As soon as someone starts talking about lice, I start scratching my head—and worrying about the impending infestation. Lice is one of those topics that makes many parents anxious, so we got the facts from the experts at Lice Knowing You. Janet Kennedy, Director of Operations, got us grounded with these five key takeaways:
1. Anyone can get lice, but you can take steps to prevent lice.
If you have hair and a heartbeat, you can get lice. We all know this, but it bears repeating: it doesn’t mean anything about hygiene or cleanliness to catch or have lice.
To help avoid your child catching lice, you can pull back long hair. Reducing head-to-head contact also helps, if your kids are old enough to remember that advice.
Some parents have tried essential oil products on their children’s hair. “The head louse smells the oil, and prefers to stay on the current host,” Kennedy explained. Tea tree, lavender, peppermint and other smelling oils may help deter lice, although they are not 100% effective.
2. You can catch lice early.
If you can’t entirely prevent lice, you can at least catch the problem early. Lice Knowing You recommends doing wet-head lice checks weekly to identify any head lice, catching it before it passes to others in the household. “Wet-checks are safe, effective and simply require a head lice comb and wet, conditioned hair,” Janet Kennedy said.
Each week, use a professional-grade lice comb to comb through all parts of the hair, pausing to wipe the comb off on a paper towel, so you can see what the comb is picking up. In addition to looking for live lice, you can look for nits or eggs on the hair shaft. Many people think the nits are white, but really they are more of a brownish-gray color.
3. You don’t need chemicals to get rid of lice.
The good news for parents anxious about bad-smelling or toxic chemicals is that they are not necessary. While chemicals may help, the only guaranteed way to get rid of head lice is to manually remove all lice and eggs out of the hair.
Unfortunately, Kennedy said, lice have become resistant to many chemical treatments. This resistance is where the extremely-alarming term “super lice” comes from.
4. Lice do not live long once off a host.
During a lice outbreak at my daughter’s preschool, I once kept my daughter’s winter jacket in the freezer for weeks. But while home clean-up is important, lice are not as omnipotent as some of us think.
“When you have a head lice infestation, 99% of the infestation is on your head, and 1% is in your environment,” Kennedy advised.
A louse can live off the head for 24-72 hours; however, once it is off a human head for 12 hours, it starts to die. Even if it found a new host, it could not breed.
You should wash all bedding in hot water, put stuffies in the dryer (or in a plastic bag for a few days if you think they won’t survive the dryer), and vacuum and wipe off furniture.
5. There is help.
Companies like Lice Knowing You offer services to make it easier on stressed and busy parents, including head checks and lice removal. You can even email a picture of any suspicious head-check evidence to Lice Knowing You at firstname.lastname@example.org, and they will help you identify any suspicious findings.
And don’t forget about your parent tribe and community. Despite the stress, you are neither the first nor the last to battle with lice.