July 3rd, 2009
02:18 PM ET

Heady advice on lice

By Andrea Kane
CNNhealth.com Producer

Pssst: Come here… A bit closer. I have a confession to make: One of my daughters has L-I-C-E. And it is driving me crazy, because it just will not go away, no matter how much I cut, comb and nitpick her hair. And I’ve been doing a lot of nitpicking lately – at times, I feel like a mama chimp grooming her child (minus popping the “prize” into my mouth). My daughter gets cranky having to sit there for an hour (especially when I pull an individual hair strand to remove an egg - aka: nit - that is cemented on) and I get cranky, too.

According to the CDC, there are an estimated 6 million to 12 million head lice infestations each year in the U.S. among children 3 to 11 years old. Lice are usually transmitted through direct head-to-head contact. Less commonly, they can be passed on via a hat, comb, pillow or other personal object (contrary to our worst fears, lice don’t dive-bomb from one person’s head to another’s). Cleanliness and socioeconomic status have little to do with getting head lice, although race may have an impact; African-Americans are less likely to get them.

Aside from being icky and itchy, head lice are not known to transmit disease (although hard scratching can cause a secondary infection). That said, you don’t want them hanging around.

Our “ordeal” started in mid-May when I stopped by the school nurse’s office for her to have a look-see because her two best friends had it (that, and she was scratching an awful lot). “You see right there - those are nits,” she said, pointing to what looked like a bitty grain of salt on the hair shaft.

The nurse instructed me to shampoo my daughter’s with an over-the-counter pediculicide (lice-killing) shampoo, then comb out all the nits because OTC shampoos do not kill all the eggs (only the heavy-duty, super-toxic, prescription shampoo does). The third step (after shampooing and nitpicking) is to delouse personal objects.

At the drug store, the choices were many: popular OTC shampoos (with either pyrethrins – derived from chrysanthemums - or their synthetic cousin permethrin), homeopathic treatments (that promise to kill lice without harsh chemicals), gels to help with the nitpicking– even an electric comb that electrocutes the lice.

I ended up buying the store brand, partially because it offered the most shampoo at the cheapest price (the shampoos are expensive and we are - except for my husband - a household of long, curly-haired females, so we needed quantity, especially since we didn’t want to skimp). I slathered it on my daughter’s hair, waited 10 minutes, then rinsed and, with a fine-toothed comb, I combed… and combed… and combed, trying to get all of the nits out. Have I mentioned that she has long curly hair? A lot of it? A thick underbrush of it? Well, it took a long time to through it all. Except that I didn’t get it all: We both grew impatient before I was done.

Then, I threw all of her bedding into the wash, boiled all the combs and hairclips, and quarantined her stuffed animals and brushes. And for good measure, my husband and I shampooed our hair and washed our linens (as luck would have it, there had been a thunderstorm the night before and we played musical beds). I also checked her sister’s hair: Nothing! Mom 1, lice 1.

The next day, the lice were gone. And for a few glorious days, I thought we had dodged a bullet.

With most of the OTC shampoos, you have to retreat between seven and 10 days after the initial treatment, when the eggs that the shampoo failed to kill the first time finally hatch and repopulate the hair - but before the nymphs can grow into adults capable of reproducing. The life cycle of lice is about three weeks.

But before we could get halfway to retreatment time, they were back. So I cut off six inches of my daughter’s hair and we tried another brand of OTC shampoo; this one did not work at all (lice can become resistant to a particular pediculicide). So I went back to the first shampoo and I bought the electric comb (which was pretty cool and did electrocute some lice, but apparently not all). When that failed, I tried the homeopathic shampoo that works by dehydrating the lice and their eggs (this one you have to leave on for at least an hour, instead of 10 minutes). At the time of each treatment, we washed linens, boiled hair accessories all over again. The stuffed animals never made it out of quarantine.

But still the lice returned.

After about a month, at wits end, I called my pediatrician’s office. The nurse on call told me I could try the prescription shampoo (did I detect hesitation in her voice or was that me projecting?) or I could try one more “weird” treatment. Since I wasn’t particularly excited about the prospect of using poison so close to my child’s growing brain, I chose the latter. She recommended “Dippity-do.” Yup: The pink or green hair gel popular in the ’50s and ’60s. (It now comes in other colors too.)

But, she warned, I’d have to wrap my daughter’s hair in plastic wrap and a shower cap and leave it on for 12 hours. Similar to other home remedies - like mayonnaise and olive oil - the idea is to smother the lice in a thick coat of glop. The advantage of Dippity-do over the oily foodstuff is that it is much easier to wash out of hair (and doesn’t stink like unrefrigerated mayonnaise).

If this doesn’t work, I’ll be tempted to pull out the big guns: No, not the prescription shampoo but the electric razor – and give my daughter a buzz cut.

