If you find yourself or any other person scratching their head a lot, be alert as it can be a sign of a lice infestation. Lice are minuscule, blood-sucking insects without wings that attach themselves to human hair and feed like parasites on human blood. There are 3 varieties of lice depending upon the part of the host they attach to:
- Head Lice: They thrive on the human scalp and cannot survive without a human host. They are usually found at the nape of your neck or behind the ears.
- Body Lice: They lay their eggs on people’s clothing rather than on the skin and only later do they move onto the body to feed off human blood. Quite evidently, this type of lice infestation is typical for people who don’t bathe often or wash their clothes regularly.
- Pubic Lice: They also go by the name of “crabs.” They latch on the pubic skin or hair and are transmitted via sexual . In some rare cases, these lice may also be found on coarse body hair, such as chest hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes.
A full-grown louse is usually the size of a sesame seed and thus can be extremely hard to spot. Plus, the fact that these parasites can be any color, ranging from white to tan to brown, further adds to their ability to camouflage themselves amidst dense hair or between the fine fibers of your clothing and bedding.
Contrary to popular belief, a lice infestation is not necessarily indicative of poor hygiene or typical of people belonging to the lower socioeconomic strata. In fact, schoolchildren are believed to be at the highest risk of a lice infestation and among the prime transmitters of head lice.
The overwhelming prevalence of this nuisance can be estimated from the fact that as many as 12 million lice infestations occur every year in the United States alone according to the Centers for Disease Control and Backention (CDC). To add to that, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that every year, 6–12 million kids between 3 and 12 years old get head lice.
Causes of Lice Infestation
- Anyone can get lice. These tiny parasites can crawl really fast and infest the scalp of a person via both direct and indirect . Direct head-to-head is perhaps the easiest route for head lice to spread from one person to the next. Hugging each other, sleeping next to a person with lice, or any other gesture that causes one’s head to come in proximity with a lice-ridden head can easily lead to the spread of lice.
- Head lice can also be spread through indirect with items used by persons affected with lice, such as wearing their headgear (e.g., hats, scarves, helmets, caps, headphones, and mufflers), using their comb or hairbrush, or sharing their pillow, bedding, towel, or clothing.
- Pubic lice are generally transmitted through sexual activity, and body lice tend to thrive on unwashed clothing.
Symptoms of Lice Infestation
Suffering from lice infestation leads to a few noticeable signs such as:
- Excessive or abnormal itchiness on the scalp
- Head scratching and complaints of tickling sensations on the scalp
- Bumps or irritation on the scalp, neck, or shoulders from scratching
- Trouble sleeping
- Oval-shaped lice eggs or nits that look like tiny yellow or tan dots on the shaft of the hair strands, which, unlike dandruff, are not easy to brush out of the hair
- Make sure to wash and dry used towels and clean out your comb on a regular basis.
- Also, it is well advised to dump any sheets and pillowcases that have been slept on by a lice-afflicted person in the dryer for 20 minutes.
- Instruct your school-going children to avoid sharing personal belongings such as hats, scarves, coats, combs, brushes, hair accessories, and headphones with other children.
- Ask your child to steer clear of head-to-head with other children as much as possible while playing or doing any other activity.
- From time to time, screen your child’s hair and scalp using a magnifying glass and bright light to find and identify any nits or adult lice. If you suspect even a single nit or lice, brush your child’s hair with a nit comb.
- One important step that is often overlooked once the lice infestation is cleared is disinfecting the clothing, sheets, hats, brushes, and pillowcases that the affected person may have used. In order to be completely sure that your house is totally lice-free, it is imperative that the rugs, carpets, and furniture that the affected person may have laid on be cleaned. This is particularly important because lice have the ability to survive outside the body of the host for one to two days.
Head lice infestations are common among school children in both developed and developing countries, and large sums are spent on the purchase of medications to treat infestations. According to the World Health Organization, it has been estimated that the cost of head lice infestations is $367 million annually in the USA, including sums expended for the purchase of over-the-counter pediculicides and expenses to school systems.
Head lice can be treated using a variety of methods, including both prescribed and over-the-counter medicines. Head lice feed off the blood from the human scalp to thrive, which is why they do not survive for long after they fall off a person’s head. Thus, the treatment for lice primarily focuses on suffocating the lice into extinction or loosening the glue that holds the nits to the hair shaft.
There are many effective home remedies also. One such simple treatment that is very effective in getting rid of lice is apple cider vinegar.
The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar helps to loosen the glue that holds the nits to the hair shaft so that they can fall down easily from the head and ultimately die due to lack of food supply. It even helps dissolve the dead nits.
