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Best Tips for Curing Head Lice

By Melissa Summers

Right after the holiday break notes from both my kid’s classes were sent home explaining there had been a few cases of head lice in each class. According to my daughter 4 kids were sent home from her class and the kindergarten teacher reported 5 kids in my son’s class.

The day after the notes came home I found myself holding court with the kindergarten moms at drop off. I’ve never felt more like the Lice Queen than I did for those 10 minutes as I explained to a scared crowd of mothers how best to check for lice. How to get rid of them. How to make sure they never ever come back.

They were so riveted by my every word I could have told them anything I wanted and they would have believed me. “Okay, this is a little known secret but I’ll share it with all of you. You’re going to want to fill your bathtub each night with mayonnaise and bathe your child in it. Do this every night or it won’t work and actually you’ll end up getting lice and you do not want that to happen.”

A few years ago, my daughter borrowed a hat from her friend and brought head lice into my world. I spent almost 3 weeks battling lice and nits. I used 5 different treatment methods, from chemicals to a vat of mayonnaise. In the end I was deranged, I spent weeks dreaming of lice I washed sheets and vacuumed sofas for 3 weeks straight. I spent 30 minutes five times a day combing through my daughter’s hair looking for nits. It was hellish.

The thing is a note came home a month before I ever realized my daughter might have lice. I know it makes me sound like a neglectful mother but I honestly didn’t know what I was looking for. Reading typical lice websites made me feel overwhelmed and panicy, so much that I thought I’d pay attention to them when we actually had lice.

I looked through her hair after the note came home, didn’t see anything and so, moved on. By the time I really noticed my daughter scratching her head, so much time had passed, I thought she had some sort of rash on her head. Imagine my shock when I saw an actual bug on her head. If your child has lice and you actually see a bug on his head? Congratulations! You are, in a word, ‘Screwed!’ Hooray.

But I’m going to help you avoid this fate, just like I helped the moms at school. But don’t worry I’m not going to lie and tell you to do something absurd. What you need to do is dunk your child’s head in a bucket of ice water whenever they come home from any public place. Joking.

No actually, threaten your child with bodily harm or Ebay auction to be sure they understand the very dire consequences of wearing someone else’s hat. There are so many things to teach little kids, some things slip right past you. Well, I mean ‘you’ if ‘you’ are as dumb as ‘me.’ I never really specifically told my daughter not to share someone’s hat. So she borrowed someone’s hat and that little girl had a stubborn case of head lice herself. A special breed of lice which can hold it’s breath for hours while being coated with chemicals so that they will not die.

The minute you get a note home about a lice outbreak at your daycare, preschool or school, start checking your child’s head. I assumed the school would have caught it, if the lice checkers were looking over her head. But all it takes is one or two nits to hatch and you’ve got an infestation and the school isn’t going to check everyday to make sure that doesn’t happen.

First you have to know what you’re looking for. There is a lot of information about lice on the web and most of it will scare the crap out of you with worst case scenarios. Here is a picture and explanation of what a nit looks like and what a ‘non nit’ looks like. And hey! Check it out a Free Critter Card. Don’t say I never give you anything.

The biggest thing that helped me know the difference between a nit and a piece of dandruff or lint, a nit will not blow around or move with a rub of your finger. They must be pulled down off the hair shaft itself.

The thought of doing a full screening my kid’s heads every day made me want to cry and even after what I went through with my daughter, I still don’t want to sit down and comb through every inch of her head if I have no evidence of an infestation.

Instead I noticed when we were infested, I would find the most nits directly behind the ears and at the base of the skull. The lice want to lay their eggs where it’s most warm, the warmth is what incubates the eggs. So whenever we get a note home, I check behind my kid’s ears and at the base of their skull for two weeks just to be sure. I do it while they brush their teeth at night so it’s no extra chore.

