With a long list of possible side effects, including everything from rashes to seizures, we support your decision to seek natural lice remedies over potentially hazardous over-the-counter and prescription lice treatments.
We called in the experts and read all the clinical studies and scientific research we could get our hands-on. From tea tree oil to mayonnaise, we are poised and ready to share our findings with you about the most talked-about natural lice treatments out there.
Ready to find out more about natural lice treatments? Let’s go.
The Dirt on Over-The-Counter and Prescription Lice Treatments
Why shouldn’t you use over-the-counter and prescription lice treatment shampoos, sprays, and kits? Maybe you should sit down….
The same ingredients found in over-the-counter and prescription head lice treatments are used on crops and livestock. They are heavy-duty insecticides that come with a long list of possible dangerous side effects. Often, these products are full of pesticides that have been proven to be dangerous for babies and young children.
In over-the-counter lice treatment kits, the main active ingredients are pyrethrins and permethrin. When it comes to prescription products, there is also an ingredient used that is extremely hazardous: lindane.
Pyrethrins can be naturally derived from chrysanthemums, but they are most often artificially generated— a cocktail of six chemicals that are deadly to insects. The National Pesticide Information Center has warned that “children who have gotten lice shampoo containing pyrethrins in their eyes have experienced irritation, tearing, burns, scratches to the eye, and blurred vision.
When inhaled, irritation of the respiratory passages, runny nose, coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, and diarrhea have been reported.”
Similarly, Permethrin is a synthetic chemical that has the same type of aforementioned side effects. Moreover, the Environmental Protection Agency “concluded that permethrin is a weak carcinogenic.”
In prescription lice treatments, lindane is the main active ingredient. For a long time now, lindane has been classified as neurotoxic and carcinogenic. RX-List asserts that Lindane Shampoo has been linked to “seizures and deaths.”
The Most Popular and Pervasive Lice Home Remedies
Lice Treatment #1 – Mayonnaise, Vaseline, and Coconut Oil
The theory behind using greasy and viscous natural products to kill lice is that these thick materials can suffocate lice.
However, it is nearly impossible to suffocate lice as they have the biological capacity to shut down their respiratory system at will when they sense a threat. Ian F. Burgess, the director of the Medical Entomology Centre, reported in the Journal of BioMed Central Pharmacology that “it has long been recorded that lice are able to survive immersion in water for several hours, presumably tolerating long periods without oxygen…[thus] suffocation by various preparations has not been shown to be currently feasible.”
Lastly, the Center for Disease Control affirms that: “the CDC does not have clear scientific evidence to determine if suffocation of head lice with mayonnaise, olive oil, margarine, butter, or similar substances is an effective form of treatment.”
Lice Treatment #2 – Listerine, Rubbing Alcohol, and Vinegar
Utilizing home cleaning agents to get rid of lice had twofold claims— since alcohol kills bacteria, alcohol should also kill lice, and that these acidic or aggressive cleaning agents could damage or dissolve lice and their eggs’ exoskeletons.
However, lice eggs (nits) have a protective coating around their shells that serves as a waterproofing agent. Also, as the Boston Medical Center reports, “head lice, like all insects, have a protective waxy covering on the epicuticle (outer layer of the cuticle on their exoskeletons) that acts as waterproofing for the insect.”
Alcohol, vinegar, and Listerine do not penetrate this protective waxy coating; it harmlessly glides right off their bodies. Keep in mind that there are risks of burning the scalp with alcohol or other acidic products.
You can also cause damage to the hair follicles, or cause rashes and inflammation.
Lice Treatment #3 – Chlorine, Lysol, and Clorox Bleach
Could it be that easy? Could a quick swim in the pool kill lice?
The Center for Disease Control has confirmed that the “chlorine levels found in pool water do not kill head lice.” Do not attempt to administer concentrated chlorine directly to a child’s scalp as it would cause severe and serious burns. In regards to Lysol, its ingredients are salt, water, and hypochlorous acid.
Hypochlorous acid is a weak acid created when salt water is electrolyzed, or when chlorine is dissolved in water. Thus, just like chlorine, Lysol does not adversely affect lice.
In terms of using Clorox bleach for treating lice, the American Academy of Pediatrics attests “that bleach causes more injuries and illnesses to children than any other household cleaner.”
Clorox bleach is highly corrosive and dangerous. Do not apply Clorox Bleach to the skin or scalp for any reason.
Lice Treatment #4 – Essential Oils
Essential oils are concentrated plant extracts. The concept behind using them to treat or prevent lice is that they will be repelled by the odor of these essential oils.
Quite recently, scientists have parsed out lice’s genome and decoded their genetic material. Their scientific discovery revealed that lice have “just ten genes to code for odor receptors.” The researchers speculated that by relying only on one type of host (humans) and one type of meal (blood), the lice could make do with very limited environmental cues.
This points to the fact that lice lack the biological capacity for a strong sense of smell. This means they would likely not be deterred by the scent of essential oils.
In terms of clinic evidence about the efficacy of essential oils, there is very little evidence, and most of it is anecdotal and not reproducible. The results are inconclusive, and the research, to be honest, is lacking.
The American Academy of Pediatrician confirms that “the safety and efficacy of herbal products are currently not regulated by the FDA, and until more data are available, their use in infants and children should be avoided.”
For safe and effective treatment, consult your doctor/dermatologist.