A 1999 study published in Paediatric Drugs reports that formulations containing 5% acetic acid or 8% formic acid, as well as acid shampoos (pH 4.5 to 5.5) and conditioners, in combination with a louse comb, can be helpful in removing nits.
Here some natural lice treatments with apple cider vinegar.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar and Water
The acetic acid in apple cider vinegar works as an antiseptic or germ-killing agent, making it an effective antidote to treat a lice infestation. Apple cider vinegar usually has an acetic acid concentration of around 5%, which makes it safe to be used for head lice.
Even though the acetic acid in ACV is not potent enough to dissolve or penetrate the exoskeleton (the protective shell) of lice eggs and thereby kill them, it does help slacken their hold onto the hair shaft by diluting and enfeebling the glue that sticks them together. Subsequently, you can brush them out using a good nit comb with comfortable ease.
- Pour 1 cup of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in a bowl.
- Add 1 cup of plain water to dilute it.
- Apply this apple cider vinegar and water mixture to your hair, generously spreading it on the scalp, behind the ears, and on the nape of the neck.
- Let it sit for 15–20 minutes.
- Rinse the hair with plain water.
- Comb the nits out using a nit comb.
- Repeat this process for two days and then repeat again after a week.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar and Mineral Oil
Mineral oil helps asphyxiate the bugs by clogging their breathing holes, making it impossible for them to survive for very long. Plus, apple cider vinegar helps to detach the nits from the hair shafts by loosening the glue that fastens them together.
- In a bowl, mix equal amounts of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar and mineral oil.
- Apply this mixture to your scalp and hair before going to bed.
- Cover your head and hair with a shower cap.
- Allow it to sit overnight.
- The next morning, wash your hair with your regular shampoo.
- Comb your hair with a nit comb to pick the lice out.
- Repeat the process after a week to get rid of lice completely.
3. Apple Cider Vinegar and Olive Oil
While the olive oil helps drown the lice, rendering them unable to crawl around to lay new eggs, the acidic nature of apple cider vinegar helps dissolve the adhesive secretions that keep the eggs latched onto the hair.
- Add 5–10 drops of tea tree oil into ¼ cup of lukewarm olive oil, and then apply the mixture generously to the hair and scalp.
- Put a shower cap over the head for an hour.
- After an hour, comb out the hair using a very fine-tooth comb and pick out any lice and eggs.
- Rinse the hair with warm water and a little shampoo.
- Then, soak the hair with the apple cider vinegar.
- Again, place a shower cap over the head.
- Leave it for an hour.
- Comb the hair out very carefully to get rid of any lice eggs.
- Then, rinse the hair again using a nice-smelling shampoo to wash away the vinegar smell.
- Repeat the process after a week to get rid of lice completely.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar, Salt, and Oil
Apple cider vinegar and salt join forces to dehydrate and kill the lice as well and the nits. On the other hand, the coconut or olive oil doubles up the efficacy of this remedy by smothering the lice.
- Gently warm ¼ cup of apple cider vinegar.
- Add ¼ cup of salt in it and stir properly so that the salt dissolves completely.
- Pour the content into a spray bottle.
- Spray it on your hair until the scalp and hair are wet.
- Allow the mixture to sit until the hair is fully dry.
- Coat the scalp and hair completely with warm coconut or olive oil.
- Leave it on overnight or at least for an hour to suffocate any remnant living lice.
- Comb out the lice using a nit comb.
- Shampoo your hair.
- Repeat the process after a week.
- It is recommended to use only organic apple cider vinegar that has not been filtered or pasteurized. This is because it has the ideal acidity level of 5%. Anything higher than that concentration would not be so safe to apply to your scalp. Conversely, a lower intensity would render it ineffective in removing the eggs.
- If your scalp skin appears red or is severely irritated, it is recommended not to use apple cider vinegar as it can end up aggravating the discomfort.
- Along with apple cider vinegar, you can also use white vinegar, white wine vinegar, and red wine vinegar to get rid of lice.
- Parasites. Centers for Disease Control and Backention. https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/lice/head/gen_info/faqs.html. Published September 1, 2015.
- Head lice. American Academy of Dermatology. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/contagious-skin-diseases/head-lice.
- Goodman DM, Burke AE, Livingston EH. Head Lice. JAMA. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1696101. Published June 12, 2013.
- Human lice – their prevalence, control and resistance to insecticides. A review 1985−1997. World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/whopes/resources/who_ctd_whopes_97.8/en/. Published September 29, 2016.
- Treating and Backenting Head Lice. U S Food and Drug Administration Home Page. https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ConsumerUpdates/ucm171730.htm. Published August 31, 2017.
- Mumcuoglu KY. Backention and treatment of head lice in children. Current neurology and neuroscience reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10937452. Published 1999.