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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Lice* (*But Were Too Grossed Out to Ask)

By Wendi Aarons

Last Thursday morning my oldest son, Sam, said something that almost brought me to my knees. “Mom,” he whispered, while his fingers scratched furiously at his head, “I think I have lice.” And, after a quick peek at his scalp wherein I saw hundreds of gross black things, some of them moving, I knew he was right, dammit. He did have lice. After ten plus years of dodging the dreaded bugs that have infested every preschool, grade school, camp and middle school my boys have ever attended, we finally fell victim to their pure unadulterated evilness.

After a few muttered curses, I immediately took action. I grabbed the box of Nix that I’d bought “just in case” years ago and covered Sam’s head with whatever was in the bottle. Chemicals? Poison? Butter? Who cared what it actually was because once I saw that first bug on my son’s head, I would have used anything to kill it. But then, after I calmed down and realized that nobody was in grave danger, I regretted what I’d done. And I knew exactly what I needed to do next: call the professionals.

Like a lot of big cities, Austin now has lice removal salons run by nurses who know everything about those little buggers. Everything. (And who also have wine on hand for freaked out parents like me. Nothing like a little Chardonnay at 10 a.m. while your scalp is being checked for nits. Fancy schmancy!) The lice removal salon was an unexpected expense, for sure, but I’m thankful it was an option because after just a few minutes online, I was overwhelmed by all of the information–and misinformation–out there on lice. Not to mention the countless horror stories and anecdotes from friends who’d spent hundreds of dollars on various products and tools that didn’t actually work.

During our two visits to the salon, I talked to the nurses about lice for a long time, and with their treatments and advice, our home was lice-free after just a few days. (And of course I’ll be giving my kids weekly checks for the foreseeable future.) I know not everyone has access to such a salon, so allow me to share with you what I learned. And hopefully if/when you or your kids get lice, you won’t have it for long.

Lice Facts and Fiction

Only Dirty, Poor People Get Lice – Fiction

Almost everyone now knows this isn’t true; lice affect people in all socio-economic classes (seriously, even Kelly Ripa had it). And the bugs actually prefer to latch onto clean, not dirty, hair, so don’t feel bad if you skip a few baths.

You Should Be Ashamed If Your Kid Has Lice – Fiction

There are many things to be ashamed of having on your head—like a purple scrunchie, for example—but lice isn’t one of them. In fact, you’ll actually help stop it spread, and help your chances of not being reinfested, if you tell the other parents at school to check their kids.

Lice Means Both Eggs and Adult Bugs – Fact

Per the CDC, the life cycle of a head louse has three stages: egg, nymph and adult. It’s crucial to kill all three during your treatment because just one tiny nit on the head can hatch into an adult that quickly lays 8-10 more nits. Yikes.

Lice Make Your Head Itchy – Fiction

An itchy allergic reaction only happens to 50% of people, so don’t assume your child doesn’t have lice just because she’s not scratching her head. (Then there are people like me who feel itchy after just reading the word “lice.”)

Lice Die If They’re Not On a Head – Fact

Well, sort of. Bugs can’t live off the head for more than 24 hours. However, if they’re on soft surfaces like bedding or couches, they can still crawl onto a head. (They don’t do well on smooth surfaces because they need something to grip onto with their evil lice claws.) Newly hatched bugs need blood in the first 2 hours or they die. And nits can’t live off the head for more than 4 hours because of the incubation temperature needed near the body.

Lice Is Spread Through Hair To Hair Contact – Fact

It can be as simple as two kids leaning their heads together while they play video games. Lice can’t hop, but they can quickly crawl from one hair strand to another. Our salon recommends that girls wear braids and ponytails if they’ll be around a lot of other kids to cut down on hair touching hair.

If Your Family Has Lice, You Have to Burn Your House Down – Fiction

You may feel like this is the only option, but put your matches away, Sparky, because it’s not that hard to eradicate lice from your home if you take these steps given to me by Mad Caps salon:

  • Wash or bag things that have been in direct contact with child (stuffed animals, pillows, brushes) for 48 hours.
  • Change and wash all bed linens and then run in a hot dryer for 20 minutes
  • High heat in the dryer will kill bugs; washing will not, so don’t go nuts with the hot water
  • Throw towels or sheets over couches, car seats, etc., then remove each day and put in the dryer on high heat for 20 minutes to kill anything that may be on them
  • Be cautious of the “lice furniture and bedding spray” because people have had severe allergic reactions to some of these products

Or you could also just leave your house for 48-hours and go on what is charmingly called a “lice-cation.” Without human hosts to live on, the lice will all be dead by the time you come back.

Lice Can’t Be Transferred to Pets – Fact

Despite a lot of misinformation out there, the CDC states that your dogs and cats will not get your lice, so they don’t need to be treated or avoided.

Lice Can Only Be Killed With Chemicals – Fiction

There are plenty of over-the-counter lice pesticides, like Nix and Rid, and they may prove effective for you if you’re comfortable using them. However, chemicals are not a guarantee as drug-resistant lice becomes more and more prevalent. A recent single study showed that 100% of the bugs they collected from California, Texas and Florida were resistant to lice killer. In my opinion, why take the risk of using chemicals if there’s no guarantee they’ll even work? 

Lice Can Be Treated With Olive Oil or Mayonnaise – Fact

A lot of people have had success with what is effectively a lice-suffocation-method of treatment, but there are a couple of caveats. First, lice can hold their breath for 4-6 hours, so that means the goopy stuff will be on the kid’s head for a long time. Second, if the mayo gets in the child’s mouth or enters the scalp through an open sore, infections can result.

The Best Lice Weapon Is a Comb – Fact

Yes, it really is as simple as combing through wet hair to remove any nits or bugs and get rid of them for good. (It’s crucial to remove all nits because even one will hatch a new civilization in 9-10 days.) Our salon recommends using the stainless steel Terminator comb> every day until you see nothing on it. Use bright natural light (midday sunlight is the best), wet and detangle the hair and start combing from front to back. Then divide hair into four areas and comb through in paper-thin sections until it’s all be covered. Repeat daily until you see nothing on the comb and then every other day for a week or so.

Other natural deterrents I’ve heard positive things about include Tea Tree Oil shampoos and conditioners (which should be used somewhat sparingly because they’re drying) and mint scented spray.

It’s Important to Take the Stigma Out of Lice – Fact

Okay, this last one is just my opinion, but it seems to me that the more we educate our schools and daycares and other parents about lice, the better off all of us will be. I’m all for regular lice-checks in schools and information sessions and anything else that’ll help to stop its spread. Those little jerks are only getting stronger and for that reason, we need to get stronger, too.

If you’ve had lice in your home, what worked best for you?

About the Author

Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons

Wendi Aarons is an award-winning humor writer and blogger who lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and two sons. You can usually find her at Wendi Aarons, The Mouthy Housewives or starting fistfights near the 70% off rack at Target.

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