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8th January, 20214 min read

What is the best home remedy for head lice?

Medical reviewer:Dr Ann Nainan
Author:Daniel Piggott
Last reviewed: 22/12/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

While they’re not harmful, head lice are common, and can be a real nuisance. These tiny insects live in human hair, and can give you an itchy, irritated head. They can also spread from one person to another.

Lotions and sprays containing insecticides are common treatments for head lice. They’re effective, but they’re not suitable for everyone. Plus, head lice can develop resistance to some insecticides over time – which means the treatment won’t work.

However, there are home remedies you can try before you use a medicated lotion or spray. Read on to learn more about the different ways to treat head lice, and how effective they are.

What are head lice?

Head lice are parasites, which means they live and feed on another animal. They lay tiny white eggs, known as nits, which attach to your hair. After about a week, they hatch, and become adults in another week – so they can spread quickly.

Adult head lice vary in colour from grey-white to black, and they’re about the size of a sesame seed. Their small size means they can be difficult to see.

How do head lice spread?

Head lice can’t jump, fly or swim, so you can only get them if your head is in close contact with a person who has them, and the lice crawl from their hair to yours. You’re very unlikely to get them from sharing combs or pillows with other people, as head lice can’t live long once they’re removed from hair.

Anyone can get head lice, but they’re most common in school children aged 4 to 11. They’re more common in girls, because they’re more likely to have long hair.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to stop yourself or your children from catching head lice, so you should check for them regularly if you have children at school.

What’s the best home remedy for head lice?

Wet combing has been shown to be effective in scientific studies in the UK, where it is recommended as the first thing to try if you have head lice.

It involves a special fine-toothed comb, which is available from pharmacies. You wash your or your child’s hair with shampoo, apply conditioner, then use the comb to go through all the hair and remove the head lice.

Wet combing needs to be repeated every 4 days, for 4 times in total, to make sure you catch any newly hatched head lice. It’s a bit of a time-consuming process, but it’s inexpensive, simple and effective.

What else can I try?

Other home remedies

Aside from combing, other popular home remedies include:

  • tree and plant-based oils, such as tea tree oil, eucalyptus oil or coconut oil
  • foods, such as mayonnaise or vinegar
  • herbal mixtures, containing things such as anise and ylang ylang

All of these remedies are used in a similar way. For example, tea tree oil is usually diluted with another oil (such as olive oil), rubbed into the hair and scalp, then left overnight.

The theory is that this mixture covers the head lice, so they can’t breathe and die. You then shampoo, condition and wet comb the hair to remove the lice, as well as any eggs.

Unfortunately, however, there is little scientific evidence to show that these home remedies are safe or effective.

Medicated lotions and sprays

If home remedies haven’t worked, or you want to try something else, lotions and sprays containing insecticides are an effective way to treat head lice.

Usually, these treatments need to be left on the hair for a recommended length of time, then applied again a week later to catch any new lice that have hatched. You don’t need to comb the hair afterwards.

If you can’t use medicated products because they’re not suitable for you, or they don’t get rid of the head lice, speak to your doctor for advice.

Key points

  • head lice aren’t harmful, but can make your head itchy, and spread to other people
  • lotions and sprays containing insecticides are common treatments
  • insecticide treatments aren’t suitable for everyone
  • there are various home remedies you can try
  • wet combing is the recommended home treatment
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