Posted by: Chris Maloney | August 23, 2012

An Unbearable Itch: Head Lice, Current Treatments, and Alternatives.

Head Louse

Head Louse (Photo credit: ian boyd)

In our modern age, the common alternative to nerve damaging pesticides for head lice is using a fine-toothed comb.

Meanwhile, those who aren’t using combs apply a neurotoxin to their children’s scalp and hope it works.  “When released, pyrethrin and pyrethroid treatments were 88% to 99% successful in eradicating infestations; however, after their widespread use, studies in the past 10 years demonstrated efficacy of only 10% to 75%.” (full free article on all conventional treatments here.)

When topical treatments fail, parents resort to oral medication that may cause neurotoxicity in humans.  So are there any other alternatives?

Essential oils seem like a good first choice, but many are not that effective.  Tea tree oil killed almost half the eggs, but a suffocation oil killed almost as much as the commonly used neurotoxins (68%).  Here’s the free article on those.  In another study that compared directly, the essential oils outperformed the pesticides.

A product that dissolved the lice’s exoskeleton was approved by the Canadian government, but parents are likely to wonder about applying such an agent to their children’s scalps.

Those seeking home remedies might turn to vinegar, which was the most successful of seven home remedies.  (Whole article on the medicinal effects of vinegar here.)

If a silicon-based suffocation method is used, parents should be aware that the insects are not suffocating, but rather rupturing after several hours of being unable to excrete water.  Here are the gruesome details.

For those seeking a more exotic solution, a number of essential oils from around the world show some effect against head lice.  Here’s a nice article on Argentinean essential oils including a member of the cinnamon family.  As with all essential oils there would be a possibility of allergic reaction and skin irritation.

What would I do at this point?  Daily “suffocation” for ten days while steam cleaning my home.  It is the only treatment that isn’t likely to cause itching after successful treatment.  I’d also use a fine-toothed comb.




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