Head lice happen to the best of us. But you don't have to let these pests destroy your life! Here's how we resumed a lice-free existence.
I made it almost four decades and ten years of parenting before my first confrontation with head lice. At first glance, I thought it was a flea that jumped off my dog. Rookie mistake! Then I saw the bug in my other daughter's hair, and finally my own. No, I did not have a dry scalp or dandruff. We had a full-blown head lice infestation!
After unsuccessfully trying a few home remedies, including everything from a lice-zapping comb to natural remedies, I made an appointment with Julie Burbank, founder of Let's Be P.A.L.S, a lice removal service in Virginia Beach. As she worked her magic louse-removal skills, she gave me some great tips on how to win the head lice battle.
"You get lice from hair to hair and head-to-head contact. There’s only a 1% chance you get it from an inanimate object. The actual bug itself only lives for 30 days, and they’re perfectly happy on somebody's head," Julie informed me. Without a host, they only live about 24 hours.
This explains why lice are most common in families of preschool and elementary school-aged children who are often sitting together closely for long periods of time.
Most people don't realize they have lice until about a month after they get it. So even if you don't see head lice on your scalp, if you hear that a friend or playmate has it, you should probably check your head. By the time you notice live lice, you probably have a pretty developed case of it.
And pet owners can relax a bit since lice primarily affect human heads. You don't need to worry about treating your dogs and cats, too.
When I came face-to-face with a comb full of nits for the first time, my first reaction was to panic and purchase every possible gadget and shampoo as quickly as possible. But this process was extremely overwhelming! You read all these labels of shampoo with ingredients like "pyrethrin" or "permethrin" or even "all-natural essential oil-based" and have no idea where to start.
Sadly, there really isn't a magic cure (despite numerous claims from lice products!). The best and only really effective way to get rid of lice is to comb out your entire head with a fine-toothed comb. Lice have become increasingly resistant to many of the lice shampoos and treatments over the years (AKA super lice), so getting the right comb and patiently combing through your hair is really the best way to remove them.
Lice-removal services like Let's Be P.A.L.S and various others nationwide might cost extra, but the guarantee that you and your family are lice-free is extremely valuable. If professional treatment isn't an option, you can still achieve the same results at home with some quality products and a fine-tooth comb like the Nit Terminator.
It all comes down to patience and perseverance. Whether you use a nit removal service or a comb at home, you have to comb out all the nits. Some of the products I sampled boast that they kill lice (and super lice) eggs, so you don't have to comb them all out. While this is a nice sentiment, there's no way to determine whether or not the nits in your hair are alive without a microscope, so how can you know?
The Burbank Botanicals Line is a great all-natural way to dissolve the exoskeleton of the lice and eliminate them without harsh chemicals. Pyrethrin and permethrin are commonly used in many over-the-counter lice-killing products and can paralyze the nerve endings of the bugs (as well as other insects). Other methods include using products like olive oil overnight for a few weeks to hopefully suffocate the head lice.
According to Julie, there are three main reasons lice come back:
Sometimes people focus too much energy and attention on things that aren't really that helpful, like deep cleaning every object in their house. While precautionary measures like freezing your toys and hairbrushes or washing sheets in hot water can help, the best thing you can do is focus your attention on combing out the lice. (Or take your family to have the pros take care of that part.)
So look for those little lice that have bonded themselves to the hair shaft! They're actually harder to remove on fine hair since they're so small.
As effective as a professional lice treatment can be, there are some children with sensory issues who just can't or won't sit through a louse combing. If this is your experience, Julie recommends putting an olive oil treatment on your head every night for about a month. This isn't an easy or fun process, but it will eventually kill the lice and leave you bug-free.
Open communication is one of the best ways to get rid of and avoid lice. As soon as you get lice, let all of the people your children have been around know about the infestation so that they can get checked out, too. Otherwise, you might end up reinfecting one another over and over again!
Avoiding lice altogether is a trickier process. Keeping your hair pulled back can help those with longer hair avoid them, but it's not a foolproof plan.
Most schools used to have a no-nit policy, but that's no longer the case in many places. The Center for Disease Control has updated its stance on lice. Since it's not considered a disease, there's more flexibility with communication when it comes to lice. So your school might not send an email or any notification if there's been a lice outbreak in your child's class.
This means you need to be proactive as a parent and take "a peek a week" to make sure you don't end up with any unwanted visitors in your family's heads. It might be tedious but is much better than the alternative of finding an intense head lice infestation.
Getting rid of lice really is a full family and community effort. Lice do not discriminate, so make sure everyone is well-checked and taken care of.
Despite the massive inconvenience, it wasn't a total loss. I hit my 10,000 step goal the first day of the infestation on account of running back and forth from the washer/dryer multiple times. I finally washed our bedspreads and duvet covers, which was long overdue. And I've never been so enthusiastic about vacuuming in my life. Plus, we've never been so motivated to keep our hair brushed and tangle-free. If you can survive intensive lice comb-through, a thorough daily hair brushing is nothing!
So while I hope and pray we never have to go through this ordeal again, we definitely learned a lot through the process! What are your top head lice-fighting tips? Share below in our comments or on your favorite family app!