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Lice Advice Provokes Rebuke

Just think about the word lice for a minute or two and the chances are good your head will start to itch. Mention the word in polite company and some people will start to move away from you.
When looking for lice products in the drugstore many distraught parents search silently, too embarrassed to ask the pharmacist for help locating an effective remedy.
Part of the problem is a mistaken association of lice with a lack of hygiene. There remains a myth that poor people are more likely to have lice. But in truth, lice do not discriminate. They feast on blood, regardless of cleanliness or economic status.
When it comes to remedies, people get very emotional about what works and what doesn’t. We recently shared a story from a teacher who recommended suffocating the lice with a liberal application of mayonnaise.
Several other popular remedies include drenching the hair with olive oil or moistening it with Cetaphil and then using a hair dryer to create a hard coat for overnight treatment. We mentioned that only coating the hair with petroleum jelly has held up in placebo-controlled trials. The trouble with this approach is washing the goo out of the hair.
One woman was very upset with such advice:

“I can’t believe your irresponsible article about lice. The ONLY WAY to combat lice is combing, combing, combing until every louse, egg and nit is gone.
“Mayonnaise? Olive oil? Cetaphil? You are perpetuating the problem by promoting these so-called treatments. They will put kids back in school with live lice and eggs still in their hair, where they will spread them to other children like mine. I’ve gone through this for years with my daughter and I’m sick to death of all the misinformation.”

There is no doubt that killing lice and then combing out the nits hair strand by hair strand is a time-honored and successful approach. It requires patience and persistence. Many parents just don’t have the time to spend hours combing through several heads of hair several times a week.
For those who are so inclined, there are tricks to spotting nits. Some use a black light, which makes the white eggs glow. One mother suggested dying the hair with pink Kool-Aid:

“My blonde daughter came home from summer camp with lice but since she’d dyed her hair pink with Kool-Aid the last day of camp, I was able to spot the nits. They had soaked up the colored Kool-Aid and looked pink in her hair.”

Less patient parents may wish to consider Listerine:

“When my kids came home with lice, I spent a lot of money on lice shampoos. We tried the mayonnaise treatment, too. I scrubbed the house, cleaned the carpets, boiled the combs and hairbrushes and put pillows and stuffed toys in bags.
“I took my kids outside on the deck, swathed them in sheets and combed their hair and eyebrows out with that tiny nit comb. After all that, I read in your column about using original amber Listerine. We drenched our hair and left the Listerine on for two hours. That was the END of the LICE! Not only did Listerine bring relief; we didn’t have any nit problems after treatment.”

Although there are no scientific studies of this approach, the combination of alcohol and herbal oils found in Listerine might well kill lice and loosen nits for easier comb-out.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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