Liz’s safe and foolproof method to get rid of head lice

Liz writes:

The very mention of the word is enough to strike fear into grown men, let alone the small children they most commonly affect. A new school term often sees the start of this all-too-common plague of predatory pests and most children come home with a new group friends called ‘Pediculus humans capitis’ – the proper name of the common head louse. As a mother of five, I have had two decades worth of experience of combatting these critters – and with my youngest now at primary school the battle continues.

The first rule of war is to know your enemy: nits are the eggs laid by head lice. A nit is a tiny white capsule or 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 as 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.

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, which is why you’ll most often find them just behind the ears where the skin on the scalp is thinnest and body temperature slightly higher.

get rid of head lice

How to get rid of head lice

Over the many years I have been dealing with these pests I’ve tried just about every preparation known to man. To save you the bother and expense, I will now share my absolute foolproof, 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, but I don’t use the shampoos designed to kill nits for three reasons. Firstly, I do not want to douse my children in toxic parasiticsides, however mild. Secondly, they are messy, time-consuming and expensive, and last – but not least – they 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. A simpler and more effective method can be found by 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 spiraled grooves in its prongs to gently and thoroughly remove the tiniest nit alongside the fattest head louse. I cannot recommend it highly enough as an indispensible implement for every household (you can share). You will also need one muslin cloth and a nice, lightweight hair conditioner. I always use Liz Earle Botanical Shine Conditioner for fine hair. Comb through the conditioner after each hair washing session at bathtime and leave in the hair, then 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. You will be both amazed and delighted at how easily and effectively both nits and lice come unstuck. You can even run a sweepstake as to how many end up on the muslin cloth (or flannel). Then simply repeat the process two or three times a week and you’ll remove all lice and break their nit-laying lifecycle. Blow-drying hair has also been shown to kill head lice eggs, so following with a blast of hot hair to thoroughly dry the hair will help to pick up any eggs that may have been missed.

Of course, one of the key things is to prevent their return and there are few things more annoying than children getting re-infested as they sit with their heads together at school. Contrary to popular belief, head lice don’t hop or fly – they are transferred 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, but it’s hard to stop small children sharing their ‘friends’, especially at school when heads huddle over a work project or during play. But 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.

We have even more top tips for taking care of your tresses in our Hair SOS series, including how to have healthy hair free from split ends.

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