Dealing with lice is like taking a master class on how not to get scared. After all, it is difficult to remain calm when the creepy and disgusting insects that delight in the blood have settled into the scalp.
In case you are not too familiar with them, lice are parasitic insects that can be found in the head and body of people, which means they survive by feeding on human blood. Head lice have three stages: the nit stage, which is when they are eggs, the nymph stage, which is when they are small, and the adult phase, which is when they are approximately the size of sesame seeds, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They can spread quickly, but most often affect children and their families. "Head lice do not jump or fly, but are easily transmitted from person to person through direct contact and exchange of hair tools and hats," says John Brancato, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at Connecticut Children’s. The result? An itchy scalp, a strange feeling of drag on the hair and red bumps here and there.
Given the speed with which lice can pass from one person to another, it makes sense that you want to do everything possible to turn off an infestation of lice as soon as possible. Fortunately, there are methods to help, but some are more effective than others. Here, experts analyze everything you need to know.
How to get rid of lice on your body
There are a lot of options, but these are the main ones to consider:
1. Look for a medicated shampoo.
Over-the-counter shampoos designed to fight lice work well to get rid of them, says Ashanti Woods, MD, a pediatrician at Mercy Medical Center. They usually contain pyrethrins (chrysanthemum flower pyrethroid extracts) or permethrin (a synthetic pyrethroid extract). Both effectively kill live lice.
Rid and Nix are excellent examples of lice killing shampoos that you can find at the pharmacy or online. You should make sure to follow the instructions on the packaging, but most products recommend letting the shampoo sit on the affected area for about 10 minutes, rinse thoroughly and continue with a good hairstyle.
NIX Ultra treatment for lice and nits
Shampoo to kill lice RID
Vamousse head lice treatment
Terminator lice comb without nit
2. Comb them.
Over-the-counter medicated shampoos only kill live lice, not nits. That's where a fine tooth nits comb comes in, which can help extract lice eggs that stick to the hair. "Using a really good lice comb, combing your hair and pulling out all the nits can be really effective," says Gina Posner, MD, a board certified pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center.
3. Consider certain home remedies.
You've probably read online that you can fight lice by smearing mayonnaise or olive oil on your head to quell them, but Dr. Woods says this method is not very reliable. "The results vary considerably," he says.
Still, Dr. Posner has been very successful when combined with a good nits hairstyle. She recommends putting mayonnaise or olive oil on her hair at night, cover it with a bathing cap and rinse it in the morning with a mixture of half vinegar and half olive oil. "I have not received patients who have tried this method to prescribe a prescription medication," he says. If the natural route does not work (or you simply do not want to get dirty), try the above shampoos or consult your doctor.
4. Ask your doctor about a prescription.
If you have seen lice, but you can't seem to get rid of them on your own, don't hesitate to call your doctor about the next steps. "We see this quite often," says Dr. Posner.
Some lice have developed a resistance to permethrin, so your doctor may recommend a stronger prescription medication such as Natroba, Sklice or Ulesfia. These drugs kill live lice and can also eliminate some nits in the process. "They work very well," says Dr. Woods.
How to effectively banish lice from your home
You can also detect the spray of lice on furniture when you are grabbing your arsenal of lice at your local pharmacy, but the CDC does not recommend this since fumigant sprays can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through your skin.
Head lice can live up to two days with inanimate objects, such as your sofa or your bed, says Dr. Brancato, so you'll want to clean your house well. That includes washing your clothes and bedding in hot water and drying it at high temperatures. It is also a good idea to vacuum your home (particularly your floor and furniture) and soak the brushes and combs in hot water for more than five minutes. The CDC recommends placing things that cannot be washed in sealed plastic bags for at least two weeks.
While the process can be annoying, the good news is that lice are not known to transmit or transmit diseases (such as ticks and mosquitoes). Using the right treatments and taking some extra precautions to keep things clean can help stop itching once and for all.
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Korin Miller Korin Miller is a freelance writer who specializes in general wellness, sexual health and relationships, and lifestyle trends, with jobs that appear in men's health, women's health, self, glamor and more.