Head Lice: Give Me The Pesticides!

A recent Greene Westford Column reprinted here.

If you are faced with this predicament, you might want to make a beeline for the pesticides. Take a deep breath and read on for some facts and alternatives that may make more sense.



My head starts itching at the beginning of the school year when the lice information sheet comes home. Approximately 6 to 12 million cases of lice occur nationwide each year.  Westford is not immune.  I have already heard of a few cases this year.
This is probably one area where you think, “I am not taking any chances.  Give me whatever will kill those things!”  I was right there with you, until I started to do some research. 
Permethrin and pyrethrin are the most common chemicals used to treat lice currently.  They are pesticides.   They are meant to kill live insects by attacking their nervous systems.  Do you think they know the difference between humans and insects?  Not sure I want to take the chance.
If you are still itching your head and thinking, “I still want the pesticide!”  Think about this. 
  • More and more evidence is showing that some strains of lice are becoming resistant to these pesticides. 
  • The pesticides only kill the live lice.  If the eggs are not removed and hatch, a second application will be needed. 
This information is also conveyed by the Westford Board of Health in their information sheet.
As yucky as they are, lice are not a health hazard and not responsible for spreading any disease.  The itching accompanying a lice infestation is caused by a reaction to the louse’s saliva.  Lice need a host to survive and for their eggs to hatch.  They cannot fly or hop.  They cannot survive on pets.
To Prevent Lice:
  • Remind your children not to share hats, scarves, personal hair care items, coats, anything that can come into contact with your head or hair.
  • Keep your hat, coat, etc away from others.
  • There are some that believe that lice do not like hair products.  Adding gel or hair spray could deter lice.
  • Wear long hair in a ponytail or braid.
  • It is believed by many that tea tree oil is effective in preventing lice.  Tea tree oil has natural antiseptic properties.  There are several tea tree oil shampoos on the market.  If you choose one of these, make sure it uses pure essential oils and contains 5 drops per ounce of shampoo.   
NOTE: Tea tree oil should not be used in pure form on babies, young children or pregnant women.  Consult your Physician first.
Alternative Treatments:
I am not a doctor.  I am a mom who does not want lice in my home.  I also want to protect my children from pesticides as much as possible.  If your child gets lice, call your pediatrician for treatment options.  I called mine.  They recommend a non-toxic method called the Nuvo method for treating head lice. 
This method uses Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser.  Large amounts of the cleansers are used to completely drench the head and scalp.  The excess is combed out and the hair and scalp is completely dried with a hair dryer.  Drying the cleanser on the hair essentially shrink wraps any live lice, suffocating them. 
I have also heard of people using olive oil in a similar manner as the Cetaphil.  Again, the head is covered in large amounts of olive oil and left on overnight.
Both of these methods only kill the live lice.  Any eggs will not be harmed.  For this reason, it is recommended that you repeat these treatments 1 or 2 more times, at one week intervals, to kill any eggs that hatch and/or remove the eggs (nits).  Westford Public Schools have a “no nit” policy, meaning that your child must be checked by the nurse when returning and must be nit free.
These alternative treatments rely on suffocating the live lice and interrupting their life cycle.  No chance they will become resistant to that!  

This post is part of Frugally SustainableYour Green Resource and Home is Where the Heart Is.

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4 Responses to Head Lice: Give Me The Pesticides!

  1. groovygreenlivin.com November 23, 2011 at 4:49 am #

    I love seeing more and more posts on how to treat and prevent head lice. If you have small children it’s very likely that lice will make their way into your home at some point. It’s important to know what to do! Whichever method you use, Cetaphil or olive oil, it must stay on your head a minimum of 8 hours in order to suffocate the lice. They can hold their breath up to 8 hours!

  2. The Greening Of Westford November 23, 2011 at 4:00 pm #

    Well said Groovy Green Livin! Very important to think about it BEFORE it happens so you don’t freak out as much.

    I was especially intrigued to find out that pesticides are NOT working so well anymore and that lice are becoming resistant. Hmmmmm, sounds like the same story as antibiotics and anti-bacterial soaps. I see a trend! What a win win. No pesticides and the methods seem to have greater success rate.

  3. Shari Teal June 30, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    I was happy to see that you mentioned tea tree oil in your post. My daughter has long hair which has always been a problem to brush or comb because she is so sensitive…lol. When she started kindergarten I decided to buy some detangling spray which by the way can be made with conditioner dissolved in water. I added tea tree oil to the detangler and sprayed her hair everyday before combing. I also started spritzing some on my sons head as well. Although there have been some outbreaks at the school my children have never been affected. I think if nothing else the tea tree oil is a great preventative since I know that my daughter does not always follow the “no sharing” rules.

    • Kristina (The Greening Of Westford) July 2, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

      I have been using that same “detangling” spray on my sensitive-head daughter as well! Certainly can’t hurt to add some tea tree to it! Thanks for stopping by Shari.

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