As far back as the early 2000s, chemical lice treatments were found to no longer work as an effective treatment for head lice. At the heart of the problem is the main ingredient in many lice treatments, permethrin, which has been shown to reduce in effectiveness, something which researchers at the Massachusetts Pesticide Analysis Laboratory found to be due to two different gene mutations in lice.
While some chemical treatments are still effective, the truth is that they are not always safe for our children and may have potential side effects which can often be worse than the treatments failing to work properly. It’s also important to remember that when treating for head or body lice, manual removal of the lice, such as by using special combs, is still the most efficient and effective method.
While every child and case will be different, the following information may help in your fight against head lice. Remember, before trying any of these treatments it is still important to consult a medical professional.
What are head lice?
if you’d rather protect your child while treating their head lice, why not consider one of the many non-chemical treatments available?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lice are parasitic insects often found on the heads and bodies of humans. Lice survive by feeding on the blood of humans they have infested; however, body lice are the only type of louse that can spread disease. So what are the most common chemical treatments for head lice?
Over The Counter Chemical Treatments
While not a complete list, these are some of the most common chemicals used in the battle against lice.
Lindane shampoo was once commonly prescribed by physicians. However, since the early 21st century, it is no longer recommended for the treatment of lice by the American Academy of Pediatrics and has been banned as a treatment for lice due to the dangerous side effects it can cause. Some possible side effects of Lindane:
- Severe nerve damage
- Skin rash
Pyrethrin is found in some lice treatments such as Rid, Vamousse, TLC, and Nix Shampoo. The products listed here are topical treatments that should not be ingested. Any persons with an allergy to chrysanthemum flowers or ragweed should not use these products as the ingredient Pyrethrin is made from chrysanthemum flowers. These products are not recommended for children under two years of age without a physician’s consent. Some possible side effects of Pyrethrin:
- Numbness and tingling
- Ear ringing
- Tingling in fingers and toes
- Breathing problems
- Some nervous system problems
Dimethicone does not contain any pesticides in its ingredients. It is silicone-based and has been shown to be more effective than other treatments that contain pesticides. Instead of smothering the lice as many products do, it coats them, helping to stop their water consumption. Some possible side effects of Dimethicone:
- Red bumps
- Infected hair follicles
- Abnormal hair growth
Prescription-only treatments for head lice
Ivermectin is an oral or topical medication for the treatment of lice and has been shown to kill newly hatched lice as well as adult lice. It is a commonly prescribed treatment for head lice and is available from a physician but not over the counter. Ivermectin should not be used on children under five years old. Some possible side effects of Ivermectin:
- Skin rash
- Painful, tender glands in the armpits, neck, or groin
- Swelling of the extremities
Benzyl alcohol is a treatment in lotion form, unlike shampoo form which is common in over-the-counter treatments. Do not use benzyl alcohol on children under six months of age. Some possible side effects of benzyl alcohol:
- Skin redness
- Itchy scalp
- Has been known to cause seizures
- Other severe reactions in newborns.
Spinosad / Natroba
Spinosad, which is also called Natroba, is a topical lotion that kills head lice. This product is not to be used on children under six months of age. Some possible side effects of Spinosad:
- Redness and irritation at the treatment site
- Dryness at the application site
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
Malathion / Ovide
Malathion, which is also called Ovide, is a very strong lotion that works by paralyzing lice and some of their eggs. Malathion cannot be used on children under six years of age. Some possible side effects of Malathion:
- Stinging sensation
- Chemical burns that can include second-degree burns
- Pink eye from accidental contact with the eyes
- Dry hair
While not all of these side effects appear, every case of head lice is different. Some individuals may not experience any of these side effects while others may experience one or all of them. If you have any concerns or questions, be certain to contact your family physician or another medical professional before beginning treatment. Of course, if you’d rather protect your child while treating their head lice, why not consider one of the many non-chemical treatments available?
If you’d rather protect your child while treating their head lice, why not consider one of the many non-chemical treatments available?
