check your hair daily for at least a week after treatment and possibly repeating the process if any cases of lice in your kid’s school, your social circle and community come forward.
Take preventive measures
Take preventive measures at school and at home to prevent the return of lice and nits.
Leave clothing in the cold
In the winter season leave hats, coats and scarves in the car overnight; the freezing cold temperature will kill any stray lice.
Use lice prevention spray
Squirt some lice prevention spray on the heads of your children as they walk out the door to play in the park or go for swimming lessons.
Be vigilant once you get lice
Examine your head for lice every evening until the infestation seems to have been abolished entirely.
Treat the infected area of house as well
Treat the infected house environment by vacuuming carpet, cleaning clothing and bedding items. Soft toys can be put in bags for three weeks or placed in the dryer for twenty minutes.
Clean out combs and brushes
Clean out all of the combs and brushes of the person having lice at home, by either putting washing them in a dishwasher or soaking them for fifteen minutes in isopropyl alcohol.
Dispose off infective clothes
It is better to throw away all clothing that lice might have sought asylum in.
Heat the infected household items
Heat your sheets, pillowcases, blankets, comforters, quilts and bedspreads in the dryer for about fifteen minutes and then you can put them back on the bed.
What is the outlook (prognosis)?
In most cases, lice can be eliminated with the proper treatment. However, lice can return if you do not treat them properly.
What are the possible complications?
Head lice cause discomfort but not any serious medical issues. Some people may develop a skin infection due to intense scratching. Antihistamines can help relieve the itching.
When to contact a medical professional?
Call your health care provider if:
- You still have symptoms after receiving treatment at home.
- You develop areas of crusty, red, tender skin, which could be the sign of an infection.
Things to remember
Avoid sharing of items: Never share combs, hair brushes, hair accessories, hats, scarves, bedding items, towels, or clothes with someone who has head lice.
Ensure good hygiene: If your kid has lice, be sure to check hygiene policies at daycare and schools. Many schools do not allow lice infected children to attend school until the lice have been entirely treated.
Some schools may have cleanliness and hygiene policies to make certain the school environment is clear of lice. Cleaning of carpets, rugs, and other surfaces often helps prevent the spread of all types of pests, including head lice.
Cleaning your home
There is no need to spray dangerous and toxic insecticides around your home. Lice cannot stay alive for more than a couple of days off your head. The following measures can be used to abolish lice on different items:
- Wash garments and bedding items in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit or more) and dry on high heat in a dryer.
- Dry clean your bedding and clothes.
- Seal lice infested bedding, clothes and plush toys in a plastic bag and throw them away.
- Soak hair brushes, combs, clips, and your hair accessories in hot water (130 degrees Fahrenheit) for about five to ten minutes.
- Vacuum floors, carpets and upholstered furniture