checking for lice and nits

The very word makes your skin crawl. Even though dermatologists reassure us that lice do not pose a serious health risk, dealing with an infestation can be traumatic.

Hygiene has nothing to do with lice, but parents still feel stigmatized when a child is sent home from school. The ensuing rounds of treatment often become frustrating.

Lice have developed resistance to many of the common chemicals used to kill them. Even the powerful insecticide lindane may not eradicate the creepy-crawlies (Clinical Microbiology and Infection, April, 2012).

There are also concerns about lindane toxicity. Public Citizen, a patient advocacy organization, points out that lindane side effects include skin irritation, headache, dizziness, seizures and blood disorders.
A relatively new prescription lice treatment, Ulesfia, appears effective and safe. Unfortunately, it is pricey. One mother wrote:

“My pediatrician just prescribed Ulesfia for my daughter, who’s been battling lice for months. She has long hair and the cost is $600! I don’t know how they expect anyone to be able to afford this.”

Ulesfia contains benzyl alcohol and works by suffocating lice. Another, less expensive approach that also works by suffocation is old-fashioned amber Listerine. It contains herbal oils in an ethyl alcohol base. One young woman wrote:

“I got lice while working at a summer camp. I have super-long thick curly hair, so the infestation was bad. I used Listerine on my scalp for two hours. Then I applied Denorex for 30 minutes, washed it out and used a coconut conditioner.
“The dead lice were falling out of my hair. It was disgusting but I’m so glad they are out! I am way too old for this.”

A mother reported:

“My child picked up lice last year from his elementary school. I had never come across them before so I freaked out. I ran to the drug store and bought over-the-counter lice shampoo. I tried it twice and both attempts were not even remotely successful.

“Then I found the mention of amber Listerine. While combing my son’s hair I removed a louse and put it in a bottle cap with some Listerine. Within a few minutes it was deader than a doornail. That convinced me to soak my son’s head with Listerine. He put a shower cap on for two hours and I combed out lice and nits. We repeated this process several nights and it was successful.”

Listerine is not the only home remedy people have used to smother lice. Cetaphil cleanser (not the moisturizer) has also been used and even written about in the medical literature (Pediatrics, Sept. 2004). A parent wrote:

“My kids have brought lice home twice in the past year. After RID did not work, we used the Cetaphil method recommended by our pediatrician. It worked well both times.”

Cetaphil contains cetyl alcohol. It is applied to the hair and then a blow dryer is used to create a hard shell. It is left on overnight and washed out in the morning, along with the dead lice.
Home remedies are not FDA approved. But they are a lot more affordable and judging from the reports on our website, surprisingly effective. To read more about lice remedies, visit

Get The Graedons' Favorite Home Remedies Health Guide for FREE

Join our daily email newsletter with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies AND you'll get a copy of our brand new full-length health guide — for FREE!

  1. Karen
    North Carolina

    We tried over the counter drugs and listerine and yet the bugs kept reappearing in both of my kids. Finally I bought a metal nitcomb–nitfree–about $15 bucks on the internet. I would put conditioner in their hair and then comb, blot on a paper towel, and pick and drown any nits I found in a cup of listerine. We did it every other day for about two weeks. Worked wonders and no need for chemicals–just mechanical.

  2. J.S.

    do you still have to comb out the nits? 3 of my 4 kids have it and I feel like I’m in hell!

  3. MAOM7

    Denorex shampoo was our fix. Multiple tries with RID over months of re-infestations did not work. When the kids came home from where they kept being reinfested, we just lathered their little heads up with Extra Strength Denorex shampoo, let sit on their heads for 10 minutes, then rinsed and styled as usual. No more lice. I swear by this, and it’s cheap and not harmful to little ones’ heads.

  4. CS

    My daughter had head lice several times when she was very young and her hair was very long. The lice shampoos did not work at all. Finally we used mayonnaise in her hair. It was applied from the scalp to the ends and then we wrapped her head with plastic wrap and left on for at least 2 hours or more (we would let her watch her favorite dvds while doing this). When we washed out her hair, you could see the lice rinsing out. We did this every 3 days for 2 weeks to make sure that they were all gone! Never buying lice shampoo again!

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.

Your cart

Shipping and discount codes are added at checkout.