Back to School with Head Lice: A Dermatologist Discusses Your Concerns

Merely Me Health Guide
  • On MySkinCareConnection we always know when school begins because we get more questions about head lice. Although anyone is susceptible to getting head lice, pre-school- and elementary-school-aged children and their families are most frequently infested. Head lice are easily spread to others through contact with someone who has lice. Head lice can be particularly difficult to get rid of and so awareness and prevention is very important. The National Pediculosis Association has designated September as Head Lice Prevention Month. In this post we are going to give you some prevention tips as well as ideas of how to get rid of lice if you suspect that you, your child, or other family members may have an infestation.

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    In order to help us with your questions about head lice we have invited Doctor Lawrence Green, a practicing dermatologist and Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at George Washington University School of Medicine in Washington DC to discuss this topic.


    To find out more about Dr. Green please visit his website: Aesthetics, Skin Care, and Dermasurgery.


    Member “Mom” asks: What is the best way to get rid of head lice without buying head lice shampoo? Can you kill head lice with other things like vinegar, petroleum jelly etc.?


    Dr. Green: Head lice are indeed a nuisance and difficult to eliminate. Killing the lice is not enough. You must also destroy their eggs, called nits, because the nits can keep hatching lice even after you have killed the crawling ones you can see. The most common symptom of lice infestation is a very itchy scalp and a history of lice infestation somewhere in the child's environment.


    The simplest way to eliminate lice and nits (useful for boys) is to shave the child's head. Lice and nits cannot live without hair. But, most parents prefer not to use this marine-corp like technique. Some people try to eliminate lice by suffocating them by putting mayonnaise or vaseline all over the child's hair overnight. This is a rather messy way, however, as removing mayonnaise or petroleum jelly is not easy. And after that you still need to carefully remove the nits. Nit removal can be done by purchasing a nit removing comb, and rinsing the child's hair with dilute vinegar prior to combing.


    I think a simpler way to treat lice infestation is to see a doctor. He/She can prescribe medications to help. There are some newer more effective medications (like benzyl alcohol) that kill lice easier than older medications like permethrins.


    Thank you Dr. Green for your answer!


    In addition, here are some head lice prevention tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and HeadLice.Org:


    • If there is a suspected infestation at your child’s school you will want to check your child and your family for lice and nits (lice eggs). In order to see what lice and nits look like please view these lice images on Health Central.


    • HeadLice.Org warns that you should consult with your pharmacist or doctor before using lice treatment pesticides if the individual is pregnant, nursing, has allergies, asthma, or epilepsy. They also warn not to use a pesticide on or near the eyes if the person has lice or nits in their eyebrows or eyelashes.


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    • Avoid head to head contact with others at school, on the playground, or during sports activities.


    • Do not share hair items such as barrettes, headbands, hair ribbons, combs or brushes.


    • Do not share hats, scarves, school uniforms, or towels.


    • Do not come into contact with bedding or pillows of the person who has been infested with head lice. The CDC recommends that you machine wash bed linens and clothing of your family member who has head lice using hot water and using a high heat setting for drying these items.


    Another important thing to know about head lice is that adult lice can live up to a month on a person’s scalp. But if the lice fall off their human host they can only survive 1-2 days. In order to live, lice and nymphs need to feed on human blood. It is less likely to be infested with lice that fall on carpets or furniture.


    If you suspect that you or a family member may have head lice the best thing to do is to seek treatment by your doctor or dermatologist.


    For more information about preventing and treating head lice please refer to these resources:


    Head Lice Overview


    Treating Head Lice


    How to Get Lice Nits Out of Hair: Question and Answer 


    Head Lice Treatment (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

    Itchy Infestation: Lice (The Dr. Oz Show video segment)



Published On: September 29, 2011