Every school year, thousands children get head lice. More and more, parents are finding that chemical based lice shampoos just don't work. |
Not knowing what else to do, many parents shampoo again with the same, or another, pesticide based lice shampoo, use pesticide based lice sprays on carpets or furniture, wash bedding and clothing over and over, in an attempt to solve the problem. The costs and frustrations mount - and so do the exposures to harmful chemicals. And often, the lice remain.
Head lice can be eliminated - and they can be eliminated without using toxic chemicals, and without spending lots of money. The key is in the comb. A recent study in the British Medical Journal found that finely combing wet hair with a comb specially designed for head lice was four times more effective in getting rid of head lice than malathion or permethrin based lice shampoos. The National Pediculosis (the scientific name for lice) Association agrees. This non-profit group has been working for years to help parents eliminate lice without exposing their children to harmful chemicals.
Their message is comb, comb, comb, but make sure you are using a comb that works. The right comb will be metal, have long teeth finely spaced, and the space between the handle and the teeth will be sealed, so that live lice can't hide inside. Many combs sold with pesticide based shampoos are not fine enough or strong enough to be effective in removing all lice and nits, the lice eggs which attach to the hair shaft. This is one of the reasons that these products don't work. Another reason is that many lice have become resistant to the most commonly used pesticides in lice shampoos. The NPA recommends combing hair wet and using the LiceMeister brand comb, which is the only comb which has met their standards for lice control.
Pesticide based lice shampoos are dangerous. They can have harmful immediate and long term effects ( see sidebar). The number of parents who choose not to use pesticide based shampoos is growing. These safety-conscious parents do not want to apply a pesticide to their child's scalp, and have it absorbed into their blood and circulated throughout their bodies. Perhaps they also realize that lice appear to be developing resistance to the pesticides, just as many bacteria have developed resistance to the overused antibiotics. A side benefit is that these parents are also not sending these pesticides into our wastewater and thus eventually into our groundwater.
There are some non-pesticide based shampoos on the market including several using tea tree oil as the active ingredient. These ingredients are less hazardous than pesticide based shampoos, and lice have not developed resistance to them. However, tea tree oil products can create allergic sensitization, so should be used cautiously. Tea tree oil shampoos should be tested on a small area of skin to make sure the user isn't allergic before applying to the scalp. Pure tea tree oil is a sensitizer and should not be used.
There are some home remedies which have had reported success, but haven't been fully proven. These include covering the head with mayonnaise, olive oil or vaseline and leaving it on overnight. In all cases, effective combing needs to be done to remove nits. Some products advertise that they kill all lice and nits without combing, but there is no evidence so far that this is true.
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