Non-chemical treatments for head lice
Today, there are many non-chemical treatments used to remedy a range of ailments, diseases, and parasitic infestations. This includes several non-chemical and non-toxic methods that can be used to treat and eliminate head lice. Not all of them have been scientifically proven to rid your child of lice, but they have no dangerous side effects so are worth trying if you want to minimize the risks to your child’s health. Of course, you should always do your research when considering which options are best for you or your child’s personal needs.
Wet combing method
This is the most straightforward method. Combing is done by using a fine-toothed nit comb, readily available at local drugstores in the pharmacy or health and beauty departments. The first thing to do is wet the hair that is going to be treated; it may also help to use a lubricant before starting lice treatment. As a note, you should ask a medical professional about using conditioner before chemical treatments since some sources claim that using it could block the treatment from working properly. Once the hair is damp, comb it straight from the scalp to the hair ends, two times at a minimum, during the treatment session. Depending on the abundance of the infestation, this may need to be repeated once every three to four days and for several weeks.
Essential oils are extracted from plants and are all-natural remedies used for holistic purposes as well as food and fragrance. Oils have become more popular in recent years for their many health and medicinal benefits including the removal of lice, and many retailers sell them. The top essential oils used for the treatment of lice and its eggs are:
- Lavender oil
- Tea tree oil
- Anise oil
- Clove oil
- Neem oil
- Cinnamon leaf oil
- Eucalyptus oil
- Ylang ylang oil
- Peppermint oil
- Red thyme
- Nutmeg oil
Household smothering agents
A smothering agent smothers lice and their eggs, and the chances are you have many if not all of the following in your pantry or in the refrigerator. Once applied to the hair, you place a shower cap over the head and leave the agent on overnight. Keep in mind these can be messy without adequate preparation. Many have reported anecdotal success with these treatments, such as mayonnaise, olive oil, butter, and vaseline, unfortunately, there is not sufficient enough evidence to prove if this method works to rid the hair and scalp of lice. It could be a combination of the treatment itself and the frequent shampooing and combing to remove any lice from the hair.
Some professional lice treatment centers have a machine that can remove lice and eggs by blowing hot hair onto the affected areas. This cannot be accomplished by using a hot blow dryer at home. While these can be effective the machine requires specially trained individuals to operate it and can be prohibitively expensive especially if multiple visits are required.
Mistakes to avoid during treatment
A key mistake that many make when treating head lice is to use excess amounts of lice treatment medications.
- Unfortunately, this can be counter-intuitive because overuse will not eliminate the lice any quicker and instead may contribute to immunity. Stick to a prescribed dosage or follow the instructions on the package. Consult a physician if you have any concerns.
- It’s also important to avoid getting any lice medication in or around the eyes. Should this happen, be sure to flush the eyes immediately and rinse the skin that it has been in contact with.
- Do not repeat the same treatment more than once in a short amount of time because repetitive use could cause resistance to medications and treatments.
- Do not try using more than one type of lice treatment at the same time. By doing so, it will not kill the lice any faster and could cause exacerbated side effects.
- There is no reason to fumigate the house or living area, and it can be toxic to other persons and pets. Do not use flammable products to treat lice.
Head lice: a final word
It’s important to remember that head lice is a common problem; in fact, there are between 6 and 12 million lice infestation cases in the US every year. However, as new treatments come to the fore, it is also important that we arm ourselves with knowledge about the potential side effects that can occur with the use of chemical compounds.
After all, we are keen to ensure our children exercise often and eat healthily, but we may be compromising their health with potentially dangerous treatments for conditions such as head lice. As such, natural remedies can help, but manual removal is always the best form of defense. With proper knowledge and understanding, you will be ready and one step ahead should your child be exposed to head lice.
Proper treatments can help to eliminate the chance of re-infestation in your household. If you suspect your child has been exposed to lice, be sure to check with a medical professional to find the treatment that is best suited for them. It’s also important to bear in mind that adults are not immune. While young children and school-aged children are those most prone to outbreaks, adults can also be infected.