checking for lice and nits,

Q. My four-year-old daughter came home about two months ago with lice. My 8-year-old son caught them from her. I just shaved his head and that took care of the problem for him. But her hair is very long. She’s been treated with RID or something similar at least eight times, either here or at her father’s house. Now my head has begun to itch and I’m afraid I’ve got them too. I’d really welcome affordable suggestions for a remedy that would work.

A. Lice have become resistant to some of the most common lice shampoo treatments, leading to immense frustration. The FDA has approved two prescription treatments in the last few years, but both are pricey.

Natroba is an insecticide that costs over $200 per treatment and kills both lice and nits (lice eggs). Ulesfia contains benzyl alcohol and suffocates lice. It too is expensive. One mother spent $600 treating her daughter’s long hair.

Health professionals often distrust home remedies because there aren’t good scientific studies to support them. Nevertheless, many parents report success with topical treatments such as Listerine, vinegar, olive oil or the cleanser Cetaphil. We are sending you our Guide to Hair and Nail Care for more detailed instructions on using these home remedies.

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  1. Mark

    Just a note about some confusion on here. Epsom salt is actually magnesium sulphate while table salt is sodium chloride. From the cures mentioned, it’s difficult to tell which one people are using.

  2. Autumn

    I’ve had them for over 6 months and “they” say black people can’t get them. I’ve torn up all carpeting, threw out all furniture, & bagged up all clothing, linens, & bedding for months. We slept on air beds in seclusion & miserable. I used 100s of dollars on prescriptions, over the counter meds, doctors. I washed & dried so much that my machines burned out & broke down. Finally the seawater killed them but we got reinfested by our clothes & furniture. After boiling everything, including new carpeting & furniture, I bought a shampooer & filled it with saltwater mixed with baking soda & soaked my carpeting. Feeling better but keep reinfesting myself with covers & clothes. Now outta work, no washing machine or dryer, no real xtra $. I’ll going to laundromat and washing everything.

  3. Ashley S.

    How frustrating :( What I recommend is listed in one of the other comments you really should try it. It definitely works! It’s at least a 3 day routine but it is do-able and a lot less hassle in the end…
    I saturated theirs (and my) hair with SALT WATER(half epsom half water)in a spray bottle left on for a few minutes maybe 5 or 10.
    Put them in the shower then soaked their hair with APPLE CIDER VINEGAR (make sure to cover eyes).
    A few minutes afterward I shampooed and then HEAVILY CONDITIONED their hair and ran the comb thoroughly through it.
    3 days later (treating each night) there were NO SIGNS WHATSOEVER!! and so much easier than dealing with that horrible shampoo and hours of nit-picking.
    During that time the first day I washed and dried all of the linens and dirty clothes, kept vacuuming at least every other day. Every morning I sprayed our furniture and pillowcases with the salt water during those days . It dehydrates them severely if they do not get a host quickly they die.
    What a bleeping life saver!! I hate dealing with these pesky things! Just don’t let it get you down. The myth is that only poor people or people with bad hygeine deals with this. It hits all income levels and lice actually prefer clean hair.
    Also, I had used the nix and rid the month before that without to no avail. Even the furniture spray, so costly, nothing worked well enough and it ended up severely drying my daughters scalp almost like a rash.
    Even though it’s salt and vinegar it is so much easier on the little ones heads and they are way more cooperative when they realize the don’t have to go through hours of hair pulling/combing.
    I also read that washing the linens, stuffed animals, pillows, and furniture covers isn’t what does it. The heat from the dryer and dehydration from the salt water is what they succumb to, so really you could probably just toss everything in the dryer about 20 mins on high heat and then maybe just the furniture pillows and pillowcases (whatever you use daily) every day for a few days.
    Hope you’ve had success by now but if not try this!

  4. Ashley S.

    I have read this before in comments I think from a different site. IT DEFINITELY WORKS!
    I saturated their hair with salt water, then with apple cider vinegar. A few minutes afterwards I shampooed them, heavily conditioned their hair, and ran the comb thoroughly through it. 3 days later (treating each night) there were NO SIGNS WHATSOEVER. and so much easier than dealing with that horrible shampoo and hours of nit-picking. During that time I washed and dried all of the linens and dirty clothes, kept vacuuming at least every other day and sprayed our furniture and pillowcases with the salt water during those days. It dehydrates them severely, if they do not get a host quickly they die. What a life saver!!
    Also, I had used the nix and rid the month before that to no avail. Even the furniture spray, so costly, nothing worked well enough and it ended up severely drying my daughters scalp almost like a rash.
    Even though it’s salt and vinegar it is so much easier on the little ones heads and they are way more cooperative when they realize they don’t have to go through hours of hair pulling/combing.

