The People's Perspective on Medicine

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.
Mother treating daughter’s hair against lice at home

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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I scratch my head over why the lice treatment Resultz is not available in the U.S. It is available in Canada and the EU. It suffocates the lice and nits. It is designed be applied to hair (unlike my favourite mayo!), so coverage is easy. The active ingredient is isopropyl myristate which is found in many cosmetics. Your shampoo and face cream is more dangerous! I used it on my kid and soon after on me after trying many home remedies. I bring it back from Canada to gift to the elementary school teachers I know here in the U.S.

Thank you for letting us know about it.

I think that someone should seriously question those dermatologists. What were they thinking? If the lice go away by any safe method, who really cares. Furthermore, does a dermatologist want a patient in their office with lice? It is hardly a need for a specialist. I’m for low tech methods that probably the lice can’t evolve a resistance to!

A nurse recommended the mayo treatment after I told her I had treated with chemicals and contined to be plagued. Success came when I retreated every three days with mayo, shower cap, and combing. Messy but definitely better than anything else I tried.

Use natural method every time. Not only are lice becoming resistent to pesticide treatments but they ALSO DO NOT KILL EGGS and therefore repeat treatments are necessary.

I was told today by a trusted friend that adding tea tree oil to shampoo will get rid of the lice. Her grandchildren’s school had sent 30 students home with lice. She said her daughter rubbed the hair and scalps with a good grade of tea tree oil. A hairstylist sitting beside her said that the price of tea tree oil had gone up due to people using it for the lice. Grandma said she was told to add the tea tree oil to her shampoo as a precaution because she sometimes keeps the grandchildren.

Melaleuca oil (tea tree oil) can indeed be helpful against lice:

Let’s see… the dermatologist is concerned about the possible toxic effects of mayo or olive oil???? I presume they have no such concern about using potent toxic chemicals. Congratulations to big pharma. Another “professional” successfully brainwashed, or maybe it’s just there is no money for the medical machine in home remedies.

A 10 dollar bottle of Anisette liqueur is enough to treat a family of 4 through 2 lice infestations. Get hair wet with or without soap, put on enough Anisette to cover scalp and after 2 minutes lay the victim back and rinse hair out – every louse will be seen floating on the water and trying to get away. This is also a good way to diagnose an early infestation when the bugs are few and far between. Repeat at least daily for a week – as eggs already laid will hatch out. There has been a similar idea called Hair Care 1-2-3 but fairly expensive and uses more toxic isopropyl alcohol. Many parasites don’t like the Anise/Fennel chemicals and will try to leave the area.

Cover the hair with mayonnaise or oil. Comb with lice comb. Wash twice with shampoo. Condition with vinegar. Let dry. Wet again, cover with shower cap or plastic bag. Keep for few hours. Rinse and style.

It sounds to me that mayonnaise, olive oil or even a supersaturated solution of salt water saturation of the child’s hair would be much less toxic than the nasty chemicals in the lice shampoos and prescription meds from a dermatologist. I’d certainly do it.

Years ago my daughter came home with lice. I was told of the recommendation of the mayonnaise treatment. I believe I retreated once maybe twice two days in between. The treatment worked beautifully and we avoided the nasty pesticides. The only difference between our treatment and those described in this article was that I wrapped her head in a tight fitting turban made of saran wrap rather than a loose fitting shower cap.

Wash hair and let foam set for 10 mins

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