I also taught them to keep their hats in their backpacks and to put their backpack on their coat hook over their coat. This creates an extra barrier between their coat and other kid’s coats. I also used to stick a piece of rosemary from my yard in their bags but I think that’s sort of an old wives’s tale.

One other thing I noticed during our infestation (when I write that, I keep picturing a swarm of lice floating around my house) is that my husband and I never got it. My son got a mild case from his sister but it was gone with one treatment and one comb through. Logan and I lay in bed with our daughter each night reading. We also keep all our combs and brushes in one basket together. My husband has very coarse, curly and short hair so I’m not terribly surprised he didn’t get it. But I am surprised I didn’t get it.

The only thing I can think made a difference is I blow dry my hair every day, so maybe the heat killed any nits before they could hatch? I’m no scientist, just a blogger and the Queen Of Lice (not by heritage, I just voted myself in.)

My Tips:

  • Tell your kids when they share hats with friends a puppy dies. If your child doesn’t love puppies, he’s a robot so you don’t have to worry about lice.
  • Remind them to keep their hats inside their backpacks and their coats under their backpacks.
  • Do ‘quick nit checks’ on your kid’s heads in hot spots (behind the ears and at the base of the skull) when they aren’t infested but may have been exposed.
  • Try blow drying your child’s hair a couple of times a week after a shower or bath instead of letting their hair air dry during prime lice season. Which is now in most parts of the country.

I know I haven’t discussed what you should do if your child actually does get infested. That’s because there are about 2000 sites out there telling you what to do.  You could also just call these nice people or The Lice Beaters (I’m picturing a dominatrix beating the lice on your child’s head…and I sort of thing I want that job) and they’ll do all that for you, but probably without the hysterics. They’re professional.

In closing I’d like to point you to this site because I think it’s great that you can buy sex toys *and* lice products with the same degree of shame and embarrassment. America, you rule!

Best Tips for Curing Head Lice by

Melissa Summers
About the Author

Melissa Summers

Melissa Summers was a regular contributor writing Melissa’s Buzz Off.


Melissa Summers was a regular contributor writing Melissa’s Buzz Off.

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  • slouching mom

    February 8, 2007 at 2:35 pm

    I have said this before, and I’ll say it again. If one of my kids gets lice? I swear to god that I will have to send him back.
    And this from a person who had lice in third grade, when my seventies’ hair was down to my butt.

  • Virginia

    February 8, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Boys don’t get lice as much as girls do – mostly because their hair is shorter I think. I had 5 girls with long hair – a nightmare when someone brings home lice. My preventative is peppermint shampoo. It must contain real peppermint oil to be effective but it does seem to work.

  • JustBeachy

    February 8, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Ugh. Lice are of the Devil! I use vaseline it is the best treatment.

  • pixie sticks

    February 8, 2007 at 4:22 pm

    Flat irons also kill nits. I use one everyday and was the only person in my house to escape this most hideous of parental curses.

  • Vanessa

    February 8, 2007 at 5:02 pm

    I’ve heard lice prefer nice, squeaky-clean hair to slightly dirty hair. I use this fact to relieve my guilt every time I let my daughter go “just one more night” without a shampoo.

  • TxChick01

    February 8, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Um, yeah…. I had it….TWICE. I was in Kindergarten and had hair down to at least the middle of my back. My hair is thick, too. My mom was.not.happy. She told me I was not allowed to play w/the little boy who she suspected was the carrier. 🙂

  • Tracy

    February 8, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    We had Lice-a-palooza at our house a few years ago, so I know the pain. It occurred to me that I was using the vacuum to ge the nits out of the furniture, so why not on the kids’ heads? And actually, I honestly think that this did the trick, finally. The kids also thought it was more fun than the other treatments. Thank you, Dyson!

  • Lisa

    February 8, 2007 at 6:02 pm

    In grade school, on those days when it was iffy weather and you had a coat/jacket but didn’t end up needing it – the teachers would literally tell us to pile our coats together by the wall outside. How dumb was that? If they still do this, that’d be a good thing to warn your kids of as well.