  5. CZ

    You don’t have to wash your bedding and pj’s each day. Strip the bed along with pjs and any clothing, coats, hats, towels, etc, you wore yesterday, toss everything in a dryer for 30-40 minutes every day including your pillow. Paying for 1 hot dryer for 21 days is better than washing AND drying each day. Put on clean clothing each day. And vacuum, vacuum, vacuum.
    If alone, comb your hair forward into a sink to see if there are still dead/dying lice in it once a week. If none are there still keep soaking your hair with mayo, aloe, olive oil, whatever you prefer, let it set a bit, then wash it out in the shower with a few drops of Dawn detergent and shampoo, and comb, comb, comb. Treat your hair every 2-3 days for 3 weeks to interrupt the lice life cycle. So many people relax when the itching stops. Doesn’t work. Always assume you have missed an egg for at least 21 days, the life cycle of lice.
    It’s all very time consuming, yes, but you will have lots of time on your hands if you pass lice on to friends and family. So it’s worth the effort. Isn’t it?

  6. s m h

    I have had BAD lice for over 4 years nothing works my now 3 year old has them I feel so gross please help at a wits end. my hair is normal n shoulder length can you please help me? sharon

  7. jennie

    I have tried all these crazy things. My children had lice for over a year. But one day I went and spent $150 on some “special” shampoo from a website….it worked! I was so amazed it worked.
    Well the very next year they got lice again from school. At this point I was unable to afford the treatment so I read the bottle to check the main ingredient. To my Amazement it was just another fancy word for salt!!!! I take a spray bottle, fill it half with epsom salt and the other half with water. Shake it until the salt has dissolved then while the children shower I have them spray their hair to fully saturate it and leave it for 5 mins. They then wash as normal. Then I have them rinse their hair with straight apple cider vinegar because this loosens the eggs from the shaft.
    The last step is to have them use conditioner and a comb to remove all the dead bugs and any eggs that did not die from the salt water. The salt works because it dehydrates them and their eggs. It breaks through their exoskeleton. This was done every other day so that they do not have time to lay their eggs and create more.
    I did it for about 2 weeks just in case there were others lurking around. Adding it to your shower routine makes it fast and easy.
    I don’t want to see any one else have to pay that much for conditioner with salt just to get rid of these nasty little bugs.

  8. suni m.

    comb the hair everyday 2-3 times until it goes. Or you can use lice shampoo. I am a nurse and I have used lice shampoo on a patient which had lots of lice which can be visible. I used it for three days and the next day it was lice-spotless. Or there is no way but to shave her hair off.

  9. jp

    what is the RIGHT KIND of cetaphil? there are 2 different kinds, thanks!
    PEOPLE’S PHARMACY RESPONSE: Cetaphil cleanser

  10. NA

    I have a question for those of you who have gotten rid of lice on your own heads — I don’t have anyone to pick through my hair for me and check for the bugs and nits. If I soak my hair in mayo every night (or every couple nights) and then comb it out by hand in the shower while washing the mayo out in the morning for a couple weeks, should this do the trick? Should I be doing anything else? I would rather not shave my head right now, but am afraid nothing else will do the trick.
    Also, I live in an apartment and don’t have the money to wash my sheets every single day (it’s three dollars a load to wash and dry).
    Thanks for your help!

  11. Angie

    When people ask how to kill head lice, I generally recommend that they use olive oil as the best way to kill head lice, because it smothers them and they can’t get immune to that! :) You mentioned that you’ve tried mayo, which is the same principle, but you said that isn’t working for you. Are you leaving it on long enough?
    The best thing to do is cover the head/hair thoroughly and leave it on over night – wrapped in a towel or shower cap to avoid mess. It’s weird, but apparently lice can hold their breath for hours so you want to leave it on for at least 8 hours.
    You’ll need to repeat the process every 4 days for 2 weeks to be sure you’ve covered the entire life cycle of the lice and not have hatching babies reproduce on your head. ;)
    Wishing you success in getting rid of the lice problem.

  12. MH

    My daughter came home with a fully infested head of lice… GROSS. After treating and combing her hair with RID, turning my house upside down cleaning and doing A LOT of research, lice AND their eggs are KILLED with HEAT… HIGH HEAT! My friend told me about the Cetaphyl trick, so I combined that with a FLAT IRON and burnt the eggs out of her hair. It works. NO lice, NO eggs. NOTHING to hatch. I checked her hair every day for a week and there was NO signs of lice or nits at all. I spray/gel/mouse her hair every day now, and so far, so GREAT!
    So here’s my advice for treating them: Wash ALL bedding/stuffed animals immediately. Disinfect the house with the spray you can buy at the drug store. Treat your head/hair with with either NiX or RID, comb out the dead lice with the metal comb that comes with the package. Put the Cetaphyl Face wash all over the perimeter of your hair line. Take VERY small sections of hair starting at the back, saturate the individual section with Cetaphyl then Flat Iron.. go slowly and repeat each section 5-6 times to make sure all of the eggs are burnt out.
    When done the entire head, double check section by section. There shouldn’t be anything left… if there is a nit, it will flick off the hair easily because it is dead. Do NOT wash your hair for at least 24 hours. and when you do, keep hairspray/gel/mouse in it to repel any new lice from making your head a home

  13. Colleen

    what type of salt and how much? does it matter if the salt is iodized? I have 3 teens with lice and we have tried the over the counter stuff and well as the mayo for 5 days now.

