Lice Advice from Parents

photo credit: Jessica Ashley
photo credit: Jessica Ashley

When I got the call a couple of weeks ago that lice were crawling through my kid’s classroom, I started frantically scratching my head even before my son got home. When he walked through the door, I investigated his scalp like a nit detective — nothing. But I wasn’t ready to breathe easy just yet. I handed him the magnifying glass (OK, metal comb from my grandma’s house) and told him to check my head.

“YUP!,” he pronounced definitively. “You’ve got it!”

“WHAT?!” I was shrieking, already as close to the mirror as I could get, squinting at each strand. I wasn’t convinced, but we raced off to the store — and to Facebook, where I asked parents to make my de-lousing shopping list for me.

It turns out my scalp was just a bit flaky after a few days of not shampooing. The funny part of that not-so funny freak-out? My unclean head could have been what kept the lice I was convinced I had away. I stocked up on products, treatments, kits and wisdom anyway, thanks to the advice of many parents who’ve been through infestations in their own homes, on their own heads and with their own offspring.

Here’s their wisdom about how to handle and prevent lice.

  • Feeling itchy just reading that title? 1 of 12
    Feeling itchy just reading that title?
    Experienced parents say it's time to stop feeling the shame and start getting prepared -- it's only a matter of time before a kid carrying lice comes into your home. Here are their methods for preventing and treating the little buggers.
  • Make it go away with mayo 2 of 12
    Make it go away with mayo
    Many parents swear by slathering hair in mayonnaise. Mother of four, Lynn, advises coating hair in mayonnaise, covering in a shower cap and waiting an hour. Next, rinse with vinegar, comb through and finish wiht a thorough shampoo and conditioning.

    "You may smell like a footlong for a couple of days," she warns, "but you may prefer this over putting chemical in your hair."

    Jane, also a mom of four who have had three episodes of lice in two months, pulls out the jar, too.

    "Mayonnaise," she says bluntly. "Gets rid of everything and you get the benefit of a natural remedy with a bonus hair conditioning. This is a lice free zone. Finally.

    One mom coats her kids' hair in the salad spread, secures hair in a twist with a clip and then covers it in plastic cling-wrap for two hours. This probably works best for older children who won't be tempted to pull off the Saran and can sit still during the process. Regardless, always supervise kids who have any kind of plastic anywhere near their face. (Obv.)

    A warning: Carla Birnberg of says she's been cautioned about using mayonnaise to treat lice. "Don't do mayo!! I have a friend who owns a lice salon and people have given themselves salmonella because you have to leave on for so many hours and if you have a cut on your head....
  • Marinate in rosemary 3 of 12
    Marinate in rosemary
    Rosemary was repeatedly offered as a natural repellant to lice.

    "After my daughter got lice...a horrid case, HORRIBLE...we put rosemary in her backpack (hung under her coat hood)," shared Melissa Summers."Oh, also I threatened to set her free if she got lice again."

    If herbs from your garden or threats to evacuate the kid completely don't work, several mothers advocated using rosemary shampoo. Two parents gave thumbs-up to this hair scrub that runs about $16 per bottle.
  • Blast it with heat from a hair dryer 4 of 12
    Blast it with heat from a hair dryer
    A teacher with plenty of experience with head-bugs says a heatwave will help a lot.

    "As a preschool teacher, I deal with lice outbreaks way too often," Barbara says. "Blow dry your hair and [the child's] -- lice do not like heat. They also don't like product. Use that gel! Slap on that mousse!"
  • Sizzle those little suckers 5 of 12
    Sizzle those little suckers
    Flat-ironing hair section by section is one way moms are making sure nits are annihilated.

    During high lice season at school, Summers says she straightened her daughter's hair one to three times a week, depending on how many reports of infestation were sent home.

    Alternately, Ashlee recommends a buzzing comb that kills lice on contact, available at drugstores.
  • Dig them out with a kit and metal comb 6 of 12
    Dig them out with a kit and metal comb
    If in doubt, simply use a kit from the drugstore, says mom of three, Kelly Herdrich.

    " Better safe than sorry (or lice-y)," she says. "Your best bet is a good comb/shampoo combo.


    While the kits get mixed reviews from parents -- some swear by them as simple and effective, others opt instead for non-toxic remedies and some say the kits don't work at all -- many of those same folks said it is critical to have a metal comb on hand no matter which treatment you choose. Plastic, often included in drugstore kits, doesn't cut it, they all agreed.
  • Certain soaps and lots of styling product 7 of 12
    Certain soaps and lots of styling product
    "Cetaphil," Amy Sue Nathan, mother of two, says definitively. "I used everything when my daughter had them six years ago. She had long, thick hair, and it took me three hours every day to go through her hair. Oh god, it was awful. Any time our heads itch we check. Even now.

    Several parents echoed that kids' hair should greasy during lice outbreaks.

    "Dirty hair is actually best! Lice like a nice clean, unscented scalp," Herdrich says.
  • Seek out chemical-free kits 8 of 12
    Seek out chemical-free kits
    "Don't waste your time with Rid," warns mom Michelle after trying it three times on her child's extra-thick hair. "I had the worst time last year after my daughter went to a sleepover and came home with visitors. The only thing that worked is 'Licefreee'. It is all-natural and can be sprayed as often as you wish. I couldn't believe what I combed out after applying it. I now keep two bottles on stand by just in case. You can buy it at Walgreens.
  • Spritz on the tea tree oil 9 of 12
    Spritz on the tea tree oil
    With natural antiseptic, antibacterial and antifungal properties, tea tree oil is an oft-recommended household remedy -- even for lice. Some parents suggest shampoo made with tea tree oil (from Whole Foods or similar natural product retailers). Several recommended diluting tea tree oil with water and spraying hair (never apply it directly to skin without diluting). Another option is mixing it with apple cider vinegar and applying to hair. [More information here.]

    Warning:One mother shared this National Institutes of Health report on how tea tree oil may impact boys' development.
  • Strip down and throw it all in the dryer 10 of 12
    Strip down and throw it all in the dryer
    One mother told me she was so exasperated from lice outbreaks at school and the stress of worrying about her kids bringing it home, that she had all the children strip down and throw their clothes, jackets, hats and bookbags into the dryer for 20 minutes every day before entering the main part of the house. The heat kills the nits and the mom can breathe easy.

    Think the strip-down method sounds extreme? Know that several more parents similar methods to keep lice out of their homes.
  • Shear the baby curls and bedhead 11 of 12
    Shear the baby curls and bedhead
    Whether it is a last resort or the best prevention, some parents say the simplest and most effective way to be lice-free is to give the kid a buzz cut. That is, unless you have a child as obsessed with a skater 'do as my child.
  • Invest in a professional de-louser 12 of 12
    Invest in a professional de-louser
    If you can't handle the comb-throughs or can't seem to treat yourself thoroughly, consider getting help at a salon just for lice crises. Lice boutiques, where professionals clear hair of lice at a premium price, are open nationwide. The cost for the service is high but often includes any follow-up, and full family packages may be available so everyone is treated as needed.


Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass.

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