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Non-Toxic and Natural Head Lice Treatment

10.13.11 Non-Toxic and Natural Head Lice Treatment

natural lice treatment

As children head off to school every fall parents prepare themselves for the inevitable onslaught of colds, flu and other viruses that are so easily transmittable in a confined setting.  What most parents aren’t prepared for is a bought of head lice.  These two words alone are enough to send shivers up anyone’s spine and while we all cross our fingers that it won’t be our child who comes home with these pesky hitchhikers, the reality is that with 6 – 12 million cases of head lice reported each year, at some point your child just may be an unsuspecting host.

Unfortunately, with three children, our household has had more than its fair share of head lice outbreaks.  And, although I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid these itchy critters in my own hair, every time one of my children comes home with head lice I start to itch for days.  I dread head lice more than anything – not only because it’s such an easily transmittable parasite that’s difficult to get rid of, but because many over the counter treatments are so toxic. 

A few years back, I remember lamenting to my grandmother about my children picking up head lice at school and how awful the treatments smelled.  Back when she was little, a treatment for head lice entailed dunking your head in a bucket of gasoline or kerosene.  Today’s over the counter remedies may be less flammable, but many are just as toxic.

In January, 2011, the FDA approved a new head lice treatment that recently hit the market (available by prescription only) called Natroba Topical Suspension.  It’s a less toxic alternative to most over the counter brands, but is it completely safe?  Natroba uses a non-chemical pesticide, Spinosad, which has been approved by the Natural Organic Program for use in organic agriculture.  Spinosad is derived from a naturally occurring soil dwelling bacterium.  There are no synthetic chemicals or manufacturing processes used to produce Spinosad.  Developed by DowAgroSciences, it’s a relatively new insecticide (registered by the EPA) that appears to be benign both to the environment and to animals for which it is NOT targeted.   

The problem is, because Natroba is a pharmaceutical it’s regulated by the FDA which does NOT require manufacturers to disclose the inactive ingredients – only the active ingredients.  In this case, Spinosad is the active ingredient, but up to 99% of a pharmaceutical pesticide CAN contain inactive ingredients.  These inactive ingredients CAN contain synthetic fragrances or parabens and pose more of a health problem than the disclosed active ingredient.  In the case of Natroba, we just don't know what chemicals MAY be contained in the inert ingredients.  However, compared to many over the counter treatments, which offer instant results, Natroba is a less toxic alternative and DOES NOT require one to comb or pick out the lice and nits.  For a busy household, and considering that only one to two treatments should remedy the problem, this could be an option worth exploring.

How Should You Treat Head Lice?

The first step is prevention.  If you hear lice is going around your child's school, there are several natural ways that you can try to ward off these pesky parasites.

  • Advise your children not to share combs, brushes or hats.  
  • Girls should braid their hair or wear their hair up - especially in school where the risk of contamination is greatest. 
  • Tea tree oil is a natural repellant against head lice.  Because lice are attracted to the human scent, tea tree oil works by masking that scent.  Other essential oils that are just as effective as tea tree oil include aniseed, lavender, peppermint and coconut.
  • For every ounce of shampoo, add 3-5 drops of one of these essential oils.  You can also mix a few drops of essential oil to a spray bottle of water and spray your child’s hair every morning before leaving for school.  Tea tree oil and peppermint oil CAN irritate your child’s scalp, so it’s important NOT to apply the oil on its own directly to the scalp.

Unfortunately, no matter how vigilant we are with preventative measures, an outbreak can still occur.  Here are some important facts about head lice.

  • Lice are spread by close head to head contact or through personal belongings.
  • Lice move by crawling.  They cannot jump or fly.
  • Lice live in the hair and on the scalp.  They need human blood to survive.
  • Nits are the eggs of head lice.  Nits firmly attach themselves to the hair shaft and take about 7 days to hatch.
  • Adult lice can live on a human head for 30 days.
  • Lice generally cannot survive away from a human host for more than 2 days.
  • Nits – away from the head – may not hatch because they require warmth to incubate.  If a nit does hatch away from the head (i.e. on a pillow or bedding) it will not survive because it needs an immediate blood supply.

 Now for the treatment options:

  • Avoid RID and NIX – two very common over the counter brands.  Rid contains the active ingredient Piperonyl Butoxide and Nix uses Permethrin as its active ingredients.  Both of these ingredients are synthetic chemicals which are widely used as pesticides and function as neurotoxins. 
  • LiceMD is a pesticide-free over the counter remedy with the active ingredient Dimethicone.  Dimethicone is a silicone based polymer which acts as a lubricant and conditioning agent, so while it does not kill the lice or eggs upon contact, it does make the combing out process much easier.  Dimethicone has been approved by the FDA for use in cosmetics, yet the Environmental Working Group has classified Dimethicone as “expected to be toxic or harmful.”  However, no conclusive data exists which links Dimethicone to an increased risk of cancer or other health issues.  With LiceMD it is necessary to go through your child’s hair in one inch sections and comb out all lice and eggs.  This process may take up to two hours and needs to be repeated until there are no more signs of lice.  
  • When in a time crunch, Natroba (as discussed earlier) could be a solution.  We cannot endorse Natroba as 100% safe because the inactive ingredients are unknown.  However, Natroba is an attractive alternative to over the counter remedies since the active ingredient is organic and results are immediate with no need to spend countless hours combing through your child’s hair.
  • Hair Fairies lice treatment shampoos and other products are another pesticide-free option to check out. They state that their products are natural and are made in small batches so they don't have to be filled with preservatives.  The product ingredients aren't listed on their website, so you may need to do some more digging to be sure this option is right for you.
  • Homeopathic Lice treatments can be found at natural health food stores.
  • If you are concerned about using any commercial product to treat head lice, here are two do-it-yourself remedies that can be prepared using ingredients from your kitchen: (I have not tried these)

1.  Coat dry hair with mayonnaise or olive oil.  Cover your head with a shower cap and let it sit for at least two hours.  Shampoo and comb out with a metal lice comb.

2.  Melt ¼ cup extra virgin organic coconut oil and allow it to cool.  Coat dry hair with the oil and massage into scalp.  Cover with a shower cap and allow it to sit for at least two hours.  Shampoo and comb out nits.

The most critical step in any lice treatment is the process of carefully combing out the nits.  Failure to do so can result in another outbreak.  Natroba, which claims there is no need to comb out nits, is perhaps the only exception.  When combing out the nits it’s important to have really good lighting, a metal lice comb, to go through the hair in one inch sections, and to twirl and pin each section to the head after removal.  Continue this process each day until there are no more signs of nits.  Once you have treated head lice successfully, incorporating preventative measures into your daily routine for the next couple weeks should keep these itchy critters off your heads and out of your home.

Have you had to deal with head lice in your household?  What treatments have you used?

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