  14. Jan

    I tried everything I got an idea that if salt kills fleas it should kill lice. SALT water or a paste. People it works

  15. HealerLaura

    Isopropyl Alcohol sprayed on scalp overnight and then soak hair in vinegar and cap it for 1-2 hours. The combination of alcohol and vinegar kills lice and dries out the eggs. Fries them. Then comb them out with a fine toothed nit wire comb.
    Follow up regularly with a spray of tea tree oil, lavender oil, rosemary oil, and cedarwood oil. Continues to dry them out and keeps them away.
    Silicon Dioxide also dries them out. Remember, they love moisture.
    Denorex shampoo (coal tar) also works.
    Vaseline suffocates them very well.
    For body lice: Spray body with vinegar and lemon juice and/or isopropyl alcohol. Also coat body with cool rubs such as Vicks Vapor Rub. Anything that contains things lice hate, such as Camphor, Menthol, Cedarwood Oil, Vaseline, Turpentine, Ethanol, Carbomer, Lavender, Rosemary, Thyme, Eucalyptus Oil, Coal Tar, Tea Tree Oil, Epsom Salts, Bleach, etc. Anything drying and acidy.

  16. anon

    My grand daughter had this problem when she was little and long story short what stopped it was shampoo with tea tree oil in it. Never had any after that.

  17. CE

    Lice went through our household a few years ago – we tried RID and it did not get all the bugs. Someone told us about the Nuvo treatment using Cetaphil and it worked great, with the added benefit of no harsh chemicals! I recommend it to everyone now.
    This treatment works by suffocating the bugs, something that they cannot develop an immunity to. Now, whenever we hear that a friend who they’ve been playing with has had lice, we do a Cetaphil treatment just as a precaution. (way easier than having to de-louse the whole house 2 weeks later) We put the Cetaphil in, comb the excess out, and then blow dry the hair. Surprisingly, the hair looks great once it’s dry (it just has a lot of body). We leave it in for at least 24 hours and then shampoo it out. We also comb to check for nits, and do a follow up treatment 7 days later to catch any bugs that hatched from eggs (I don’t think it works on eggs).
    Here is the website:
    You need to go through a lot of verbiage on the website to get to the actual treatment, but it’s worth it (and it’s free, except for buying the Cetaphil). Just make sure you get the right kind of Cetaphil.

  18. MAOM7

    Our solution for recurring head lice (my kids were re-infested every time they went to their dad’s) was Denorex shampoo. Wet hair, apply and lather, wrap in a plastic cap/bag, and rinse after ten minutes and style as usual.
    I found that if I washed their heads the minute they came home, we finally stopped the vicious cycle of using RID every two weeks (which cannot possibly be good for little heads!).
    The Denorex works because it is made with coal tar, a VERY old-fashioned remedy for lice!

  19. Kristin

    My six year old came home with lice and I tried everything with no success. I also got the lice and had no one to pick my hair. I was desperate. I did some research on the life cycle of lice and folk treatments and as a result I quit washing my daughters hair but put her in the bathtub every night and filled her hair with conditioner. Then I combed it with the lice comb. The lice got trapped in the conditioner and combed right out. Then there were no adults to lay eggs during the night (their fertile time.) I did the same with my own hair. Once the lice are combed out the hair may be rinsed but not washed. After two weeks we were both lice free.

