10 Products That Help Get Rid of Head Lice
A head lice infestation is common among school-aged children. Here are products to help get rid of lice and nits, and prevent their return.
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How to get rid of lice
No parent wants to get that email: the one from the school nurse that says someone in your child’s class has head lice and suggests that you check your child’s head for the same. But it happens often, with up to 12 million children ages 3 to 12 developing head lice each year in the United States, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD). School-aged children, particularly those in preschool and elementary school, are more susceptible to head lice since they spend a lot of time in close contact. (These are the head lice symptoms to look for.)
An adult louse, the singular of lice, is roughly the size of a sesame seed. These tan to grayish-white critters get around by crawling and are spread predominantly by head-to-head contact. Adult lice can live up to 30 days on your scalp as long as there is blood to feed on. If the louse falls off, it will starve within two days. A female louse can lay anywhere from three to five eggs per day, explains Brittany Smirnov, DO, a dermatologist in Delray, Florida. Not all nits (lice eggs) will hatch, she says, but those that do start off as nymphs and mature into adult lice.
You may hear lots of head lice myths, but head lice do not spread disease.
There are over-the-counter (OTC) lice products that can help tackle the problem. These products have different active ingredients and not all of them also kill nits.
Here our experts share how to get rid of lice and help soothe an itchy, irritated, and flaky scalp with these head lice products. (Also, try these lice home remedies.)
Nit Free Terminator Lice Comb
Lice don’t always cause symptoms, so often the best way to find an infestation is to actually spot the lice. A fine-toothed or special lice comb is essential for checking your child’s hair for lice and can also be highly effective at getting rid of these creepy crawlers and their eggs without any pesticides. Nit Free’s comb has teeth that grab on to remove even the tiniest nit from hair.
The AAD suggests separating your child’s wet hair into sections, starting at the scalp and combing through each section to look for lice or nits. Make sure to inspect the scalp and comb carefully for any signs of lice or nits. Also, wipe the comb on a wet paper towel and examine it carefully. Sometimes this same wet-combing technique is all that is needed to treat a lice infestation. (Here are some more lice expert tips.)
NIX Lice Killing Creme Rinse
Most over-the-counter lice products, including NIX’s lice killing creme rinse, contain the active ingredient pyrethrin, which is found in chrysanthemum flowers and is toxic to lice. This lice treatment comes with combs to remove nits and a creme rinse for easier combing. Its user beware, though, as there have been growing reports of lice becoming resistant to these plant-derived pyrethrins and their synthetic cousins, pyrethroids.
“Always treat at least twice when using an at-home product to get rid of lice,” says Michele Green, MD, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. If the problem doesn’t resolve after two treatments—spread about a week apart—check in with your dermatologist to see what else you can do. It may not be lice that are causing itching and other symptoms. Two treatments are necessary because the first one kills the lice and the second one—7 to 9 days later—kills lice that hatched from the nits since the last treatment. (There are other reasons you have an itchy scalp besides lice.)
NIX Ultra Lice & Nits Treatment
Due to the growing risk of resistance to pyrethrins, some products are finding other ways to get rid of lice. NIX also has this pesticide-free solution that is applied to dry hair. Instead of relying on pyrethrins, this treatment suffocates the lice with dimethazone. It includes a comb. (Here’s a map that shows treatment-resistant lice reside.)
RID Lice Treatment Complete Kit
This all-in-one RID kit contains everything you need to handle a lice outbreak, including shampoo, a comb-out spray to detangle locks, a lice comb, and a can of RID Home Lice, Bed Bug & Dust Mite Spray to kill lice and nits on mattresses, furniture, and other non-washable items. These products are pyrethrin based. (Don’t ignore these scalp conditions.)
SoCozy Boo! Lice Scaring Spray
Infused with tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and rosemary extract, this SoCozy Boo! lice spray is a natural way to keep lice away from your child’s hair. Simply spray on wet or dry hair daily for best results. (Maintain your hair health with these healthy hair tips.)
SoCozy Boo! Lice Prevention Shampoo
Just like the SoCozy Boo! lice scaring spray, the SoCozy Boo! lice prevention shampoo is also infused with tea tree oil, peppermint oil, and rosemary extract to send hungry lice scurrying away. A 2012 study in Parasitology Research found that a 1 percent tea tree oil solution is capable of killing 100 percent of head lice within 30 minutes. Note: This study took place in a laboratory dish, not in humans, so its effects on the human scalp are unclear. Tea tree oil also can be irritating to the scalp, cautions the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Still, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that the best way to prevent lice is to avoid sharing hairbrushes, combs, hats, scarves, coats, or hair accessories. Making sure to check and re-check children for lice after they have been exposed can also prevent spread.
Lice Shield Shampoo and Conditioner
This two-in-one Lice Shield shampoo and conditioner is formulated to be gentle for kids while also being effective for adults too. The treatment has a blend of five essential oils, including citronella, rosemary, lemongrass, cedar, and geraniol to ward away head lice. Its four-and-a-half star Amazon rating makes this product a popular choice for for the whole family and serves as a preventative lice treatment as well. “Came [in] good packaging and [a] great product to use to help prevent getting lice,” writes one Amazon reviewer. (Find out what these hair health clues reveal about your health.)
Licefreee Home Spray, Head Lice Treatment for Furniture
Licefreee‘s home spray uses a naturally occurring chemical found in orange peel oil to kill lice and nits on contact. This same ingredient, d-limonene, is also used in products that kill fleas. This product kills lice on contact on pillows, mattresses, bedding, furniture, and other non-washable items and may prevent re-infestation.
Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser
This Cetaphil gentle cleanser many people rely on for healthy and clear skin also may help get rid of lice that other treatments missed. Apply the cleanser throughout the scalp to dry hair, then wet hair and wait two minutes for Cetaphil to soak in. Comb out as much excess cleanser as you can, and blow dry hair so it is dry to the scalp. The dried Cetaphil will smother the lice, so leave it on your child’s hair for at least eight hours and wash it off in the morning. Repeat the process twice.
Lice Goodbye Nit Removal Kit with Comb by Fairy Tales for Kids
This Fairy Tales lice no-muss, no-fuss, and no-drip mousse is chemical-free, which means lice—even super lice that have grown resistant to pyrethrins—aren’t immune to its effects. It’s formulated with natural enzymes that remove the bug and dissolve the sticky “nit glue,” according to the product label.
Next, learn how to prevent ticks.
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Head Lice: Overview"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Lice"
- Brittany Smirnov, DO, dermatologist, Delray, Florida
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Lice FAQS"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Head Lice: Diagnosis & Treatment"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Lice Treatment"
- Michele Green, MD, dermatologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City
- Parasitology Research: "Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs"
- National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: "Tea Tree Oil"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Lice Prevention and Treatment"
- Seattle Children's Hospital: "Lice-Head"
- American Academy of Dermatology: "How To Get Rid of Head Lice When Treatment Fails"