  • Bah

    February 8, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Before I got past the first ‘infestation’, I was scratching my head like a monkey.
    We get the lice scares at least once a month from preschool. It’s got to be the same nasty kid bringing them in. Thank goodness, my boy hasn’t become a victim of the Itchy Critters..yet.
    Oh crap. Did I just jinx myself?

  • Nicole

    February 8, 2007 at 6:51 pm

    I had lice twice as a child and remember my mother, a neat-freak to her core, walking around the house shuddering and on the verge of tears because she thought she had raised a dirty child. Turns out that was the opposite of what was happening, they loved my long clean hair… which I wore down almost everyday. From then on I wore lots of ponytails and buns… and almost obsessive amounts of hairspray in my hair. Ah, good times. Thanks for picking bugs out of my hair mom!

  • Andy

    February 8, 2007 at 7:01 pm

    After an outbreak at my nephews school, it just occured to me the other day that this is something I may have to face someday.
    My daughter is only 2 and I’m already starting to freak out over the fact that this could very well happen at our house someday. I’m already terrified.

  • melissaS

    February 8, 2007 at 7:17 pm

    “It’s got to be the same nasty kid bringing them in.”
    No. no. No. Not nasty kid.
    Perhaps parents who aren’t thorough enough getting rid of them. But kids are never nasty.
    (Parents can be.)

  • Adrienne

    February 8, 2007 at 9:41 pm

    I swear, if this little problem comes to roost at my house, I’m taking the kids out in the backyard and shaving their heads. That’s what the not-so-savvy parents in our school district do…I see the same poor kids come in shaved like sheep two or three times a year…you’d think that they’d figure out that it’s not getting rid of the bugs, but maybe they just can’t afford the debug stuff. Around here, there are some medications that the lice have actually become resistant to, if you can believe that. And we thought antibiotics were the only thing that people used improperly…
    Good thing I have boys…LOL!

  • Melanie

    February 8, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    Eeeeeewwww, eeeewww, lice make me shudder. The idea makes my scalp crawl and I feel like running to the bathroom and checking myself now… Thanks, Melissa. I needed to be freaking out about lice right now. My son came home a couple weeks ago with a note that a kid had lice and I checked him for a few days, but now I think I’m just going to re-check him again. And then maybe blow-dry his hair.

  • melissaS

    February 8, 2007 at 11:24 pm

    Yes! Melanie! That’s what I’m saying, just look behind the ears and at the nape of the neck.
    Two minutes, you’re done and you’re preventing an outbreak. Trust me that’s way better.

  • Amy

    February 9, 2007 at 8:23 am

    Lice don’t like color treated hair. If you were coloring your hair at the time it might be why you were spared.

  • kaleigh

    February 9, 2007 at 11:42 am

    We went through the lice mess after sweet daughter tried on headbands at Claire’s. We learned that she was violently! allergic! to the chemical treatments. And very tender-scalped. So she instructed me to cut her hair shorter (less to comb), about mid-comb. What worked for us was the haircut, paired with massage-grade castor oil with rosemary oil, clove oil, and sweet geranium oil mixed in. I kept her head greasy for three days and the lice were gone. And her hair was so! shiny! and soft! afterward.
    What they don’t tell you is that if you have a three-year-old boy who doesn’t have lice, he totally gets jealous of his sister getting all that attention. So you have to pretend he has lice too, just to keep him from crying.

  • Cathy

    February 9, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    This is totally why I live in California. There may be lice floating around, but no one wears hats…or coats for that matter.
    And, you may be onto something with that blow dryer thought. I just read that they have “invented” a blow dryer for getting rid of lice…dries them out, doesn’t burn them…and it is proving more effective than the chemical treatments.
    Might be less expensive than a move to a warmer state.

