Do home remedies for head lice work?

It would be nice if the solution to head lice lay right in your pantry. But do home remedies for head lice really get rid of the creepy crawlies, once and for all?

Here's a look at some of the home remedies used for head lice and their effectiveness.

  • The idea behind using mayonnaise, petroleum jelly, food-grade oil, or margarine is that these thick and heavy substances cover the louse's air holes, effectively smothering them. Although this technique may make it hard for lice to breathe, it likely won't kill them.
  • There isn't any evidence that tea tree oil and aromatherapy are effective treatments for head lice.
  • Never use gasoline or kerosene. These products are flammable and toxic and can be extremely dangerous.

The bottom line? Save the mayo for your sandwich and focus on the methods that have evidence to back up their effectiveness.

A technique called wet combing has been suggested as a treatment to remove live head lice. In wet combing, you use a lice comb to remove the lice. The wet combing process requires the combing of wet hair for 30 minutes and is repeated every 3 to 4 days for a 2-week period. This may make the wet combing option simply too long and arduous to consider for some families.

Although wet combing is cheap and safe, it is time-consuming and there is little evidence to support its use as primary treatment for lice. As well, it may be impossible to effectively comb through tight curls. Some people suggest using vinegar along with wet combing; however, there are no studies showing any benefit to this treatment.

While you may not be able to get rid of head lice effectively with home remedies, you can prevent the spread by doing a few things. Dry clean personal items such as clothes, linens, hats, and scarves. Wash them in hot water and then dry them using a hot cycle for 15 minutes. If this cannot be done, store items in plastic bags for 2 weeks. Do not share personal items with others if you have head lice.

Your pharmacist is also a great source of information on treatment options for head lice. If you had been hoping that home remedies would work because you feel more confident in their safety, speak to your pharmacist. They can talk you through the safety of head lice treatments, including treatment options containing traditional insecticides and those that don't. Your pharmacist can help you choose a product that you feel comfortable using.

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