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Friday, March 16, 2012

Pediculosis capitis – say what now?


Headlice are ‘orrible. They are the bane of any parents with children who engage in social activities. They are very small parasitic wingless insects that live on the scalp of human beings. They have six legs, each with strong claws to hold tightly to the hair or scalp and range from near transparent white to dark brown. Head lice lay eggs called Nits.  The Nit eggs are yellowish white and oval-shaped.  Nits are attached to the shafts of the hair close to the scalp so they are kept warm in order to incubate. Ewwww. The eggs of head lice hatch in about 7-10 days. The egg-to-egg cycle is about 3-4 weeks. The eggs are resistant to most treatments and cannot be washed out – you can see what we are up against. 

Headlice, not the next great toy


Treating once will only kill the live nits and because they transfer effectively from head to head contact, clothing and linen, a deep infestation can be almost impossible to clear.

A little note came up at preschool a few weeks ago, ‘WARNING WE HAVE NITS’ and they even helpfully put up a laminated example of a real nit and a real louse.  I instantly got the heeby jeebies. I felt itchy right away but couldn’t itch myself for fear of looking like a lice infested hobo. My head had been itchy anyway due to the 3 month post partum moult but now with every itch I imagined a horde of shiny little bodies crawling over my head. Every night I badgered my husband to check me for lice and I have been watching my son like a hawk to see if he itches.
With lice, prevention is always ALWAYS better than cure, but before you assume all the louse ridden children are poor, undernourished and unclean you should know that headlice prefer clean scalps and nice juicy children (okay I just invented that last supposition but it makes sense). Since my son is clearly nit free I can safely assume he has a nice grubby scalp



How do you prevent headlice?

Aside from having dyed hair (not an option for most kids) and leaving your hair dirty (probably a preferred option with most kids) there are a couple of things you can do to make your childs head less tenable. With short hair, putting gel or product in it before your children are likely to be in head lice contact is a cunning move and with long hair, tight plaits or tied up hairstyles with hairspray are effective too. Another tactic is to make sure children are not sharing hats or hairties.

Here is a recipe for home made, louse resistant, chemical free hairgel/spray you can make for pennies.

Manuka Hair Gel Recipe
2 teaspoons of powder gelatine (not heaped)
300ml warm water
1 tablespoon white vinegar
12 drops of manuka oil – you can also use teatree and add some lavender oil if you wish.

Mix the water, vinegar and gelatine together until dissolved and wait until it has set. Once it has set put it in your blender and blitz it whilst adding your essential oil. It should come out smooth like hair gel. To make it into a hairspray dissolve ½ a cup in 300ml of water approx and put into a spritzer bottle.

Ideally this will stop the lice in their tracks but assuming the lice are more persistent than that and you end up with an infestation you can still get rid of them without something toxic or nasty. In past days children would have been simply lined up at school and had their head dunked in a bucked of kerosene This is not to be recommended and can seriously burn the scalp.

First off how do you know if your child has lice?

Sometimes it can be hard to know. Most kids will be itchy and irritable, there may be red spots on their scalp which can become infected.It’s also possible for your child to have a headache, general malaise and even a rash or allergic response such as hives. In many cases however there may be no obvious signs of an infestation.

To check for lice you will need a comb and a bright light such as daylight or a torch to check the scalp. The nits or eggs are little white dots that sit on the hair shaft and the lice are little brown critters that dash across the scalp. Wetting the hair immobilises them and can make it easier to spot them. My mum used to sit me out in a sunny spot and check my scalp and pop any lice she found. All we needed were chimp suits. As an interesting note, girls are more prone to headlice than boys are. 




So what do you need to kill the headlice?

Some white vinegar or apple cider vinegar
Some coconut milk (optional)
Some oil, olive or almond are best
Some teatree oil or manuka oil.
A nit comb

To treat headlice you need to commit to doing a few treatments over a 12 day period, this is because any nits or eggs you miss will hatch and start the whole cycle again and it’s easier to get them all in one fell swoop than to wait for each successive reinfestation. You also need to do every one in the house and you need to do the bedding and recently used clothes as well.

The first step of the treatment is to douse the hair in vinegar and leave for about half an hour, either with a spritzer bottle or using a flannel soaked in vinegar. A headband around the forhead and over the ears like a skier is a good way to stop drips from getting in eyes. It can stink like billy’o! Vinegar breaks down the glue which holds the nits onto the hair and can also help weaken or kill the lice.

The second step of the treatment is to mix 1 part coconut milk with 1 part oil and some drops of teatree oil and smother the whole head in this mix. The coconut milk makes it smoother and easier to comb later on. You need to leave this mix in for as long as possible. You can glad wrap it overnight if your children are a bit older and will tolerate it but for little children you may just have to deal with a goopy head for as long as you can manage. Even a little hat can hep the mix stay on. This blend smothers the lice and immobilises them.

The third step is to patiently comb all of the nits out using a nit comb, the easiest way is to divide it up into sections and comb it out piece by piece using an absorbent towel to collect the oil mix and hopefully the dead lice. Once this is completed it’s time for a nice hot hair wash and condition with a final rinse of vinegar (which makes you hair lovely and soft anyway).

If you don’t have oil and coconut milk you can use conditioner with a few drops of teatree or manuka oil in it. This is easier to comb and is just as good at smothering, but it is not terribly natural. It depends entirely on what hair regime you have.

Another tip is if your child has long hair and you have a straightening iron you can use the hot iron to straighten their hair and sizzle all of the headlice. You have to know that your child can sit still though… I cannot stress how important that is.


The fourth step is just as important, and that is to wash all of your linens, preferably on a hot wash with some teatree or manuka oil and then out through a hot cycle in your dryer or hang on the line for at least 2 days. Anything that can’t be washed can be bagged up and sealed which starves the little critters to death.

You can also get electric combs which zap them to death, which is significantly less fussing and bother especially with little children. However they don’t kill the nits so you will need to do it every couple of days for a fortnight and they are also expensive!

I forgot to mention the last part of the cure, a glass of wine to help soothe your nerves after the ordeal. This is possibly the most essential step.

5 comments:

  1. I hate nits. It is so much work. I found making my daughter wear her hat all the time at creche helped, and having her hair up helped a lot. But finding time to comb out the nits and wash all the bedding - horrid. I would sit my daughter in front of the TV (to keep her still), grab a plastic bag, handy towels, nit comb and conditioner spray and just comb forever. Then I would repeat the next day, then a week later.

    I was pretty unamused to learn that most commercial nit shampoos just do not work, or merely slow down the nits, and that alarmingly the chemical ones were not safe to be used by breastfeeding mums (not even on breastfeeding mums, just by breastfeeding mums). Scary. Combing and something to soften the hair (like your recipe above) is the best bet.

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  2. It's all about the combing isn't it! Sadly there are no quick one step fixes for headlice.

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  3. I heard that store brought remedies for headlice are highly ineffecient - yet flea treatments kill fleas dead in their tracks. Do you think that is true?

    Anyway, nits make me want to cry.. all the washing! literally having to lie on my daughter to make her hold still so I can comb her hair :(
    Bribing my son with lollies to sit still for me.
    & at the end of the day, worrying they are just going to go back to school/daycare and get re-infested anyway!


    I shall try your prevention gel! thanks heaps! x

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    Replies
    1. I hope it works! So far we have been nit free!

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