Handling Back-to-School Woes: Head Lice

From struggling to remember enough middle school algebra to help with homework, to cataloging and patching up playground scrapes, sending kids back to school in the fall has no shortage of challenges. Sooner or later, they will come home with the dreaded note saying that there’s head lice at the school. (Or even worse, that they have it!)

If you ever had head lice as a child, you probably remember the washing, combing, picking and repeating. Or your parents frowning at a box of directions for strange mixtures that smelled awful and came with a lot of warnings.

The good news is: you don’t have to use high-intensity chemicals like permethrin, pyrethrins, and DEET. The bad news is: you will still have to comb the affected child’s hair carefully to remove all eggs and bugs. And wash absolutely everything they’ve handled lately.

What You’ll Need to Get a Lice-Free Life Back

Lice are tenacious and spread rapidly, but they are killed by a number of simple household cleaners and hot water, and have shown to die from “smothering” through oil application, and can be killed by essential oils as well.

  • Rosemary essential oil or Melaleuca essential oil
  • Carrier oil such as almond, olive, or fractionated coconut oil
  • Nit comb (get one at Amazon)
  • Shower cap
  • Lots of patience

Your first step when your child comes home with lice is: get them to the shower and have them wash their hair and body thoroughly.

Take their clothes from the day, their bedding (in case the infection started earlier than the day it was caught), toys they cuddle with most, combs, and their backpack and wash everything.

  • Clothing and bedding should be washed in hot water, preferably with bleach.
  • Stuffed toys should be washed according to tag directions and carefully checked. You can spot-test vinegar on them as an alternative to bleach for spray disinfection.
    • Alternatively, you can soak a cotton ball with rosemary oil, and put the toy(s) and the essential oil-soaked cotton in a large plastic bag. Leave it in at least overnight before spot cleaning and carefully checking.
  • Disinfect combs and brushes by soaking in a simple water/bleach (10%) or water/vinegar solution. Soak for at least 30 minutes. You can boil metal combs (such as your nit comb) for 10 minutes to disinfect.
  • Check your child’s backpack and its contents for signs of eggs or lice. Give it a good wipedown with a bleach or vinegar solution and let it air out.
  • Don’t forget to wash the towels your child is using right away! They’ll need a hot water and/or bleach wash.

It’s important to remember though: you don’t have to “bug bomb” or spray your home. Homes don’t get head lice, people do! And although they can be carried on some of our most intimately-used daily items, they mostly survive on living things. If you’re concerned, make yourself a room spray of the following:

  • 3 drops rosemary
  • 3 drops eucalyptus
  • 3 drops marjoram
  • 3 drops clove
  • 1oz water

Put it in a clean spray bottle, shake it up, and spritz around any rooms you’re concerned about. (Wipe any accumulated spray off surfaces though! This mix will be intense.)

Overnight Oil Treatment

Once your child has shampooed, rinsed, and lightly dried their hair, it’s time to get to work. In an area with good light, use a fine-toothed comb to separate the hair and check the scalp. This will give you an idea how bad things are and give you a chance to remove some of the lice killed by shampooing. It’s best to do this near a sink so you can rinse your comb often under hot water.

After the first pass is done, it’s time to smother those lice! A word of caution though: before you begin any treatment with essential oil, do a skin test by dabbing a small amount of essential oil diluted in a carrier oil on the back of your child’s hand with a cotton swab. If there is a reaction from rosemary, try melaleuca. If neither of those work out, you could also try (in order of most likely to least likely to have a strong impact) eucalyptus, marjoram, peppermint or lavender.

In a glass container, mix well:

  • 15-20 drops of rosemary oil (if mixing oils: use no more than 20 total drops per 2oz)
  • 2oz olive, almond, or fractionated coconut oil

Separate your child’s hair again using the fine-toothed comb. Using a cotton ball or a cotton swab, apply the mixture at the scalp/hairline. Get anywhere you see evidence of lice and in the surrounding area as well. If your child has shorter hair, you may just want to gently rub it over their entire head. After you’ve applied to as much area as you can, it’s time to… wait.

Using a shower cap or a towel, wrap your child’s head. This will need to stay on for at least 12 hours to be effective. The carrier oil helps smother lice and the essentials are – simply put – too harsh for the tiny creatures to handle.

After this treatment, shampoo twice to get all the oil and as many dead critters out as you can. Recomb and keep looking for eggs and (hopefully all dead) lice. You’ll have to be diligent! After this treatment, make sure your child shampoos every day for at least a week, and keep checking for signs. You can dilute the room spray recipe above a little as a light hair spray to use to help prevent further issues, too, as lice seem to find these oils repellent as well.

If you’ve gotten stuck with lice this fall, my heart goes out to you! Hopefully these tips will help get you back to a creepy-crawly-free life fast!

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