  • Kathy

    February 9, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    A few years back when I was still working, I heard a story about the dreaded critters on NPR one afternoon. Now, I cannot vouch for this treatment but it sure sounded better than toxic shampoos (which I’ve heard don’t work that well anyways) – soak your kids’ hair in plain old vinegar then wrap towels around their heads turban-style and let it sit. I can’t remember how long to leave it on. If this ever happens in my house, though, you can be sure I’ll look it up.

  • Mary

    February 9, 2007 at 10:51 pm

    We had to deal with the lice thing about eight years ago and I truly hope to never have to go through it again. Thank goodness my boys had fairly short hair — I can’t imagine having to deal with long, girly hair and that tiny freaking comb.

  • Tasha

    February 10, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Aggg, LICE. I had an INFESTATION over the summer. My 6 year old and my 6 monthold had it for a month. Everynight I would treat the hair, babyoil for the baby and mayonaise for the older one. It came to the point I made the girls were a shower cap on their head to find out where it was coming from. My house or the daycate, It was daycare and I moved them that same day to another place. I still habve nightmares of that time, anytiome my head itches I get freaked out. Thanks for the info, next time I know where to look.

  • b.

    February 11, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    The misery of lice. My nieces caught them at school and shared them with my children…and who had it the worse? Why, my 21 month old, of course. Try getting a toddler to sit still long enough to do *anything* anti-lice.
    I am forever scarred.

  • fairly odd mother

    February 13, 2007 at 9:07 am

    OMG, why am I so itchy after reading this? Thank you for the warning! I hadn’t thought to warn my kids about sharing hats but that is an awesome tip. And, they love puppies, so they’ll listen.

  • Lola

    February 14, 2007 at 3:26 pm

    Eek, I feel itchy just reading this. Yet another thing I dread having to worry about as my kids get older. I
    My mother, who is a teacher, used to have a couple of brothers as students whose parents shaved their head every time lice season rolled around. Does that actually work to get rid of lice?

  • Leta

    February 19, 2007 at 6:30 pm

    Shaving their heads does not work. I worked in a daycare for a couple of years and the same kids would have to leave because they had lice, then come back with shaved heads. I heard while working there that hairspray prevents the lice from latching on to the hair shaft. Eek, and also ugh. I hope we never have to deal with that.

  • mad muthas

    February 22, 2007 at 10:48 am

    when my kids were a primary school we used, periodically, to get notes home but the illustration on the front showed something about the size and shape of a crayfish – so i never worried much. cos obviously i’d notice a crayfish, wouldn’t i?
    once i realised that, actually, headlice were considerably smaller, i invested in a nit comb, some cheapo conditioner and a little bottle of teatree oil.
    i scarcely dare admit this, but i got a kind of grim satisfaction from catching the little buggers and cracking them between my nails. it was fun! (yeah, i know. i should get out more) anyway, now the kids are a high school, this no longer seems to be a problem. so for those of you dreading the first infestation i say – embrace your nits! (at a safe distance)
    oh – and another thing – as a result of your efforts, your whole family will have lovely, shiny, healthy hair.

  • at he end of my rope!

