Lice Can Be Tough Customers

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“Dear Pharmacist,

A friend of mine has had very resistant head lice for over a year.  She’s tried every conventional treatment sold over the counter, some homemade remedies, and even prescribed shampoos, but the lice persist.  Any other ideas?”
–W.M., Albany, N.Y.

Answer: Getting rid of head lice and their baby nits can be tough.  Your friend must be re-exposing herself by sharing linens, a hat, a car headrest, hairpins, a hairbrush or curlers.  With kids, it’s often the car seat that parents overlook.  Lice feed on our blood, but they can live without food for about three days, so if you come into contact with curlers, say, every few days, you could get a re-infestation. I favor pesticide-free remedies for lice because most conventional treatments contain harsh chemicals.

Your friend should try shampooing with regular shampoo mixed with about 4 tablespoons of tea tree oil.  After rinsing, she should massage her head with a little distilled white vinegar. It won’t smell that good but will help loosen the nits’ attachment and make combing easier.  She should use a bright light and a magnifying glass to check her scalp.
Incomplete removal of the nits from her scalp – or her environment – could be causing your friend’s troubles.

Lice are highly contagious, so it’s important to kill the little critters everywhere.  She could use conventional pesticide sprays for bedding, couches and cars.  If she can’t effectively boil hairbrushes, combs, plastic curlers and hair picks for 20 minutes, she should put them in an airtight Ziploc baggie for two weeks (to suffocate the lice), or just throw them out.

Head turbans, towels, soft hats, pajamas and linens infested with lice should all be laundered in hot water, with 2 ounces each of tea tree oil and lavender essential oil added to the detergent.  All items should be dried under high heat.  People with resistant infections and allergies should have their carpets and upholstery professionally steam- or dry cleaned, and encase pillows and mattresses in covers. This may seem a bit over the top, but desperate times call for desperate measures!

Here are two more natural remedies: Hair Clean 1-2-3, a shampoo; and Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser. With the Cetaphil, you need to follow these instructions: Massage it into your scalp, covering every last strand of hair.  After 10 minutes, comb out the nits. Dry your hair with a blow dryer (it will feel like shrink wrap), then cover your head with a shower cap and go to bed.  In the morning, shampoo as normal and comb the nits out again. Repeat the process in one week.