Beauty DIY

How to get rid of head lice

The very mention of ‘head lice’ is enough to strike fear into grown adults, let alone the small children they most commonly affect.

A new school term often sees children come home with a new group friends called ‘Pediculus humans capitis’ – the proper name of the common head louse. A change in NHS guidance has meant that GPs are prevented from prescribing treatment for head lice. We have to take matters into our own hands.

What are nits and what do they look like?

The first rule of war is to know your enemy: nits are the eggs laid by head lice. A nit is the tiny white egg of a soon-to-be head louse that glues itself firmly to a strand of hair, most often at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp where it will later feed.

Nits are different from white dots of dandruff or flakey scalp. They do not dislodge and can’t just be rubbed away. They are easiest to spot in dark hair – those with blonde or light brown hair have a harder time detecting them. Girls are twice as likely to be affected and the most common age to have head lice is between 4 – 14 years.

What are the symptoms of head lice?

One of the first ways they make their presence felt is with intense itching. The chances are that any small child scratching their head has nits. Head lice make us itch as they feed by sucking blood from the scalp, causing an inflammatory reaction from the saliva they inject during the process (nice!). The head louse thrives in warmth. You’ll most often find them just behind the ears where the skin on the scalp is thinnest and body temperature slightly higher.

Head lice treatment

There are fool-proof, easy and inexpensive way to get rid of these blood-suckers for good. The key is to remove both the nits (eggs) and the live head lice. We don’t recommend the shampoos designed to kill nits for three reasons:

  • The idea of dousing children in parasiticides, however mild, isn’t appealing.
  • They are messy, time-consuming and expensive.
  • Insecticides are increasingly ineffective as head lice build up resistance to the chemicals. This then means higher strength versions have to be used, with pesticide residues being washed into our over-polluted water system.

We recommend using a Nitty Gritty NitFree Comb. Yes, it is more expensive than the plastic kind, but it lasts forever and is way more effective. This cleverly designed metal scalp-saver has spiralled grooves in its prongs to gently and thoroughly remove the tiniest nit alongside the fattest head louse. It is an indispensable implement for every household (you can share).

How to get rid of head lice

As well as the comb, you will need one muslin cloth and a lightweight hair conditioner.

  • Comb conditioner through the hair after each hair washing session at bath time and leave in the hair.
  • Follow this with a thorough combing with the Nitty Gritty comb, wiping the conditioner (along with the nits) onto the muslin cloth after each comb through.
  • Repeat the process two or three times a week and you’ll remove all lice and break their nit-laying lifecycle. Blow-drying hair also kills head lice eggs. Following with a blast of hot hair to thoroughly dry the hair will help to pick up any eggs that may have been missed.

Contrary to popular belief, head lice don’t hop or fly. They spread by direct head-to-head contact. They love clean hair, so the chances are your children will catch them at some stage. Tying hair back helps. It’s hard to stop small children sharing their ‘friends’, especially at school when heads huddle over a work project or during play. Once you’ve invested in your Nitty Gritty comb and bottle of favourite hair conditioner, at least you have a simple, quick, inexpensive and foolproof method to say no to nits.

Read more articles from Liz Earle Wellbeing

Wellbeing Wisdom

  • Head lice don’t hop or fly – they are transferred by direct head-to-head contact and tying hair back can help prevent children from sharing their ‘friends’
  • Nit-killing shampoos are increasingly ineffective as head lice build up resistance to chemicals, invest in the Nitty Gritty comb instead