Have you or a family member had lice? How did you finally defeat it? Did using harsh chemicals on a small child worry you?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

Filed under: Caregiving • Children's Health • Parenting

soundoff (80 Responses)
  1. Heads Up Lice Removal Salon

    We'd recommend looking for a professional lice removal salon, like us, in your area. Professional lice salons removal all lice and nits many times in one treatment and our services are guaranteed.

    July 24, 2013 at 15:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. freshheadsliceremoval

    Have you heard of the Air Alle head lice treatment device? It is an FDA-cleared medical device that is incredibly effective, particularly against the nits, and is completely non-toxic. Check out http://www.laradasciences.com. Larada Sciences owns the patents to the device, and has created the largest network of lice-removal professionals in the world. Professional services are great, but it is currently an unregulated field. As such, you have to look for businesses with a proven track record, preferably that are Better Business Bureau Accredited, that are willing to give references, and that are using every tool to ensure that your family can finally be done with it. Look into it, it is interesting stuff!

    July 24, 2013 at 17:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Heartland Healthy Heads, LLC

    This story is all too common. Many families try over the counter, prescription treatments and home remedies and fail to get rid of the little buggers. The cost, time, frustration and tears make it worth while to seek professional lice removal salons. The professional salons can take the stress out of the situation, give you the facts on lice and know what to look for when combing nits. http://www.heartlandhealthyheads.com, Olathe, KS

    September 24, 2013 at 10:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. kim aldridge

    I have been struggling with head lice as well .. over the counter stuff just isnt working . Did the hair gel work??

    April 8, 2014 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Federico Lacrue

    If discover little white or light specks in the hair you must pick one create a red flag for anyone. Are generally parasites which live in hair – both on our scalps and on other hairy body segments. Lice Removal, 100 Church Street Decatur, GA 30031 (770)-645-4548

    June 26, 2015 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Sue

    My best friend is the one who brings out the best in me. – Henry Fordsee more


    June 27, 2015 at 05:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Leann Denlinger

    I have been reading out some of your posts and i can claim clever stuff. I will definitely bookmark your blog.


    February 13, 2017 at 07:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. samayra1

    It is very helpful to create back-links for a website. Thanks for sharing this blog. Here are the information about Styling Park Avenue Hair Gel.

    April 13, 2017 at 06:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Doreen Hemric

    I must show my passion for your generosity giving support to visitors who absolutely need help with that subject matter. Your very own commitment to passing the solution across has been certainly interesting and has continuously encouraged folks much like me to achieve their ambitions. Your important tips and hints implies much to me and even further to my peers. Many thanks; from all of us.


    June 23, 2017 at 09:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. mp3flaver

    Wow so nice

    March 2, 2019 at 09:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. a knockout post lapmjournal.co.uk

    You made some decent factors there. I appeared on the web for the problem and located most individuals will go along with with your website.


    November 23, 2020 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. News Portal PL

    However, most partners arent willing to pay for.


    November 24, 2020 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. XMC

    i think you have a nice page here today was my initial time coming here.. i just happened to discover it doing a google search. anyway, great post.. ill be bookmarking this page for sure.


    November 25, 2020 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. KbrgMile

    best pharmacy prices for viagra buy viagra soft tabs viagra otc

    November 25, 2020 at 13:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. FmsgEncox

    penjual viagra resmi is viagra over the counter in south africa lilian viti fibe viagra

    November 25, 2020 at 22:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. DbsfZisse

    viagra prescription cost uk canadian prices for sildenafil sildenafil 50 mg cost

    November 27, 2020 at 04:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. FtghEncox

    doctoral dissertation apa help writing a thesis research paper help sites

    November 28, 2020 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. FnrhEncox

    viagra for sale no prescription viagra otc viagra soft tabs

    November 29, 2020 at 01:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. JgscCrulk

    homework persuasive essay thesis statement in a narrative essay essay writing myself

    November 29, 2020 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. FqfEncox

    help writing dissertation writing a essay format writing a welcome speech

    November 29, 2020 at 22:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Jolanda Sauseda

    I am very interested when reading your article. Oh yes, I also made an article, please visit.head lice remedies


    November 30, 2020 at 01:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Nyla Parry

    Howdy! This post couldn’t be written much better! Looking through this post reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept talking about this. I most certainly will forward this information to him. Pretty sure he’ll have a good read. Thanks for sharing!nit treatment


    November 30, 2020 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Debora Kwok

    What’s up, yeah this paragraph is really good and I have learned lot ofthings from it on the topic of blogging. thanks.head lice symptoms


    November 30, 2020 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Gussie Hosse

    Good post! We will be linking to this great article on our website. Keep up the good writing.lice in hair


    November 30, 2020 at 02:16 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.