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How to Get Rid of Persistent Lice

Suffocating persistent lice instead of killing them with pesticides may get around the problem of resistance.

The difficulty of getting rid of lice has been a problem for parents and grandparents for a few decades. Part of the trouble is that lice evolve resistance to the pesticides that are used to attack them, with the results that they are harder to kill than before.

Can home remedies help with this struggle? In some cases, home remedies may work just as well as over-the-counter creams, lotions or shampoos. That’s what this grandmother was hoping, as she had repeatedly treated a grandchild with persistent lice.

Getting Rid of Persistent Lice:

Q. I have tried to get rid of my granddaughter’s lice with all the products that you can buy over the counter. We still can’t get rid of them. They keep coming back. Can you please tell me what I can do?

A. Many of the over-the-counter lice shampoos and rinses contain pyrethrins. These compounds are based on a natural insecticide from chrysanthemums, but over the last few decades lice have developed various degrees of resistance to them.

Alternatives to Pyrethrins:

One prescription treatment for lice is called Ulesfia. The active ingredient is benzyl alcohol. This lotion is very pricey, however.

Home Remedies with Alcohol to Treat Persistent Lice:

Some popular home remedies that work for many people also make use of alcohol in various forms. The hair can be coated with Cetaphil cleanser (cetyl alcohol), which is dried and left on overnight. It suffocates persistent lice.

Listerine is another possibility. In addition to its herbal oils, it contains ethyl alcohol. Many readers report that they soak the hair in Listerine and wrap it in a towel. After some time, they wash it out. Using a vinegar rinse helps get rid of the lice and make the nit comb-out easier.

Josie offered her experience treating persistent lice with this home remedy:

“I’m a teenager, and one of my best friends has younger siblings going to a nit-infested school. Whenever I got an itchy head, I wouldn’t tell my mum because she sighed and clucked and showed her disapproval. Not only that, she would ramble on and shake her head while discussing other families that don’t treat their head lice.

“So my word of advice, don’t annoy your child who has head lice, also please don’t be rough. Because sometimes when they have head lice next, they won’t tell you.

“Anyway, my friend and I got rid of our head lice by soaking our hair in mouthwash and putting a shower cap or clean wrap over it for at least an hour (I guess a plastic bag will also work).

“We rinsed out the mouthwash with shampoo and conditioner (I gave it a good scrub).

“Then blow dry or straighten hair-we did this for an extra precaution.

“We soaked our hair with white vinegar, put the shower cap (or whatever) on, and sat for a minimum of an hour and a half-the longer the better.

“When the time was up, we scrubbed again, but this time we used a nit comb through our hair.

“Blow dry or straighten if possible.

“Repeat after one week to make sure everything is dead.

“PS: don’t forget to wash sheets and pillows and dry them with really high heat.”

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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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