Life Less Chemical: Kids & Lice

Do you know what kinds of chemicals you’re using when you groom your children? If your child gets lice and you try to get rid of them using an over-the-counter remedy you need to know two things: 1. Those chemicals sitting on your child’s scalp are essentially insecticides, and 2. They don’t even work.

Head lice are now resistant to shampoos, liniment, and other chemical treatments in much the same way that bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics. Add to that the fact that there’s a lice epidemic now and what do you do? The good news is that you don’t need to use chemicals at all. The only thing you need is a low-tech, chemical-free solution: a good nit comb.

Here’s how lice operate: lice eggs, or nits, are glued to the hair shaft, close to the scalp. Once hatched, juvenile lice (or nymphs) reach sexual maturity in just SEVEN days. Adult lice lay eggs once a day. See the problem? 

Lice themselves aren’t hard to kill: you can smother them non-chemically by coating your child’s head in a fat (olive oil, mayonnaise, coconut oil, etc.) for several hours under a plastic shower cap. The nits, on the other hand, are hard to get rid of. Get a good nit comb, preferably with metal teeth, and start combing.

Wash your child’s hair as usual and towel dry. Section the hair into 4-6 sections, depending on the hair’s thickness. Rub your regular hair conditioner into the scalp in each section (this leaves the hair slippery, making it harder for lice to hang on to the hair shaft with their claws), and comb thoroughly. Dip the comb into a bowl of water to get off any lice you find. Pour the water down the sink, and rinse the conditioner from your child’s hair.

What to look for: adult lice are usually brown, and about the size of a sesame seed. They have no wings, so they can only crawl. Nymphs can be very small, so use a strong light to help find them –– their bodies are reflective at this stage. Nits, or eggs, are harder to spot, but are usually light in color and attached close to the scalp.

To get rid of the lice, you have to interrupt their life cycle. That means getting rid of juveniles, or nymphs, before they can start laying eggs. Start by combing your child’s hair every day for a week. During week two, you can comb every other day; week three, every third day. You will get rid of all of the lice –– and here’s the important part –– without dumping insecticide on your child’s head.

Prevent re-infestation: freeze your child’s pillow, hats, and hairbrushes for at least 4 hours in between uses. Use a shampoo with Tea Tree oil to prevent any new lice from crawling onto your child’s scalp (the scent repels them). Keep a spray bottle filled with water and several drops of Tea Tree oil handy and spray your child’s head each morning before setting off to school. The Tea Tree scent will keep any new lice away.

As a mother who’s been there (I had them too!) I can vouch for this method and also for being aware. Reading labels is not always enough – try to find low-tech, chemical-free alternatives instead.

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