    March 4, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    well, i am glad to hear that i am not the only mother going out of her mind with thisss mess! i am currently in the middle of a head lice crisis! i have 4 children, and the older boy is the one who brought the little critters into the house this time. the other boys didnt seem to have them. i checked and checked them both several times over the last week…but i treated all 3 of my boys (the 4th is a 16mth old girl) and myself with the popular over the counter chemical stuff from the drug store. i know your not supposta treat unless you have verified that the individual actually has them, but like i said, im going insane. this is the fourth time in 3 years that i had to fight this battle. anyways, i did not treat my baby (the 16mth old). i haven’t found anything on her head and i know that the medicated shampoo may not be safe for her. but everyone else was treated.
    and today, the 7th day, it was time to retreat. i was sooo looking forward to today. it marked the end of the torment i have been living for the past week. washing/drying/vacuuming…omg, im ready for a breakdown of some sort. and while i treated the first kid, the source of this infestation, i combed through his hair…nothing!! whooo hooo nit free. so on to the second kid…the kid i didnt think had anything to begin with, and pulled the comb through the hair…and voillllaaaaa…WHAT?? A LOUSE??
    people, i cant even tell you, cant even begin to find the words to discribe the horror i felt swelling inside my stomach. so, looks like i didnt win the war this time. so what did i do??…buzzed off their beautiful hair. they screamed and kicked and pleaded…but i had had it!!
    i only wish i could shave mine off without people talking or better yet questioning my sanity. so for me just treated again. and i hope and pray that my daughter doesnt get them…because as i sit here at my computer, 5 feet from the laundry room door. the door which contains the horror of pillows/bedclothes/jackets/hats/stuffed toys behind it…im sick. sick of the thought of all the washing and drying and vacuuming and….argh! it doesnt end. but what will, im sure, what will finish me off. be too much to bare…will be the cause of my demise…will be IF my little beautiful baby girl gets these unwelcomed blood sucking creatures in her golden locks of hair.
    so i bid you all well. best of luck with your nit removing endeavors. i only ask that you pray for me. for my sanity and for all the moms out there fighting this thankless revolting war on the critters!!!

  • throw away the chemicals

    March 8, 2007 at 5:35 pm

    this all-natural recipe worked well for my family:
    12 drops Eucalyptus essential oil
    25 drops Rosemary essential oil
    13 drops Geranium essential oil
    25 drops Lavender essential oil
    5 drops Tea tree oil essential oil
    5 drops Cypress essential oil
    5 drops Citrus essential oil
    3 oz. vegetable oil
    Mix it up and let it sit for 2-3 hours (I recommend Aladdin to watch while it soaks!) Dry hair is most effective, use a shower cap. Two treatments should do the trick!

  • shannon

    September 5, 2008 at 1:10 am

    Oh, this is so funny! I just love your sense of humour! I am in the middle of my first lice crisis. I got the note home last spring and kept my daughter home for a week. Then the mother of the girl I watch during the week calls in the beginning of July to tell me her daughter has lice. Of course it had to be the same day they had a big pillow fight!!! I checked my daughter’s head for a couple weeks. She got a haircut. Nothing. So, I slacked off. A month later I notice her scratching…I lifted her hair and she was INFESTED! We were camping in the middle of nowhere. I picked out what I could and treated when we returned. I have a 3yr old and a 4month old. I slept in the hotel room with my daughter last weekend. I got it. My son had a few. Their dad had one. Father and son shaved their heads. I want to too…sniff sniff. This is horrible! I can’t see the back of my head to find nits! I am hoping I can just use the shampoo and get rid of them. I actually got this new stuff that has no insecticides. It dehydrates them. It’s called Resultz. And no resistance, that’s good. Anyways, I must have picked out thousands of nits and hundreds of bugs….CRAZY! I am putting tea tree oil in all our shampoo bottles! Good luck to all of you. What a horrible experience.

  • Kait

    October 13, 2008 at 8:17 pm

    I officialy HATE theese fricken bugs!! I’m in the middle of a lice crisis, the bugs were still alive 24hrs after i had used NIX. So then we put mayo on my head, didn’t do a thing. I DO NOT recomend mayo it does nothing but make you smell like a egg salad samwhich! i’m currently using castro oil and it seems to be working. i won’t know til morning! next up i’m gona let the vaccum gp tp my head at least i’ll ENJOY that treatment if this does not work!

  • hailey

    January 30, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    my daughter had lice it until she was 16!!!!!!!!!we tried every thing 2 get it out but couldn’t!!!!!!! it was horrible!!!! finnally she suggested to cut her hair real short and get a dyson vac. after we used the tube part and cut her hair we did that everyday for one week and it was gone! she keeps it short so no more investation comes back and her hair is really cute 2!!!!