My Kids Have Lice, Now What!?!
Don’t scratch your head! Ha. Just the word makes my head itch. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself scratching too. And it may mean nothing, or it may mean you also have lice. It’s annoying, but it’s a lot less work than you think.
Before you freak out, bag and quarantine everything, get yourself a cup of tea and have a read. You’ve got this, here’s what to do:
- Lice combs: Nisska and The LiceMeister® Comb–I have both, in case I have help, at least two of us can be combed out at once. I find them equally effective.
- Wide-tooth comb and/or detangling brush to get any knots out of the hair before passing the lice comb through.
- Enzyme lice shampoo, conditioner and hairspray– non-toxic, and can be used every month as a preventative treatment and on treatment days. (I don’t use the enzyme conditioner for treatment, I use it preventatively every other week and I keep the hairspray by the door and give the kids’ hair a spritz when I think of it.)
- Hair clips–to section long hair into four manageable bits to comb through.
- Conditioner–I use Pantene, because the lice ladies in our Brooklyn neighborhood swear by it. They do not use pediculicides with or without ovicidal effects (these are the chemical shampoo treatments, which they say are ineffective in their experience, and they have A LOT of experience).
- Baking soda–to sprinkle on hair directly or mix with the conditioner to make a thick paste if you have thinner hair and need more bulk for the comb-through.
- Paper towels
- Spray bottle–(optional) I use it to dampen the kids hair before applying the shampoo. And for curly hair, combine olive oil and water to use as a detangling/moisturizing spray.
What to look for
Scratching. If you notice you or your child scratching at the back of your neck, crown of your head, or behind your ears, check. These are the hot spots for the little bugs. Nits and lice are easiest to spot in natural light, so outside or by a window is great.
Nits are white or grayish yellow lice eggs (can you see four of them in the pic above? …to the right of the part. If you look closely, you may also see a dark adult louse near the part.)
Nits cling tightly to the hair near the scalp. They have a distinct shape, sort of like a raindrop on its side. Nits will not flake off like dandruff or dead skin. They need to be pulled off the hair, one by one. Which is why nit combs have such tight prongs. You can also use your fingernails to pull them off. The nit casings will cling to the hair even once the nymph has hatched, so sometimes you will see empty nits further down the hair shaft.
An adult louse is typically grayish-white to tan, though appear darker on people with darker hair. After nits hatch, the nymph becomes an adult in about seven days. Each adult can lay up to eight eggs a day, once mature.
You may notice little bite marks. [This set of pictures was from our first infestation a few years back and it was a particularly bad case. Seeing lice walking around is rare.]
The nitty gritty: A Natural Step-by-Step Guide
- Dampen hair (I use a spray bottle for ease). I’ve also used our shower head in the tub to do the job.
- Carefully detangle hair with your fingers, wide-tooth comb or detangling brush. (For curly or fine hair use a bit of conditioner, water + olive oil in a spray bottle or detangling spray if necessary.) See this fabulous post by Denene Millner at MyBrownBaby about detangling and caring for natural black hair.
- Work in the enzyme shampoo. Get it frothy. Follow the directions. (It suggests working it in for 15 minutes and leaving in for another 15 min.) Rinse out after 30 minutes.
- Wrap a towel around the kids’ shoulders, give them a screen.
- Section long hair into four, secure with clips.
- Put in a lot of Pantene conditioner, one section at a time.
- Sprinkle on baking soda (optional step for thin and/or short hair).
- Comb through each section with lice comb. Start at the scalp, and gently pull through to the end
- Wipe each comb-through on a paper towel (little dark specs are nits, slightly larger dark specs are likely lice).
- Continue combing through section by section until all hair is done and you no longer see specs in the conditioner.
- Comb through the hair in each direction: comb left, then right, then down and eventually flip head upside down and comb through. This is important, because nits are very sticky and if you don’t get the right side, they can remain in the hair.
- I give my hair a comb-through in the shower, whether lice are found on my head or not. Otherwise, I find I scratch like crazy.
- Comb through every three days for nine days (so, three times in nine days), wait five days and do a final comb-through on Day 14. It takes me 20 minutes to an hour per head, depending on length, hair thickness, and the level of infestation.
- Order pizza and pour yourself a glass of wine….that’s how we end an evening of comb-throughs.
On Day 1 and Day 14
- Wash pillowcases, sheets, PJs, hats, towels (vacuum out hats or items that can’t be laundered, but most items can be thrown in the dryer for 30 minutes).
- Vacuum couches, chairs, floors where it’s reasonable to find hair (no need to overdo it)…I only do this step if it’s a serious infestation. When I find a few nits, I do a visual inspection of our furniture and if it needs a vacuum I’ll give it a once over if I feel like it.
- Throw lovies they sleep with into the dryer on high for 30 min.
Wee Facts about Lice
- Lice do not carry disease, they like clean hair.
- Lice cannot live off a host after about 48 hrs.
- Nits, once hatched need a blood meal within a few hours, so stray hairs with a nit attached present minimal risk since lice can’t jump or fly (this is why you don’t need to overdo the cleaning, and really is more for peace of mind).
- Pets cannot spread lice.
- The CDC has in-depth information about lice’s lifecycle, diagnosis, and treatment as well as a handy FAQ.