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Dermatologists Are Unhappy with Pediatrician’s Lice Remedy

One mother was pleased with her pediatrician's lice remedy: slather the hair in mayonnaise and then comb out the nits. Dermatologists say it doesn't work.

Many parents become so frustrated dealing with lice infestations that they are tempted to pull their own hair out. Some parents are concerned about having to use insecticides repeatedly. As lice develop resistance to commonly used pesticides, however, parents may need to treat children time after time to try to eradicate the lice. One mother was delighted to get her pediatrician’s lice remedy.

What Is the Pediatrician’s Lice Remedy?

Q. My pediatrician confirmed my suspicions that my daughter had lice. Needless to say, I was upset. She will soon be heading for camp and I did not want her to suffer the humiliation of being diagnosed there or spreading lice to other kids.

The pediatrician warned me that lice have developed resistance to chemicals in lice shampoos. Instead, she recommended slathering mayonnaise on my daughter’s hair.

We tried this technique and covered her head with a shower cap for a few hours. Then I carefully combed her hair, rinsed and shampooed. Three treatments a few days apart solved the problem!

Home Remedies for Lice:

A. There are an amazing number of home remedies for lice. Many involve the suffocation approach using things such as mayonnaise, olive oil, mineral oil, petroleum jelly, Cetaphil cleanser, amber Listerine and dimethicones (Deutsches Arzteblatt International, Nov. 2016). 

Although pediatricians are happy with simple remedies that work, dermatologists may not approve.

An article in Pediatric Dermatology (Sept. 2016) states that

“home remedies such as mayonnaise, and essential oils, have not been demonstrated to be safe and effective, and may carry potential for severe adverse events.”

Some old-fashioned home remedies could certainly be harmful. We are mystified about what damage mayonnaise might do, though.

Another mother had success with just one ingredient of mayonnaise: olive oil.

Can you use olive oil to overcome lice?

Using Olive Oil to Overcome Lice:

Q. Years ago, my oldest child had head lice and I was completely unfamiliar with the situation and the best treatment. As a result, I went the chemical route and spent a fortune on nasty, stinky chemicals which eventually worked.

Years later, when my youngest contracted the nasty critters, I had learned a quicker, cheaper and far healthier alternative which was totally successful. I coated the hair very liberally with olive oil, massaging it through and through. Then I put a tight shower cap on the kid and put a towel on the pillow before she went to bed. In the morning, all the creepies had suffocated and the hair was very nicely conditioned! I had to shampoo her hair several times until we got all of the oil out, but it worked like a charm!

Home Remedies for Fighting Lice:

A. People have been looking for home remedies to treat lice because many of the OTC insecticidal shampoos have lost effectiveness. Lice can be smothered with mineral oil or petroleum jelly (Wolf et al, PLOS One, June 10, 2016). Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser can also be used to suffocate lice.

Olive oil has not been shown to be as effective, though one study reported that an olive-oil based soap was roughly 76 percent effective in killing lice (Soler et al, Semergen, March, 2017).  Moreover, all suffocation methods require re-treatment after a week since they don’t always kill lice eggs (nits). The second treatment kills the lice that hatch from those eggs, preferably before they have a chance to lay eggs themselves.

What Remedy Can Get Rid of Nits?

Significantly, Australian investigators found that a “suffocation” pediculocide (NeutraLice Advance) killed 68 percent of lice eggs (BMC Dermatology, Aug. 24, 2011). (This Australian product contains mineral oil and benzyl alcohol, among other ingredients.) Unfortunately, we haven’t seen any evidence that coating the hair with mayonnaise can kill lice eggs.

Public health nurses always remind us that combing out nits (lice eggs) is essential for a successful cure. That extra step helps to prevent re-infestation. It might help explain why your pediatrician’s lice remedy worked so well for you.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Meister L & Ochsendorf F, "Head lice: Epidemiology, biology, diagnosis, and treatment." Deutsches Arzteblatt International, Nov. 2016. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2016.0763
  • Wolf L et al, "Efficacy and safety of a mineral oil-based head lice shampoo: A randomized, controlled, investigator-blinded, comparative study." PLOS One, June 10, 2016. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156853
  • Barker SC & Altman PM, "An ex vivo, assessor blind, randomised, parallel group, comparative efficacy trial of the ovicidal activity of three pediculicides after a single application--melaleuca oil and lavender oil, eucalyptus oil and lemon tea tree oil, and a "suffocation" pediculicide." BMC Dermatology, Aug. 24, 2011. DOI: 10.1186/1471-5945-11-14
  • Koch E et al, "Management of head louse infestations in the United States–A literature review." Pediatric Dermatology, Sep. 2016. DOI: 10.1111/pde.12982
  • Soler B et al, "[Randomised clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety of a new pediculicide made with saponified olive oil in the eradication of Pediculus humanus capitis]." Semergen, March 2017. DOI: 10.1016/j.semerg.2016.03.009
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