WRITTEN BY Dr. Stephanie Rubino, BSc. ND- 11 October 2012
Dr. Stephanie Rubino gives us the run down on how to deal with head lice.
Even though the kids have been back to school for a month, it’s not too late to find out natural ways to deal with head lice!
Anyone can get head lice, however preschool and elementary-school children are more likely to become infected with these small insects that spread by personal contact or sharing of items such as hats and brushes. Although head lice can cause intense itching of the scalp, they are not dangerous and do not spread diseases. Standard treatments involve using fine-toothcombs and chemical topical treatments containing compounds such as pyrethrum which have insecticide properties. Due to increasing resistance, several long-used insecticidal compounds have lost their efficacy, and alternatives, such as essential oils, have been proposed to treat head lice (Di Campli etc, 2012). Tea tree oil, for example, is rich in monoterpenoids, which act as insecticides and is safe for use. In fact, the two major constituents of tea tree oil, 1,8-cineole and terpinen-4-ol, have shown anticholinesterase activity, similar to traditional treatments for lice (Mills et al, 2004). Many people doubt the efficacy of essential oils for head lice, however, a number of studies have demonstrated their effectiveness:
- A recently published study investigated the efficacy of two natural substances: tea tree oil and nerolidol against lice and its eggs. Products were used alone and in combination. Results showed that tea tree oil was more effective than nerolidol against head lice, while nerolidol had better activity against its eggs (the same effect was achieved by using a twice concentration of tea tree oil). The authors concluded that tea tree oil and nerolidol were effective against head lice and its eggs, particularly in combination (Di Campli et al).
- In another study, a natural combination of coconut oil, anise oil and ylang ylang oil, was applied to the hair of infested children. Treatment was successful with this natural remedy in 60 children (92.3%) and with the control treatment in 59 children (92.2%). The combination of coconut oil, anise oil and ylang ylang oil was very effective in controlling head lice infestations and caused no serious side effects (Mumcuoglu et al, 2002).
- Researchers compared the efficacy and safety of three topical solutions: tea tree oil and lavender oil; a head lice "suffocation" product; and a product containing pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide. The percentage of subjects who were free of head lice one day after the last treatment with the product containing tea tree oil and lavender oil, and the head lice "suffocation" product was significantly higher compared to those using the pyrethrin product. The researchers concluded that the high efficacy of the tea tree oil and lavender oil product offered an alternative to the pyrethrins-based product (Barker et al, 2010).
So if your child comes home with a case of head lice, do not despair! Follow the following tips to get it under control and prevent future occurrences:
- Use a tea tree oil shampoo and conditioner such as Tea Tree Oil & Shampoo Kit by Holista. Adding 100% Tea Tree Oil to your own shampoo is also an option. Do this for two weeks or longer, if required.
- Comb through your child's hair every day during a lice infestation with a fine-toothed lice comb, and soak the comb in rubbing alcohol for at least an hour after every use.
- Wash all bed sheets, towels and clothing in hot water and dry them in a high-heat dryer.
- Remember, tea tree oil can be used preventatively to deter an outbreak. Use a Tea Tree Oil Shampoo or add 100% Tea Tree Oil to shampoo once a week.
- Barker SC, Altman PM. A randomised, assessor blind, parallel group comparative efficacy trial of three products for the treatment of head lice in children--melaleuca oil and lavender oil, pyrethrins and piperonyl butoxide, and a "suffocation" product. BMC Dermatol. 2010 Aug 20;10:6.
- Di Campli E, Di Bartolomeo S, Delli Pizzi P, Di Giulio M, Grande R, Nostro A, Cellini L. Activity of tea tree oil and nerolidol alone or in combination against Pediculus capitis (head lice) and its eggs. Parasitol Res. 2012 Jul 31
- Mills C, Cleary BJ, Gilmer JF, Walsh JJ. Inhibition of acetyl cholinesterase by Tea Tree oil. J Pharm Pharmacol. 2004 Mar;56(3):375-9
- Mumcuoglu KY, Miller J, Zamir C, et al. The in vivo pediculicidal efficacy of a natural remedy. Isr Med Assoc J. 2002;4:790-3