The first time our family had head lice, we had it bad. Inexperienced, in denial and in over my head with youngins, I unwittingly let them populate to the point of no return — or at least the two months it took us to conquer them sure felt like a life sentence.
When my then 9-year-old first complained of an itchy head, naturally I checked her scalp for crawling bugs. A few days later, when the itching worsened, we doused her head in dandruff shampoo. After another week or so of complaints and head checks, I had decided my kid was simply oversensitive and needed to toughen up.
Then one day at a backyard BBQ, she was so frantically scratching that I felt the need to clarify her bug-free status to the other mothers. “I don’t know why she’s so itchy, but she doesn’t have lice, I’ve checked a dozen times.” To emphasize the point, I proceeded to part her hair and check yet again. To my silent horror, I noticed dozens of what could only be shiny little eggs within inches of her scalp. Needless to say, we quickly had “other things to do,” made our brief exit, and I did what any horrified mother would do…I called my girlfriends.
Now, I have two kinds of girlfriends: those whom I call with descriptive announcements of contagious illness and infestation, and those whom I avoid completely until I am certain the issue has been thoroughly resolved. Fortunately, several of my friends in the first category had dealt with this before. Unfortunately, everyone’s advice was different.
Ultimately, it took us two months of toxic shampoos, mayonnaise, rubbing alcohol, gel-like pastes that harden into helmets, olive, coconut and essential oils, shower caps, threats of head shaving and dozens upon dozens of hours with a nit comb to conquer the little beasties.
Now that we live in the tropics, that first lice adventure seems like a walk in the park. Here, the lice are apparently a super fuerte mutant sub-species (I swear, they must have wings) and the fact that it’s always above 80 degrees (and usually above 100) creates the ideal breeding ground for the little piojos.
So, lucky for you, I am now an expert. In fact, you can just call me The Lice Maven if you like, ’cause hot damn, I’ve earned me the title.
My motivation for revealing our family’s “dirty” little secret is two-fold:
To help ensure that your own lice adventure is a much shorter story than ours.
To de-stigmatize lice from their reputation as an affliction of the filthy, because it’s simply not true. Here is perhaps my favorite photo I’ve ever taken, along with a quote by The Lice Maven, herself:
Before I explain what has worked best for us, I must disclose that the expensive, toxic pesticide shampoos DID NOT. Apparently, lice have grown resistant to these poisons, which is cool by me ’cause I don’t know about you, but I’m not really into lathering my babies in pesticides.
A few points to emphasize first…
There are lice, and there are nits (lice eggs). Lice will be various sizes and colors of gold, gray and brown. Nits are shiny teardrop shaped, generally grey, hold on to the hair shaft when pulled and are usually found within a few inches of the scalp.
Not all nit combs are created equally. Nit Free has the best one I’ve found.
Nits are most easily seen in the sunlight (thus their discovery at my friend’s BBQ).
If you find evidence of lice, assume the whole family has it, clear a couple hours from your schedule every day for five days or so, and prepare to treat the whole pack. You will kick it much more quickly if you are serious from the start, trust me on this one.
Day 1: Outfitted in old clothes and preferably outside, work olive or coconut oil through brushed hair, making sure to rub oil into the scalp. Sprinkle heads with tea tree oil, braid long hair, then cover with a plastic bag and secure with a rubber band for the day or overnight. This process suffocates the mature lice.
After 6-10 hours, remove shower cap and equipped with paper towels, comb through hair with nit comb, wiping oil, nits and lice on towel. Take your time on this step, as nits pull free easier when oily. Make sure to comb scalp.
Wash hair thoroughly.
Boil brushes and combs, change bed sheets and pillowcases. Put all hats in a plastic sack and store until the end of the week. Lice cannot live long without a host.
Day 2: Outside in good light, sit family members down one at a time. Break out the lollipops, professional clown or movie projector (meaning this could take a while). Using hair-ties to hold sections of clean, dry hair out of the way, search hair for nits in small sections, combing with clean nit comb first, then pulling stubborn nits free with your fingernails. Take your time with this process. Even one nit left is a potential adult louse.
Day 3: Wash pillowcases, boil brushes and combs. Give the kids a break.
Day 4: Repeat Day 2, checking for previously undiscovered nits. It should be much easier and quicker this time.
Day 5: Repeat Day 3
Celebrate and treat the kids for their cooperation and yourself for being so awesome.
It is imperative that you recheck for nits once a week for a month. If found, pick them out with fingernails and repeat Days 1 and 2.
And there you have it — you can now go forth lice, nit and chemical-free. If they’re anything like mine, your kids will now swear they smell head lice every time they get a whiff of tea tree oil.
Oh, and one last thing. Just a little…