  20. bg

    I have two girls that both have long hair who have repeatedly come home with lice over the years. Originally I did what everyone here did and bought every chemical shampoo that said they killed them but then I learned more about lice themselves and am now able to fix any lice issues with NO CHEMICALS…. here is how it works…
    You probably now have plenty of lice combs… these are now your best friend. You need to have the kids (and you) wash your hair, comb through it with a normal comb with conditioner to get out all tangles. Towel dry and toss immediately in the wash (any clothes or towels or sheets/blankets, etc should be washed immediately). Use the lice comb to thoroughly go through the hair. What you are looking for are the large lice, don’t worry about the eggs. The lice will collect in the comb. Wipe them off the comb with tissue paper that immediately goes into a trash bag to be thrown out or flush down the toilet. I usually comb the head three times until I no longer find any lice. Lice typically like to hang out around the ears and the neck area so be sure to comb these areas well. 2 or 3 days later I do the combing again and repeat again 2 or 3 days later with another combing. If you don’t find any lice at this point you can probably stop the combing but an additional time doesn’t hurt and it is nice to feel sure. This works because lice take 7 days from the point of hatching to be able to lay eggs. You are trying to catch them by combing them out of the hair before they are old enough to lay eggs. Once you have gotten all the eggs hatched and them combed out of the hair before they can lay any eggs you have solved your problem without subjecting your kids to horrendous chemicals.
    Don’t be surprised if this issue keeps coming up. More than likely they are getting it from friends (brushing each others hair, wearing each others clothes or hats, etc) or from sitting on a piece of furniture at school that keeps reinfecting them. As soon as I see my kids reach their hand behind their head to scratch I’m whip out the comb to catch it early. Other tricks are to put any stuffed animals on their beds in a plastic bag and store away for 3 weeks to exceed the life span of the lice.
    Don’t turn your house upside down washing everything… just know that you will be combing out the lice again in 2 to 3 days should they get reinfected. There is a stigma attached to lice and so other parents don’t want to tell you that their kids have lice…. break this cycle and tell the friends parents and tell them how you addressed it and you will hopefully break the cycle of dealing with lice. Good luck!

  21. ZY

    We used a service that comes to your house and removes all the eggs and lice from the hair by using special comb. It’s very effective and no chemicals involved.

  22. myasmom2010

    I used to intern at a local Elementary school for a few years. I caught lice so bad one year, it was almost impossible for me to get rid of them. I had very long thick hair, a perfect playground for lice.
    After using all of the OTC products and nothing really working, I tried the mayonnaise trick. Every night before bed I’d drench my hair in mayonnaise and put a shower cap over it to hold it in (use disposables so you don’t defeat the purpose). I’d actually sleep with the mayonnaise on my head all night.
    In the morning I’d comb my hair with the nit combs and then take a shower to wash out the mayonnaise. It took a couple weeks but it worked! Lice free was such a relief. The doc said that the mayonnaise smothers the lice so they can’t breathe. I believe it after seeing the results first hand.

  23. DAN R.

    I recall the use of Vick’s Vapor Rub to treat head lice back in the 1940’s. It smelled very nice, but I cannot, however, recall that it was effective in killing the lice. Perhaps it only made them smell good.
    Another remedy was a patent medicine, called Lignol, which was invented and patented by my grandfather. It consisted of lanolin mixed with very smelly coal tar distilled from Arkansas lignite. My grandfather sold the patent to Cheesebrough Manufacturing, but he continued to make batches of the stuff for years thereafter. I imagine that Lignol was actually carcinogenic and may have killed head lice by giving them cancer.

  24. CJ

    My gr-daughter brought home head lice from camp. It spread to my other gr-dau. then to my dau and then to me. We fought this with OTC and home remedies for about 8 weeks. The best OTC was Lice MD. It was very thick and oily, and hard to wash out of hair, but got rid of the problem. Every day between allowed applications of LiceMD we rinsed our hair with either vinegar or Listerine, and combed all heads of hair every day with a very fine tooth metal comb.

  25. MamaT

    When my four kids were young, I always used a little hair gel or hair spray on them as part of their morning routine. I heard later on (can’t remember the source) that hair styling products were an effective head lice preventative. My kids never got the lice. And we never had to deal with the hassle (and heartache) of trying to get rid of them.

  26. Ruth D

    When my kids were young, they came home with lice repeatedly year after year. First, know that lice like clean hair. It’s easier for them to latch onto the hair shaft when there’s no grease. The next time you treat them, spray their hair with hair spray (they don’t need helmet head, just a good dousing all over) so there’s gunk that the lice and their eggs can’t adhere to.
    You not only have to treat their hair but also your home and car. Don’t waste your money on those sprays. Wash sheets, towels, clothing, etc in hot water. Bag stuffed animals, throw rugs, etc in sealed plastic bags for 2 weeks, and vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. Lice don’t live for very long once they fall from the head.
    I know it’s a pain doing long hair but short hair is harder so I encourage you to NOT cut their hair. We made that mistake once.
    We had some success with RID and Nix. Don’t keep using the same product if you’re using an OTC one as they can become immune.
    Don’t wash their hair with shampoo after treating them with whatever you decide to use for at 5 – 7 days.
    If you’re at your wits end, we had luck with mayonnaise. Slather their hair with mayonnaise and cover the head with a plastic shower cap or plastic wrap for a couple of hours, then rinse with warm water. Do NOT shampoo, just rinse it out! Then comb with one of those tiny nit combs.
    One time, I promised my daughter I’d shave my head too if it came to that.
    Trust me, I feel your pain.

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